Low-intensity workouts could be better for your mental health, says research

Exercise can be a great mood-boosting tool and it turns out lighter, more gentle exercise could be most effective at this

Group of women all walking together as a mood-boosting activity
(Image credit: Getty)

Exercise can be used to improve your mood, but it doesn't have to be in the form of a long, hard run or a high-intensity sweaty HIIT workout. Research has found that low-intensity exercise could be the best at increasing people's mental health.

Low-intensity physical activity can come in all shapes and sizes. Some people might feel most peaceful when they go a walk, whether that is outdoors or on one of our best treadmills indoors. Meanwhile, others might get a mood boost from practicing yoga or pilates on one of our best yoga mat entries.

Various research has been conducted on exercise at different levels of intensity and looked at how this affects people's moods. This meta-analysis study published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that overall low-intensity aerobic exercise had the most significant impact on increasing positive moods.

More specifically the researchers found that low-intensity aerobic exercise practiced for 30-35 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week, for a period of 10-12 weeks was best at promoting better mental health (for example, greater feelings of enthusiasm and alertness) among participants.

And if you are looking to stick to new fitness regimes this year, you will want to find forms of exercise that you actually enjoy doing, to increase your chance of staying consistent. Lower-intensity research might be the one, as additional research has found that people actually enjoy lower-intensity, steady-state cardio more than high-intensity training (such as a Tabata HIIT workout).

Man practices a low intensity session of Pilates in his home

(Image credit: Getty)

Leading wellness app Calm recently conducted a survey that revealed more and more people are engaging in the softer side of exercise to boost their mental health. The study results showed that walking (70%) and stretching (37%) were the most popular weekly activities, sitting two and three times higher than high-intensity physical activity such as weight-lifting.

Calm’s new Daily Move instructor, Mel Mah shared, "Movement has been a grounding anchor in my mental health journey, and moving for just a few minutes a day has taught me that the feeling of belonging and acceptance actually come from within."

Blocking out 20-30 minutes of your day for gentle exercise could be a great way to transform your overall mood this year. It won't solve everything but lacing up your feet in a pair of best shoes for walking and enjoying a light walk is a good way to get some headspace without causing too much fatigue.

You could even enjoy a steady paced cycle on one of the best exercise bikes, this way you can increase your heart rate but you get to choose the pace you feel most relaxed at.

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.