Exercise Boosts Mental Health

 In Exercise Physiology, General, Patient Information


It is a sad reality that each year, 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness. The onset of mental illness is more prevalent in the adolescent group however can occur at any stage in a person’s life. Common mental illnesses in Australia are: anxiety disorders (14%), depressive disorders (6%) and substance abuse disorders (5%). 54% of people with mental illness do not access any treatment or may be delayed in the detection of the illness.

There is mounting evidence outlining the effectiveness of exercise as a mental health treatment, with some studies suggesting that exercise is just as, if not more effective than pharmacological intervention in alleviating depressive symptoms. Exercise can also counteract the side effects of some medications, for example; reducing the risk of falls by strengthening the muscles and helping control body weight.

Whilst most forms of exercise will provide some benefit at managing mental illness, a recent systematic review of depression and exercise concluded that supervised aerobic exercise, moderate intensity levels and about 3-4 times a week, is more likely to be beneficial. Further research has also identified exercising outdoors to be associated with increased energy, decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension, when compared to exercising indoors.

More recently, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has also had increased interest in the general population. It is also of great benefit to those suffering from a mental illness as research has shown that higher levels of serotonin are released when exercising at higher intensities. The contradiction to this is that not all patients may be able to exercise to these intensities due to other health or injury factors, which is why seeking the correct advice from an Exercise Physiologist is crucial when planning your exercise and mental health plan.

Improved emotion and mental stat post exercise is due to the endorphins and serotonin that are released. It can also help to reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation. Exercising regularly is an extremely effective way at reducing or managing stress levels and improving your sleep. The physiological changes that occur to your brain through exercise come about due to increased brain activity and blood flow to the brain when exercising. It increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory, it also increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain which also improves memory and helps protect your brain against injury and disease.

In summary; things to remember when starting exercise as part of your mental health care plan:

  • Whilst higher doses of exercises may be more effective it may be harder to stick with so start slowly and gradually build up.
  • Plan to exercise at specific times of the day that fit in with your lifestyle and write your plan down
  • Remember it can take time for the benefits of exercise to occur. Most studies have shown a significant reduction in depression after 8 weeks or more.
  • Work with an appropriately educated professional such as an AEP who understands the complexity of the challenges faced with Mental health, and has the skills and knowledge to help individuals manage their condition and any barriers they may come up against.

Call us on 4051 3252 or book online for appointment to discuss how exercise can help you!

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