Myriad past studies have found links between physical activity and improved mood in participants with serious clinical conditions. But a recent Columbia University Health Center study, published in Health Psychology, examined whether generally healthy but inactive people without a history of mood disorders could become even happier and better adjusted if they started exercise regimens.
Researchers followed 119 men and women ages 20 to 45. After answering questionnaires about their mental health and lifestyle habits, such as smoking, they were divided into a sedentary control group and an active group. The latter group performed moderate aerobic exercise led by coaches four times weekly for three months; each session included walking, jogging, or riding on a stationary bicycle for 35 minutes and raising participants’ heart rates to 70 to 80 percent of their max.
The aerobic exercise had significant mental-health benefits, as reported by participants on follow-up surveys. And those perks lingered for weeks after people stopped exercising.
“This study reminds us that we have this coping tool available to us,” lead study author and Columbia instructor Kathleen McIntyre, MSW, told the New York Times. “If you can get outside and walk or hike or run safely, it should help with the negative feelings that just about everyone has been experiencing recently.”