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A study of 1.2 million people has revealed the number one exercise for improving mental health.

The results are in: if you want to keep your mind as healthy as your body, you should play a team sport or take group gym classes. A four-year study involving 1.2 million people in the US found that people who exercised in groups, such as in team sports or group fitness classes, enjoyed the highest number of “good” mental health days in a month.

Cycling, either on the road or a stationary bike, was reportedly the second most effective form of exercise for a happy mind. Gym or aerobic exercise came in third, while running just missed the podium in fourth.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry in August, was the largest of its kind in analysing the mental health benefits of particular activities. Researchers asked participants to report how many days in one month they felt their mental health was “not good” because of stress, depression or emotional problems. Those who played team sports or took group fitness classes reported a substantial 22.3 per cent fewer poor mental-health days than those who didn’t exercise. Cyclists reported a 21.6 per cent reduction in poor mental health days and runners reported a 19 per cent reduction.

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