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Can exercise really improve your mental health?

We’re always being told that we should exercise more, and many studies claim that 150 minutes of exercise each week can improve your mental wellbeing. More recent research has concluded that people managing this level of activity reduce their risk of depression by up to 31%. But how much difference does exercise really make to your mental health? 

Myprotein went one step further, teaming up with sport and exercise scientist Jamie Wright, to conduct their own research into the impact of physical activity on mental health. The findings may surprise you.

Almost everyone said that physical activity improved their mental wellbeing

The survey results confirm that exercise contributes towards positive mental wellbeing, with 89% of those surveyed saying that sport and physical activity benefits their mental health. A further 10% of those surveyed believe that exercise helps to boost their mood sometimes, meaning that only 1% of participants believe their mood to be unaffected by physical activity. It’s hard to argue with statistics of 99%. 

Weight training is most beneficial

Over three quarters of participants said that weight training helped their mental wellbeing, with 78% choosing this as an activity that helps to boost their mood. Tied in second place, each chosen by 47% of respondents, are running, jogging, walking and gym cardio. A fifth of those surveyed also said that swimming was useful in contributing towards positive mental wellbeing. 

So, whatever you’re into and whatever your level of physical ability, there’s a sport out there that could improve your mental health. 

But don’t forget to talk!

It isn’t just exercise that helps to improve mental health. 43% of those who responded to the survey said that talking and socialising also benefitted their mental wellbeing.

If you’re a film buff, you’ll be pleased to hear that 39% of people also said that film and TV was a good mood booster – a great excuse for a movie marathon! 

Battle of the sexes

A large proportion of both men and women say that their primary motivation for taking part in fitness activities is that it improves their mood and helps them to feel more comfortable in their bodies. 

Both males and females chose weight training as their favourite activity for boosting their mental wellbeing, along with around half of males and females enjoying going to the gym. However, this is where the similarities end.

When it comes to running, jogging and walking, 60% of females said that these activities helped to boost their mood, whilst males came in lower at 40%. However, the most obvious difference between the sexes, believe it or not, is down to football. Around 20% of male participants said that football improved their mental wellbeing, whilst only 3% of female respondents agreed. Who’d have thought that football could divide the sexes? 

Men watch TV, women bake

When participants were asked about all activities that give their mood a boost, men leant heavily towards the exercise-based activities. This was rivalled only by film and TV, which came in third place after being selected by more than 40% of men. 

Despite women choosing the gym as their best mood-booster, they also chose two non-exercise activities to complement this. 55% of females said that talking and socialising helped to improve their mental wellbeing, whilst 2 in 5 chose baking and cooking. Whoever said a good chocolate cake wasn’t the answer?

Age matters too

Across every age group, over 72% of those surveyed chose weight lifting as the sport which most improves their mood. But this is where the similarities between the age groups ended. 

Amongst the under 25s, football was a popular choice, with 1 in 4 participants aged 18-24 saying that football is great for boosting their mood. However, football is twice as popular with the under 25s than with any other age group. Does that mean you can grow out of football? 

Golf is another contentious sport amongst the generations. 1 in 5 of those aged over 55 chose golf as an activity which improves their mental state. In contrast, only 2% of the under 35s appreciate a good game of golf. Perhaps when you grow out of football, you grow into golf! 

To sum up 

We’ve always been told that exercise is good for our bodies, but it turns out it’s also great for our mental health. Whether it’s weight training, swimming, football or golf, there’s a sport out there for everyone. Give it a try and find out if you’re one of the 99% of people who get a mood boost from physical activity.

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