High performance athletes tend to struggle with more mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders, than the general population. This raises the question of whether a lot of physical exercise can negatively impact a person’s psychological well-being. Paquito Bernard, professor in the Department of Physical Activity Science at Université du Québec à Montréal and researcher at the Institut universitaire de santé mentale de Montréal, believes it can.
This study is the first to explore the link between a person’s level of physical activity and his or her mental health.
Fifty minutes of moderate to vigorous daily exercise, such as swimming or soccer, promotes good mental health. But more time can limit these benefits and even cause them to decline. Psychological well-being also depends on the number of steps taken in a day: it progressively increases from 0 to 5 000 steps and begins to wane after 16 000. As for light physical activity such as gardening, the positive psychological impacts begin to appear after six hours.
Another interesting finding is the fact that sedentary work lessens the beneficial effects of physical activity on a person’s morale, which means that working out before or after work is not sufficient. People who spend long hours sitting should stand up and walk around for a few minutes on a regular basis to curb the harmful impacts of inactivity.
The study led by Professor Bernard is the first to explore the link between a person’s level of physical activity and his or her mental health. He analyzed data from a health survey of 8 000 Canadians between 2007 and 2012. Participants had to wear a fitness tracker and recorded their level of well-being for several days.
Further studies are currently underway to more accurately assess the effects of different amounts of exercise on the symptoms of depression and certain psychotic disorders.