Exercise and Mental Health
Research has repeatedly shown that exercise is just about the most important lifestyle choice someone can make with regards to their mental health. It can significantly help alleviate depression, anxiety, and can aid in recovery from just about every psychiatric condition.
Exercise that increases your heart rate at least three hours a week or 30 minutes a day may help boost your body’s natural mood-enhancers. Exercise increases the body’s production of endorphins – chemical substances that can relieve depression.
A large body of evidence consisting of over 1000 studies and study reviews have found exercise to be a significant means of reducing the symptoms of depression.
The available evidence suggests that any type of exercise alleviates depression. In one review of several studies, researchers identified 8 experimental exercise-intervention studies in clinically depressed patients, and exercise was associated with reductions in depression scores in all of the studies.
In a 1991 study, moderately depressed elderly subjects were randomly allocated to walking exercises, social-contact control condition, or a waiting-list control group. Research in 1999 that compared the effects of an exercise training program with those of a prescription antidepressant drug in people over 50 years of age found that exercise was as helpful in reducing depression symptoms as antidepressants.
Other research has demonstrated that exercise helps depression quickly. One exercise and depression study showed that the improvement in mood can begin in just ten minutes after the start of exercising and mood was found to continue to get better for up to twenty minutes.
Another study found depression had improved after participants had walked on a treadmill for thirty minutes a day for only ten days. By comparison, antidepressant medication usually takes at least two to three weeks to begin improving mood. A 2000 study in Finland found that more lasting change in mood was found to have occurred after study participants exercised for just two to three weeks.
Follow-up studies have found that improvement in mood from exercise lasts for as long as exercise is continued. A 2001 study in which participants walked daily for seven weeks found that the decrease in depressive mood was still present at a five months follow-up. When the participants continued to exercise, the ongoing improvement was even greater. Researchers concluded that exercise yields more long term benefits than medication.
Aerobic exercise, such as cardio vascular training, has been found to be helpful in a number of studies as has running. A simple program of regular aerobic exercise can substantially improve depression scores in patients with moderate to severe major depression, despite prior failures with pharmacological therapy. One study found that as little as three hours per week of aerobic exercise can profoundly reduce the level of depression.
One German review study looked at the effects of a variety of types of exercise and how they affected depression. In seven out of eight studies reviewed, various forms of exercise proved beneficial for depression. Aerobic exercise, weight training, dancing, and racquetball all produced improvements in mood as compared to no exercise. Exercise represents an important part of recovery from any type of depression, even major depressive episodes.
About This Excerpt
The above excerpt is reprinted from Dr. Randi Fredricks’ book Healing & Wholeness: Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Mental Health © 2008. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Dr. Randi Fredricks as articles often present the published results of the research of other professionals.