Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity

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Abstract

Purpose of review

This review highlights recent work evaluating the relationship between exercise, physical activity and physical and mental health. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, as well as randomized clinical trials, are included. Special attention is given to physical conditions, including obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, studies relating physical activity to depression and other mood states are reviewed. The studies include diverse ethnic populations, including men and women, as well as several age groups (e.g. adolescents, middle-aged and older adults).

Recent findings

Results of the studies continue to support a growing literature suggesting that exercise, physical activity and physical-activity interventions have beneficial effects across several physical and mental-health outcomes. Generally, participants engaging in regular physical activity display more desirable health outcomes across a variety of physical conditions. Similarly, participants in randomized clinical trials of physical-activity interventions show better health outcomes, including better general and health-related quality of life, better functional capacity and better mood states.

Summary

The studies have several implications for clinical practice and research. Most work suggests that exercise and physical activity are associated with better quality of life and health outcomes. Therefore, assessment and promotion of exercise and physical activity may be beneficial in achieving desired benefits across several populations. Several limitations were noted, particularly in research involving randomized clinical trials. These trials tend to involve limited sample sizes with short follow-up periods, thus limiting the clinical implications of the benefits associated with physical activity.

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