Exercise statistically good, I mean bad, for your brain!

by Denis Faye | October 29, 2012

We all know that exercise helps your mental healthishness but, how much physical activity, exactly, do you need to make your noggin happy? I could advise you to find out by listening to your body and picking up on its cues, but what’s the fun in that? Why use common sense and physical evidence when you can use statistics!

In science’s continued quest to prove the human body is no more complex than a Commodore 64, Columbia researchers held themselves a little survey, talking to 7,600 adult Americans. They discovered (sort of) that the magic number(s) is/are 2.5 hours to 7.5 hours a week.

Vague much?

But wait, there’s more! The survey also showed that people who exercised more than 7.5 hours a week were more prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety. But before you petition to have padded rooms installed throughout Rio’s 2016 Olympics Village, keep in mind that these numbers mean nothing. As plainly stated in this HealthDay article, “While the study found an association between high amounts of exercise and worse mental health, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.”

In other words, while most heavy exercisers probably have fine mental health, there are also probably a few lost souls out there who look to excessive workouts as a solution for their mental woes and that’s throwing off the numbers.

I’ve survived a few dark patches myself. There were stretches where my 4-times-a-week, 3-hour surf sessions felt like the only thing keeping me from completely losing my marbles. Was that 12-hours-a-week doing me harm? Doubtful. To me, it seemed like a better solution than the various pills and tonics that were offered by the authorities.

With this in mind, I’m pretty annoyed by news sources who choose to ignore this non-causal relationship. For example, the same HealthDay article I just quoted used this subhead.

“But too much time spent working out can have psychological downside, experts warn”

Come on your guys! You suck! Experts don’t warn that! Read your own article!

However, further research is needed to determine whether people who tend to be depressed and anxious are more likely to be more physically active as a way to keep their mental symptoms under control, or whether greater amounts of exercise actually cause symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This is what happens when you try to assign set numbers to something as highly individual as the brain’s relationship to working out. So my advice about listening to your body stands. Capping it at 7.5 hours is silly. You know when you’re exercising too much. You don’t recover. You plateau. You feel bad. You injure yourself. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I seriously doubt that your triathlon training is a stress-inducing monkey on your back.

In other words, you do what you gotta do, no matter what the numbers say.

One thought on “Exercise statistically good, I mean bad, for your brain!

  1. jen

    Super interesting as I suffered from depression and anxiety and I was so frustrated–I was exercising all the time and I thought that was supposed to help! Good to know that my situation could make sense.


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