As the world continues to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-term impacts of the last 18 months on physical and mental health are yet to be determined. Some mental health experts fear a “tsunami” of mental health issues will emerge in the near future. Investment in strategies to improve and address mental health has never been more prescient.
There has long been data to suggest physical activity and exercise benefit mental health. In June 2021, the John W. Brick Foundation released their Move for Mental Health Report, which provides a scoping review of over 1,000 studies conducted over the last 30 years. The research cast a wide net, including studies on any variety of physical activity, exercise, or movement type and any mental health outcome published between 1990 and 2020.
The Findings Were Overwhelmingly Positive
Out of 1,158 studies examined, 89% found a statistically significant, positive association between physical activity—or exercise—and mental health.
The top three exercise types linked to mental health benefits were:
general physical activity (a broad category representing any movement),
cardiovascular/aerobic physical activity, and
The conclusions drawn from this report are overwhelmingly positive for the health and fitness industry. Not only does the health and fitness industry provide people with safe spaces and equipment to take charge of their physical health, but the industry contributes to the improvement and maintenance of people’s mental health as well.
Exercise and Mental Health
This review found statistically significant and beneficial links between several types of physical activity and depression, general anxiety, mood, general mental health, quality of life, stress, and well-being.
The strongest associations across the board were for depression. A review cited in the report and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, including 39 trials, found that exercise was associated with reduced depression symptoms compared with no treatment and placebo and active control groups. However, additional studies found that the effects of exercise were not different from psychotherapy or antidepressants.