The benefits of regular exercise have long been touted by medical professionals. Consistent physical activity is linked to a reduced risk of heart diseases, long-term weight management, and countless other advantages. You’ve probably also heard about its potential impact on mood: with the release of feel-good chemicals, movement can aid in stress management and reduce the risk of depression.

Indeed, mood improvements are a compelling reason to get active if you don’t already. But if you’re going to put the time and effort in, are there certain types of exercise that have a better chance of improving your mental health than others? Here’s what the research says.

Different Benefits from Different Types of Exercise

According to a study conducted by the University of South Australia and MSH Medical School Hamburg in Germany, of the 682 participants, those who met the WHO recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week saw better mental health scores than those who didn’t. Interestingly, however, different types of exercise led to different effects on mental health. Specifically, the researchers looked at the results on mood from exercise in an outdoor, team, and individual settings. So what type of exercise is best to boost mental health.

The results show that while team exercise has an energizing impact and keeps participants engaged, solo workouts are better for contemplation and reducing stress. And, for most people, outdoor exercise is more rewarding than indoor sessions if it’s in a safe area with greenery.

In addition to where and with whom you exercise, it’s also critical to monitor the duration and intensity of your workouts. The study revealed a link between higher levels of depression and vigorous exercise. Thus, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing: like all else, moderation is key when it comes to staying active. Just 30 minutes a day, five days a week is all most people need to see mood-boosting benefits. In fact, it’s been linked to the same mood improvements as taking Prozac—of course, just without the side effects.

Yet, it’s also important to acknowledge that regular exercise is not a cure-all. While it may help with depression, stress, and anxiety, it may not stop major mental illnesses from unfolding. It’s therefore critical to speak with a professional any time you experience lasting mood issues that don’t improve or worsen.

Also, experts note that some exercise is better than none at all. Even if you can’t meet the WHO recommendations, small bursts of activity like a quick walk could suffice for lowering cortisol levels or simply clearing your head. 

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