Researchers say exercising for 150 minutes a week can help ease mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
They said people who exercise outdoors get more benefits than people who exercise indoors.
They added that there are mental health benefits to both team sports as well as individual activities.
They cautioned that more isn’t necessarily better, so a moderate amount of exercise is best for most people.
Matt Nerger was 6 when he first tried sports and, like for many youngsters, it was overwhelming.
He cried for hours leading up to his first soccer game at the spacious indoor Soccer Centers complex in New Jersey.
Just thinking about being on the field with all those other kids caused him excessive anxiety, nausea, and outright fear.
But in the end, he put the scariness aside, took the field, and had a good time.
He also learned a lifelong lesson about how exercising his body is good for exercising demons.
“Team bonding and learning how to work with others was crucial in my development into adulthood,” said Nerger, who now works as a writer. “Sports helped me destroy some of the barriers that my anxiety created.”
Scientists agree that physical exercise — either solo or in a team environment — not only helps our bodies look and function better, it can effectively battle mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
What researchers uncovered
Sports sociology researchers from the University of South Australia (UniSA) and MSH Medical School Hamburg in Germany released a study they say demonstrates sports can protect people from serious mental health disorders.
The study assessed levels of anxiety and depression among 682 German recreational athletes under different conditions along with similar amounts of exercise and intensity.
Researchers also gauged factors such as indoor settings versus outdoors, as well as team sports compared to individual sports.
Athletes who met the World Health Organization’s (WHO) exercise guidelines generally experienced better mental health than those that didn’t.
The guidelines recommendTrusted Source 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week for healthy adults ages 18 to 64.
“I’ve seen firsthand the incredible benefits that even the slightest amount of regimented exercise can have on anyone,” Dr. Vernon B. Williams, the director of sports neurology and pain medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, told Healthline.
“Although medications can play an important role in mental health, as well as pain and disease management, they have their limitations,” he added.
“And with a mounting crisis in prescription drug and opiate usage, we as a clinical community must look at other ways to help patients boost the quality of their lives,” Williams said.
The effects on mental health
One of the study’s authors, Katja Siefken, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia, said it’s important to recognize that different forms of exercise affect mental health in different ways.
“Understanding the factors that can influence or alleviate depression and anxiety are essential but, until now, there’s been insufficient proof about the optimal types — or amounts — of activity needed for positive mental health,” Siefken said in a statement.
Researchers found people not exercising up to WHO guideline standards reported higher depression scores, whether they exercised indoors or outdoors, individually, or with a team.
“We have studied some of these issues in my lab,” said Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California.
“You get different benefits from group exercise than individual. Typically, group exercise keeps you engaged and is energizing, while individual exercise is more contemplative and stress reducing,” he said.
Authors also found the lowest scores relating to anxiety and depression occurred among indoor team athletes.
“Outdoor exercise is more energizing and more rewarding for most people as long as it is safe and involves green space,” said Plante.
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