We all know that exercise is good for us. Why, then, do most people find it so hard to do? Despite the wide acceptance among researchers and medical authorities that exercise is a key element of healthy living and can be effective in the prevention and treatment of a myriad of medical conditions, researchers find that the large majority of adults remain sedentary. It’s not just the body that suffers from lack of exercise. Recent research supports the use of physical activity to promote psychological health, as well. Hopefully, the following information will be the motivation you need to get up and start moving.
Using Exercise to Treat Anxiety and Depression
A physically active lifestyle has been associated with greater psychological well-being, specifically lower rates of depression and anxiety. If you have ever gone on even a short run, bike ride, or a walk around your neighborhood after a stressful day, you have probably felt significantly better afterwards. The link between exercise and mood is surprisingly strong; usually only five minutes of moderate exercise will provide mood-enhancing effects. You don’t need to run a marathon, small amounts of exercise produce big effects. These effects only grow stronger with time. Researchers have found that consistent moderate exercise has been correlated with lower rates of depression over the long-term. James Blumenthal, a prominent researcher in this field, has found that after 4 months of exercise, people with major depression showed reduced rates of depression comparable to those taking anti-depressants. Furthermore, those engaging in exercise had lower-rates of relapse 1 year after treatment, lower even than those taking antidepressants.
In my research as a graduate student, I studied the link between physical activity and well-being in older adults and found that not only were older adults who engaged in exercise less likely to experience physical problems (including disability, problems walking, body pain), they reported significantly lower rates of depression and higher levels of psychological well-being. This was in participants ranging in ages from 70 to 95, proving that it is never too late to start exercising! One of my most important findings was that exercise comes in many shapes and sizes. It was not only convention exercise that had a positive impact on health, but many leisure activities such as gardening, walking, cleaning, dancing, showed the same positive effects. The most important component is to get moving and elevate your heart rate whenever possible. These are things that I believe, with the right support, anyone can do.
Integrating Exercise into Psychotherapy
Many psychologists are hesitant to suggest an exercise or physical activity to their clients, as it does not fit into their idea of what “therapy should be.” My belief is that using an integrative approach which combines psychotherapy with other effective modalities, such as exercise, helps clients feel better faster and for longer durations. This often includes working closely with someone’s physical therapist, physician, or healthcare team to develop a plan that works for the individual client. While the road to recovery is always a unique and individual path, I believe that integrating physical activity and exercise can often be a part of one’s process to happiness and well-being.
Interested in improving your mental health? You can make an appointment with Dr. Sandy Krohn at City Psychology Group by calling 646-842-9413.