Physical Exercise

The Importance of Physical Exercise on Mental Health

The importance of physical exercise is not always adequately appreciated by those that live with the symptoms of Mood and Anxiety Disorders and to a large extent, mental health professionals as well.

Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain and by an influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress.

This physiologic influence is probably mediated by the communication of thehypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis with several regions of the brain, including the limbic system, which controls motivation and mood; the amygdala, which generates fear in response to stress; and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation.

  • Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.
  • Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
  • Exercise is especially important in patients with schizophrenia since these patients are already vulnerable to obesity and also because of the additional risk of weight gain associated with antipsychotic treatment, especially with the atypical antipsychotics.

Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk for 3-days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. These 30-minutes of moderate-intensity exercise need not be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.

Health Benifits to Moderate-intensity Exercise

Health benefits from regular exercise that should be emphasized and reinforced by every mental health professional to their patients should include the following:

  1. Improved sleep
  2. Increased interest in sex
  3. Better endurance
  4. Stress relief
  5. Improvement in mood
  6. Increased energy and stamina
  7. Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  8. Weight reduction
  9. Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

Mental health service providers can thus provide effective, evidence-based physical activity intervention programs for individuals suffering from Mood and Anxiety Disorders.

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