Movement works wonders in the head.
Regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease. What some people don’t know: The psyche also benefits from physical activity. This is shown by a recent study.
London/Stuttgart – Sometimes it was an overcoming to go out just when she was particularly ill. But running helped, says Anna, 27. “After that I felt better every time.” Anna was severely depressed for years, several times in the clinic and in therapy.
Even today she goes jogging when she notices that she is slipping into a depression again. But sport does not only help people who are mentally ill: According to a new study, physical activity generally goes hand in hand with better mental well-being.
For example, people who exercise regularly or engage in other physical activities feel mentally less bad. Researchers at Oxford and Yale Universities write that people who exercise three to five times a week for about 45 minutes feel bad on fewer days.
For the study, the team interviewed more than 1.2 million people in the USA several times over the years to find out how often they felt bad in the past 30 days. The scientists compared these data with the participants’ data on physical health, age or occupation.
On average, the participants felt bad for 3.4 days per month. Those people who were regularly physically active – including not only sports but also housework and lawn mowing – had one and a half bad days less than those who were hardly active.
According to the study, the difference was particularly pronounced among people who had been diagnosed with depression in the past: Active people from this group reported about seven bad days per month, while the physically inactive study participants reported just under eleven days – a difference of four days.
In some studies it is not clear what cause and effect is
In the past, the connection between sport or physical activity and mental health was repeatedly investigated and discussed. A research team from the University of New South Wales published a large-scale study a few months ago on the question of whether sport helps to prevent depression.
The result: one hour of exercise a week reduces the risk of depression. Over several years, the scientists had evaluated data from more than 250,000 people from different countries and age groups. Other studies have shown in the past that moderate endurance sports can help people cope better with stress, fall asleep more easily and be less depressed.
But it’s not that simple, says Ulrich Hegerl, Chairman of the Board of the Deutsche Depressionshilfe Foundation. “People who are mentally ill often don’t have the drive to do sports,” Hegerl says.
Listlessness and seclusion are core symptoms of the disease. But in studies like the one that has now been published, it is often unclear what the cause and what the effect is: “In theory, it could just as well be that people who are doing well are more motivated overall and therefore exercise more frequently,” says Hegerl.
In addition, a distinction must be made between a negative state of health and an actual illness. It is certainly true that sport contributes to general mental well-being. But whether it also helps with diseases such as severe depression is difficult to prove scientifically. “However, there are indications that physical activity in connection with depression has positive effects,” confirms Hegerl. He himself often hears from those affected that exercise helps them. The Director of the Clinic and Polyclinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital of Leipzig therefore recommends that patients take part in sports.
Only: Exercise can by no means replace the medical therapy of depression or other mental illnesses, warns Hegerl. Depression is a serious, sometimes life-threatening disease. “It is dangerous to think that sport can replace medical treatment or therapy. Rather, exercise should be an addition to treatment in the case of a disease.
Physical training, for example, is part of the National Guidelines for the Treatment of Depression – and is recommended by doctors and therapists throughout Germany as a so-called therapy-supporting measure. Regularity is also important.
Throughout Germany, regional running clubs have been set up under the umbrella of the German Foundation for Depression Relief (Deutsche Stiftung Depressionshilfe). With positive resonance: “The regular date gives structure and works against
The reason why physical activity in general has an effect on mental well-being and mood is probably to be found primarily in the brain. This is because certain messenger substances – such as serotonin and dopamine – are released during sport.
These substances, often referred to as happiness hormones, can help to reduce stress and anxiety and lighten the mood. Brain researchers even assume that regular training has a lasting effect on the body’s hormonal balance: it is said to lead to the messenger substance dopamine being broken down more slowly over time.
However, too much sport, as the new study also shows, is not good either: people who were active for more than three hours a day more often felt uncomfortable. The researchers suspect that this was due to compulsive traits.