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How exercise can improve mental health

Posted on: September 16th, 2014 in Mental Health No Comments

People exercising

It is well known that exercise can help improve a person’s health for a number of reasons. But it isn’t just good for the heart; it’s also good for the mind. It has been found that regular exercise and physical activity can help improve a person’s mental health.

Ashish Sharma et al point out in their article “Exercise for Mental Health” that exercise can improve both health and the quality of a person’s life and can be especially important to “individuals with serious mental illness.” While exercise should never be used as a replacement for psychotherapy or necessary medication, it can seriously help a person’s condition by benefiting them in a number of ways.

Beyond the facts that daily exercise can help keep a person healthier, it can also affect their mood and their cognitive functions. Individuals with mental health issues may be at a high risk for chronic diseases which are connected with a sedentary lifestyle, and side effects caused by medication such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia or cardiovascular disease. Modifying a person’s lifestyle to include some form of exercise can help to guard a person against these issues.

Additionally, exercise can help reduce anxiety and depression by helping to improve mood. This is due to increased blood flow to the brain and positive effects of the control centers for motivation, mood, stress response and memory formation. The improvements caused by physical activity in these areas can include distraction, self-efficacy and social interaction. These changes can help reduce anxiety, depression and negative moods and also improve self-esteem and cognitive function.

Other benefits may include improved sleeping patterns, stress relief, improved mood, increased energy, reduced fatigue and reduced cholesterol. Additionally, exercise can act as a healthy coping strategy which may help prevent individuals coping with mental health issues from turning to alcohol or drugs.

Something to remember about exercise and physical activity is that it doesn’t always have to follow the mainstream ideas of exercise such as running or weight lifting. It can include all types of physical exercise along with physical activities such as gardening, washing the car, or even playing with kids or grandkids. The important thing to do is to get up and get moving.

The Mayo Clinic points out that changing your lifestyle to include exercise should also be something long-term and may need to include your mental health provider’s input. The form physical activity takes should be something that a person enjoys so they feel good about it and it doesn’t turn into a chore. It should be discussed with a person’s doctor in order to identify any concerns they may have. If a person is setting goals, they should be reasonable and reachable, making sure to adhere to their needs and abilities.

Exercise is a valuable tool that can help combat some of the problems that come with depression, anxiety and even something like schizophrenia. It helps mood and mind while also making sure that the person doing it feels better. While it can’t replace therapy and medication, it can be a huge benefit alongside them and may magnify the benefits of these treatment options.

Contact Sovereign Health Group for more information on mental health treatment and how we incorporate physical exercise into our treatment programs.

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