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Dose-Response Relationship Between Exercise and Mental Health

In addition to the physiological benefits of exercise, there are also significant mental health benefits to be gained. Recent research shows that exercise not only helps people feel better emotionally, it also stimulates the brain and may help prevent dementia and other age-related declines in mental capacity.

A new study from Scotland reveals that, contrary to the requirements for physiological improvements due to exercise, very little regular exercise is needed to boost mental health. In fact, only twenty minutes of moderate activity per week is sufficient to lift one's mood.

The researchers wanted to explore how much exercise was needed to prevent Scots from feeling "psychologically distressed". They examined nearly 20,000 men and women who had participated in the Scottish Health Surveys regarding the optimal amount of exercise needed to improve mood. A general health questionnaire was administered that covered self-reported physical activity (both sports activities and housework/gardening activities were included) and mental health status. Using logistic regression models, risk estimates were calculated per category of physical activity sessions per week.

The results showed that any form of daily exercise was associated with a lower risk of psychological distress, after adjusting for age, gender, socioeconomic status, marital status, body mass index, chronic illness, smoking, and survey year. Mental health benefits were observed at the level of just 20 minutes per week of any kind of activity.
However, there was a dose-response relationship between exercise and mental health, meaning that more exercise led to greater mental health benefits.

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