We know that regular exercise can be good for us physically, and it can help to prevent lifestyle diseases. But did you know the powerful benefits exercise can have on your mental health? Now more than ever we are in need of strategies to help improve our mental health and numerous studies show that exercise can assist with managing depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental health issues.
The relationship between mood and exercise was established in the 1970’s but it is only more recently that studies have been conducted into the benefits of exercise and the treatment of mental health disorders. These studies have concluded that the mental health benefits of training are clear and impactful!
EXERCISE IS PREVENTATIVE AS WELL AS A TREATMENT FOR MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS
We now know that regular exercise is a powerful protective tool against the onset of depressive disorders. One study, conducted over an 18 year period, found those who exercised regularly were at lower risk of developing a depressive disorder than those who didn’t exercise or ceased exercising after a period of time. In respect to assisting the management of depression, a meta-analysis of clinical trials discovered, that by comparison to no treatment, exercise reduced depression equally as well as cognitive therapy and is therefore considered an established treatment for depression, and it is typically evaluated as an adjunctive treatment to pharmacotherapy or psychological therapy.
Exercise has also been shown to improve stress management, general well-being, and self-esteem. It is recommended that exercise dose should meet minimum public health guidelines for maintaining health. It has been suggested that higher doses may have stronger effects on mental health, but maybe more difficult to implement in practice.
Including exercise in your long term lifestyle could help prevent the onset of mental health conditions AND can assist with their treatment!
WHAT TYPE OF EXERCISE IS BEST?
For treating depression and anxiety specifically, most studies have evaluated aerobic exercise (aka cardio) as superior to resistance (aka strength or weight training) or mixed exercise approaches. Most studies have indicated that higher doses of exercise have a better outcome. However, for anxiety symptoms, the trend wasn’t quite so straightforward; it seems with anxiety, that there may be an optimal exercise dosage, with higher doses of exercise producing diminishing returns. This tells us that the amount and type of exercise best suited will be influenced by the mental health condition present.
Although higher doses of exercise may be a more effective treatment or preventative measure, the exercise regime you follow needs to fit into your lifestyle. We need to be practical in our approach to using exercise as a tool, and there is still more emerging research that will help to clarify how much and what type of exercise we should be doing to reap these mental health benefits.
Based on the limited scientific evidence, the minimum recommendations for mental health benefits of exercise are at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity for a period of at least 8 weeks. Larger doses may be more effective if this is feasible.
For most people, a great starting point is simply finding the form of exercise that you enjoy that you can fit into your life. Even if this is just a walk, a gentle stretch, an ab workout in front of the TV, or a short weights session. Just getting started is the most important step! As with any exercise, it may be necessary to slowly build up the amount of exercise, and focus on increasing daily physical activity that suits your individual needs and capabilities.
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There is no doubt that the benefits of exercise are overwhelming! It plays a key role in keeping us physically and mentally healthy and is a vital tool in the fight against mental health conditions, which are on the rise! The key is reaching out, getting in touch with those professionals that can help you find the approach that is right for you, and simply just getting started! There is no better time than now to take your physical and mental health into your own hands!