If you clean your house vigorously for twenty minutes non-stop once a week, your anxiety, distress or depression may improve, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study also stresses that any type of vigorous physical exercise, sustained for a 20-minute period can have a good impact on your mental health. The scientists, from University College London, say that the more vigorous and frequent the activity, the greater the impact.

The study examined a survey of 20,000 men and women who were quizzed for the Scottish Health Survey about their state of mind and how much weekly physical activity they engaged in. Over 3,000 participants were deemed to be suffering from stress and/or anxiety. They found that people who did sports at least once a week were 33% less likely to suffer from mental health problems. Those who did vigorous housework once a week regularly were 20% less likely to suffer from mental health problems. This drop in risk held even after taking into account such factors as age, gender, and the presence of a long term condition.

The researchers stressed that vigorous housework does not include some little light dusting. As well as lasting at least 20 minutes, the activity has to make you feel at least slightly breathless.

The scientists explain that physical activity reduces inflammation, glucose intolerance and cardiovascular problems, all biological factors which are linked to depression risk. They believe these biological factors are probably key to helping physically active people enjoy better mental health. On the other hand, they accepted that it is possible it might be the other way round – people with mental health problems perhaps do not exercise as much.

Mark Hamer, University College London, research team member, explained that several studies seemed to show a link between better mental health and physical activity. This is the first study that quantifies the amount of activity needed to have an impact. He added “But it is a chicken and egg issue – as those who suffer from stress or anxiety may be less likely to take part in physical activity in the first place.”

“Dose-response relationship between physical activity and mental health: the Scottish Health Survey.”
Online First Br J Sports Med 2008; doi 10.1136/bjsm.2008.046243
Click here to view abstract online

Written by – Christian Nordqvist