Can exercise help your mental health?

psychology of exercise walking pic

by Stephanie Chambers

A study published in 2018 in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal by S. R. Chekroud and his colleagues#¬†analyzing data for over a million adult Americans from 2011, 2013, and 2015 surveys showed that those that physically exercised had 43.2% less “poor mental health” days per month than those that didn’t.

This was especially the case for those that exercised with other people (e.g., in team sports or in gym activities).

To be classed as having exercised they had to do an activity for at least 45 minutes – 3 to 5 times a week.

In a study on Irish male prisoners by Shay O’Toole, Jim Maquire and Pearse Murphy*, published in 2018, they found that those that had mental health issues significantly reduced depression, anxiety, stress and anger and increased self-esteem when they exercised regularly. Their mood scores also rose from 33 to 90%.

These are just a few of many studies showing the benefits to one’s health of regular exercise.

So if you have been suffering from mental health issues, you may like to start a regular exercise program. Even a brisk half hour walk every morning can help. However, before beginning any exercise regime it is best to discuss it with your medical doctor. You may also like to research “interval training programs” because other studies have shown that varying the intensity levels within an exercise session can help you to pillage fat and achieve greater progress in a shorter time period. Some people also find that besides alternating cardio exercise with weight training, that other modalities such as Yoga, Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement Classes, Pilates, Qigong, the Wim Hof Method and so on can be beneficial from time to time. Mixing it up also helps make it less boring and more fun rather than it just a chore you have to do. You should also discuss this with your doctor and find an exercise routine that works well for you.

Once you have received clearance from your medical doctor, you should also discuss your exercise plans with your therapist. It can help to have their encouragement and support in making changes to your lifestyle. They can also help you work out a new schedule for your days so that you can fit the exercise sessions in along with all your other responsibilities. Maybe you can even find clever ways to combine things. For example, if you are also trying to fit in some quality time with your teenage son, why not have them walk or go kayaking with you (or whatever exercise regime that suits you both)? Or if you are a manager at work, why not go for a walk with someone you need to meet with rather than just meeting at a desk to discuss issues they are facing? The fresh air and exercise can also help you both think more clearly about the issues at hand.

Your counselor may also have some suggestions as to the best kinds of exercise for your particular mental health issues. For example, often more vigorous exercise is recommended for depression. If you are anxious, rather than taking up jogging, it might be better for you to just walk briskly and to also do some more calming activities like Yoga. If you often have trouble going to sleep, it is not wise to exercise vigorously at night. A short relaxed after dinner digestive walk and a little bit of calming yoga may be a better way for you to prepare for sleep. If you have had trouble with loneliness and isolation, joining a tennis club or a Wallyball team may also help you make new friends. Exercise can also be a good bonding activity for couples to participate in together.

Sources:

# https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(18)30227-X/fulltext
* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29869583

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