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FEB 28, 2024

The Profound Link Between Exercise and Mental Health: The Facts!


Breaking down the fascinating statistics that link exercising with improved mental health.

Read time: 4 minutes

Year in, year out, countless studies are done when it comes to all aspects of fitness. But it’s only in the last thirty years or so that we’ve started to really dive into the connections and common threads between physical activity and psychological wellbeing.

So let’s put anecdotal experience to one side and just stick to the cold hard facts. Can you improve your mental health through exercise? According to these numbers... more than you’d think!

The Statistical Landscape: A Closer Look

89% of people found a positive relationship between exercise and better mental health

Based on studies between 1990 and 2022, a staggering 89% of people surveyed noted a positive correlation between exercise and mental health. That’s a frankly huge number and paints a picture that cements itself in empirical evidence. In other words, it’s as good as true for everyone!

Exercise lowers the risk of depression by 20-30%

That’s right, engaging in daily physical activity leads to a 20%-30% reduced risk of falling into the clutches of depression and experiencing general feelings of distress [Source: Start Active, Stay Active]. This statistic is an interesting and powerful testament to the power of movement – especially when it comes to fortifying our mental defenses against whatever life throws at us.

People who exercise have fewer bad days than good

We all have bad days, not necessarily because of things that directly happen to us, but that stem from within. And evidence shows regular exercisers report on average 1.5 fewer "bad days" per month compared to those who don’t exercise. Now, that may not initially sound like much. But I’m sure we’d all take a whole 36 hours of feeling better than worse!

55% of gym members feel their membership helps their mental health

For some, the gym is a mental sanctuary. In fact, 55% of gym-goers say their membership is a major component in managing both short-term and long-term mental health conditions. Most of this stems from the controlled environment of a gym, equipped with varied machinery and the presence of like-minded individuals.

78% of people who join gyms feel an improvement in mental health

It’s not just long-term gym members, a huge 78% of individuals who join gyms report an almost immediate improvement in their mental health and wellbeing. Again, this is because having a safe and designated place to exercise is so beneficial. And the community and support system it fosters helps with psychological growth and healing.

Here’s some more interesting facts from the same study:

75% of people say exercise boosts their confidence

66% of people say exercise improved their sleep quality

43% of people said going to the gym helped them make new friends

These facts highlight the broad appeal of not only exercising but doing so in a gym. It boosts confidence and gives people newfound self-assurance. People have reported that regular exercise led to deeper, more rejuvinating sleep. And several gym attendees find like-minded individuals and strike-up long-lasting friendships; the benefits of which stem far outside the gym.

Understanding the Nuances

While these statistics paint a hopeful picture of exercise as a powerful tool in enhancing mental health, it's also really important to approach these figures with a balanced perspective. It would be far too easy to make leaps and connections and say “but the evidence shows--”.

As such, you may see articles, TikTok videos and think pieces that exercise alone can somehow supersede more medicinal remedies for medical conditions. But this requires careful consideration.

See, exercise and medication shouldn’t be viewed as mutually exclusive but rather as complementary elements of a comprehensive mental health strategy. If you’ve been prescribed a treatment that is going to boost your mental wellbeing, don’t throw that away thinking an exercise routine will replace it.

Yes, the physical benefits of exercise, including the release of endorphins, improved sleep, and increased energy levels, can significantly bolster mental health. However, for individuals dealing with severe mental health conditions, medication, under the guidance of medical professionals, plays an indispensable role.

In Conclusion

The statistics we’ve set out offer a compelling case for the role of exercise in promoting mental wellbeing. However, the journey towards mental health is multifaceted, with exercise being one of many tools in your arsenal. As such, it's essential to remember that individual needs vary, and what works for one person may not for another. Therefore, while embracing the benefits of physical activity, find a personalized approach to mental health that works for you and ensure we create a broader, nuanced landscape of mental health care.

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Written by Matthew Stogdon

Matt has been writing for two decades, across print and digital media. He is also an accomplished filmmaker, with several accolades under his belt.

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