Take it easy to be happy (gym) bunny

However the researchers discovered that more exercise was not always better, with 45 minutes three to five times a week found to have the biggest benefits.

A total of 1.2 million people reported their activity levels for a month and rated their mental wellbeing.

If people were active for 45 minutes a session, they had about 1.5 more days of good mental health each month than people who exercised for less than ten minutes, and about half a day more than those who exercised for longer than 90 minutes.

Exercise is known to bring health benefits by reducing the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but its links with mental health were less clear.

Participants were also asked to estimate how many days in the past 30 they would rate their mental health as "not good" based on stress, depression and emotional problems.

A study in the United States has found that people who exercise several times a week report having better mental health than those who take no exercise, with team sports and those involving social groups having the most positive effect. It is easy to imagine why someone might have poor mental health if they are exercising more 6 or 7 days per week.

Dr Chekroud said: 'Our finding that team sports are associated with the lowest mental health burden may indicate that social activities promote resilience and reduce depression by reducing social withdrawal and isolation'.

Among people who had been diagnosed previously with depression, exercise appeared to have a larger effect, resulting in seven days of poor mental health a month compared with almost 11 days for those who did no exercise.

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All types of activity were found to improve mental health no matter people's age or gender, including doing the housework and looking after the children.

But there could be such a thing as doing too much exercise, the study concluded.

Dr Adam Chekroud from Yale University said: "Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide".

But the study has some limitations. Our study suggested this is not the case.

"However, the nature of the study means it's hard to say more than that with any real certainty", he said.

Professor Stephen Lawrie, head of psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, said: "This is an impressively large study and that alone gives the results impact and plausibility, but it has to be remembered that it is an observational, cross-sectional study of self-reported measures of both activity and mental health".

"That means that we can not be sure from these results alone whether exercise is good for mental health, but the size of the study, the careful analytical approach taken by the authors and the other evidence already available makes this very likely".

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