If you’ve been looking long and hard for a serious exercise program to boost your mental health, new exercise research offers good news: you don’t have to workout long and/or hard to notice the benefits of physical activity. In fact, as little as 20 minutes of any physical activity per week is enough to boost your mood.  

Although regular exercise is thought to be associated with better mental health, there is a lack of consensus regarding the optimal amount and type of activity to achieve these benefits, say researchers at University College in London who reported their findings in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.  

The researchers examined the association between mental health and physical activity behaviors among a representative sample of 19,842 men and women from the Scottish Health Surveys. They identified psychological distress, as gauged by responses to a questionnaire, in 3,200 of the participants. Any form of physical activity – including housework, gardening, walking and sports – was associated with lower levels of distress.  

While the study offers good news for those who are minimally active, it also offers an incentive for them the minimally active to exercise more. The results show that while a minimum of 20 minutes improved mental health, a high level of activity decreased the chance of psychological distress even more.