Varying your physical activities can lead to better mental health outcomes, study finds

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Experts say their work could help those struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic

Staying physically active can have benefits for consumers’ physical and mental health. That’s why several studies have highlighted the importance of following an exercise regimen during COVID-19-related lockdowns. 

Now, researchers from the University of Basel have found that physical activity is crucial for mental health; however, they say incorporating a variety of different activities is likely to lead to the greatest mental health benefits for consumers. 

“Our results suggest that activity alone is not enough to reduce symptoms of mental disorders, but can at least improve subjective well-being,” said researcher Andrew Gloster. 

The importance of staying active

The researchers had 106 people with mental health struggles participate in the study. Over the course of one week, they were given an additional cell phone to carry around that tracked their physical movement. After that period, the participants answered questions about their overall mental health and wellness, which the researchers used to compare to their physical activity logs. 

Ultimately, physical activity didn’t change the participants’ mental health-related symptoms. However, the researchers learned that when participants moved more frequently, and varied the type of movement that they did, they had improved levels of overall well-being. The study also showed that variety of movement was associated with greater psychological flexibility. 

Staying active during COVID-19

Though this study was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers believe that these findings can translate to this last year of quarantine and stay-at-home orders. Physical activity and mental health took a serious hit in 2020 because consumers’ day-to-day routines were impacted so greatly and regular activities were prohibited.

Consumers have had limitations on where they can go and the kinds of physical activity that they can engage in, and the researchers believe this has likely had a significant impact on mental health. Based on these results, the researchers hope more consumers think about how they’re moving and work to incorporate more variety when they can. 

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