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Exercise (e.g., running, or cycling) is a subcategory of physical activity that describes any physical movement of the skeletal muscles in a planned and structured way to improve physical fitness or getting a health benefit (Caspersen, Powell, & Christenson, 1985).


Terms that are related to exercise are ‘physical activity’ and ‘sports’. Physical activity is an umbrella term for exercise and sports that describes any physical movement of the skeletal muscles resulting in energy expenditure (e.g., house cleaning, climbing stairs, or walking). In contrast to that, sports (e.g., playing soccer, or basketball) describes physical activity in a more structured way than exercise, with predefined rules and with the intention of competing with other people or increasing performance (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2005).

Health benefitsexercise and mental health

According to the WHO (2010), the physical health benefits of exercise are shown in an improvement of muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness, weight control, as well as disease prevention and rehabilitation (World Health Organization, 2010). It is well known that exercising reduces the risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Additionally, it shows positive effects on mental health and reduces the risk of mental health disorders such as depression (World Health Organization, 2010). This makes exercise and mental health a cutting edge topic in research.


Parameters that characterize exercise are duration, frequency, intensity, and exercise type (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2005). For getting exercise benefits for health, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2010) recommends to execute at least 150 minutes (duration) per week (frequency) of moderate-intensity (lower intensity) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity (higher intensity), and to execute strengthening activities for the major muscle groups on two or more days a week. According to the WHO (2010), children should achieve at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity per day without doing maximum strength training. In detail, moderate intensity can be compared to a brisk walk with a low increase in heart rate, whereas vigorous intensity can be compared to jogging with a substantial increase in heart rate and rapid breathing (Pate et al., 1995).

Exercise in Eat2beNICE

In the Eat2beNICE project, we want to investigate the protective and preventive effects of physical activity and exercise, in interaction with dietary patterns, on impulsive and compulsive behaviors in both population-based and patient samples. In other words, we determine if habitual physical activity and acute exercise are protective and preventive factors for people showing impulsive and compulsive behaviors.


Caspersen, C. J., Powell, K. E., & Christenson, G. M. (1985). Physical activity, exercise, and physical fitness: Definitions and distinctions for health-related research. Public Health Reports, 100(2), 126–131.

Hagger, M., & Chatzisarantis, N. (2005). The Social Psychology of Exercise and Sport. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Pate, R. R., Pratt, M., Blair, S. N., Haskell, W. L., Macera, C. A., Bouchard, C., . . . King, A. C. (1995). Physical activity and public health. A recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. JAMA, 273(5), 402–407.

World Health Organization. (2010). Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Genève: World Health Organization.

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About the author

Elena D. Koch is a sports scientist who does research at the Mental mHealth Lab / Chair of Applied Psychology, Institute of Sports and Sports Science, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Karlsruhe, Germany. She is investigating the effects of physical activity on adolescents and adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 728018

New Brain Nutrition is a project and brand of Eat2BeNice, a consortium of 18 European University Hospitals throughout the continent.

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