The case for physical activity has been established through its impact on reduction in the risk of physical ill‐health such as coronary heart disease. However, there is increasing interest in its potential for a) treating and preventing mental illness and also b) the promotion of mental well‐being in the general public. The topic is now widely studied with over 30 published narrative or meta‐analytic reviews of research into the effect of exercise on constructs such as clinical or subclinical depression or anxiety, self‐esteem, affect and mood, resilience to stress, cognitive function or sleep. This paper provides a summary and appraisal of the evidence for the effect of exercise on mental health and addresses key issues that face the use of exercise as a medium for health promotion.
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