Mental health is an essential component of overall wellbeing. As fitness professionals, understanding the profound connection between physical activity and mental health can equip us with tools to better support our clients and community. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2023) has shed further light on this association, providing us with robust evidence on the benefits of exercise for mental health. Let’s explore the findings and implications.

Key Findings from the Study

A comprehensive umbrella review synthesised evidence from 97 reviews, encompassing 1039 trials and a whopping 128,119 participants. This analysis aimed to determine the effects of physical activity on symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress among adult populations.

The results were compelling:

  1. Depression: Physical activity showed a medium effect in reducing symptoms of depression.
  2. Anxiety: Physical activity was similarly effective in reducing anxiety symptoms.
  3. Psychological Distress: The impact was even more pronounced for psychological distress, with a significant reduction in symptoms reported.
  4. Specific populations, including individuals with depression, HIV, kidney disease, pregnant and postpartum women, and even healthy individuals, reaped the most substantial benefits from physical activity.
  5. Higher-intensity physical activity led to more significant improvements in these symptoms.
  6. Interestingly, the effectiveness of physical activity interventions waned with longer duration interventions.

Physical Activity For Mental Health

Implications for Fitness Professionals

Given these findings, what are the key takeaways for those in the fitness industry?

  1. Prioritise Physical Activity: Emphasise regular physical activity as a primary strategy for individuals experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or psychological distress. This goes beyond aesthetics and fitness goals.
  2. Tailor the Intensity: Encourage clients to engage in higher-intensity exercises, given its association with greater improvements in mental health symptoms.symptoms.
  3. Diversify the Approach: As the effectiveness diminishes with longer durations, it might be worthwhile to integrate different physical activities, ensuring diversity and sustained interest.
  4. Educate and Advocate: As trainers and instructors, raise awareness about these mental health benefits in your sessions, classes, and community initiatives. This could motivate more people to commit to regular exercise.

The relationship between physical activity and mental wellbeing isn’t a new revelation. Another study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal, found that individuals who exercised regularly reported 43% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than those who didn’t exercise. The study also pointed out that even activities such as walking can make a significant difference.

Physical activity isn’t just about physical transformation; it’s a potent remedy for mental wellbeing. As fitness professionals, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to leverage this knowledge, driving a holistic approach to health and wellness. By integrating these findings into our practice, we can contribute significantly to improving the mental and emotional health of those we serve.


  1. Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 16 February 2023. Click here to review the full research article
  2. Chekroud SR, Gueorguieva R, Zheutlin AB, Paulus M, Krumholz HM, Krystal JH, Chekroud AM. Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018 Sep;5(9):739-746. Click here to review the full research article

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