Physical exercise is associated with a myriad of health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular health and lower risk of hypertension and diabetes. However, the association of physical exercise with mental health remains uncertain. This study aims to evaluate the association between physical exercise and medical health.

This cross-sectional study included a total of 1,237,194 people aged 18 years or older. The number of days of bad self-reported mental health in individuals who exercised and those who did not was examined using a non-parametric matching procedure. The primary outcome of the study was a reduction in self-reported mental health burden.

The findings suggested that people who exercised had 1.49 (43%) fewer days of self-reported poor mental health than individuals who did not exercise. Further analysis indicated that all types of exercises were associated with a lower mental health burden than not exercising at all. The largest decrease in mental health burden was seen with team sports (–22.3%), cycling (–21.6%), and aerobic & gym activities (–20.1%). However, demographic variables like income and education also played a crucial role in the final outcome.

The research concluded that physical exercise of all types was associated with improved self-reported mental health, as compared with no exercise at all.