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The impact of physical activity on mental health

The impact of physical activity on mental health
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We asked  Dr Brendan Stubbs , a world leading researcher on mental health, physical activity and wellbeing to tell us what the research shows with regards to the impact of physical activity on mental health

This January the CMHA community is exploring the connection between physical activity and mental health as part of the RED January campaign.

As part of this, we asked  Dr Brendan Stubbs , a world leading researcher on mental health, physical activity and wellbeing to tell us what the research shows with regards to the impact of physical activity on mental health:

“There are two key areas where physical activity has a key role in mental health.

"First, we now have very strong evidence to suggest that being more active at any age (children, adults or even in older age) can help promote better mental health and actually protect us from developing depression and anxiety. Two key papers from our group exemplify these points. First, among 260,000 people free from depression at baseline, we found that over a 7.5 year period, people who were most active were less likely to develop depression than those who were least active by about 20% with the greatest effect seen when people completed recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate – vigorous physical activity  over the course of a week . Depression is a complex condition and genetics play a role, but recent research has shown that even if you have a genetic predisposition, by increasing your physical activity you can reduce your risk of  developing depression . We have found similar findings for the protective effects of being more active to protect against anxiety symptoms and  stress disorders .  We have also recently undertaken some novel research among 84,460 adults and shown that having good cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength can protect against future depression and  anxiety.  So, moving more and working your heart, lungs and muscles all have a key role in promotion of good mental health. 

"The second key area has been the recognition that physical activity and structured exercise can be helpful to treat people with  symptoms of anxiety,  stress disorders and  depression .  Recent research has demonstrated that for poor mental health, anxiety, and depression that exercise can have comparable benefits to more traditional approaches such as  cognitive behavioural therapy or medication .  A landmark, large randomised control trial including almost 1000 people with depression and lasting 12 months found that exercise was as effective as internet delivered CBT and both were better than  standard care .”

About Dr Brendon Stubbs

Dr Brendon Stubbs research focusses on physical activity and mental health and the relationship between having a sound mind and body.  Dr Stubbs is ranked as one of the world’s most influential mental health researchers according to Clarivate™ “Web of Science” from an International pool of 8 million scientists  https://recognition.webofscience.com/awards/highly-cited/2020/. Brendon has published over 550 academic papers and given over 250 invited talks on mental health and lifestyle across the world.  Brendon’s research is frequently featured in multiple media outlets such as the New York Times, TIME magazine, Forbes, CNN, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, BBC news, ITV news and Sky News (among others).  Brendon has also has several number 1 podcasts including with Dr Rangan Chatterjee (https://drchatterjee.com/how-exercise-changes-your-brain-and-reduces-your-risk-of-depression/).  Dr Stubbs is also an advisor to several large Inter(national) health, fitness, fashion, businesses & start-ups, helping organisations develop, plan, assess and implement evidence based solutions to tackle some of societies big challenges, using robust science to demonstrate value.