Exercise and Mental Health
By: Sarah Deysher, LCPC
It’s one of those things that you KNOW is good for you, right? Your medical provider talks about it, and fitness communities of course tout the success of their specific “life changing” programs. But how helpful IS exercise for you and your mental health? You might be thinking, “sure, I know exercise is good for me, but it’s so hard to get started.” I see you, and we’ll talk about a few pointers that might help get the ball rolling on moving your body.
There’s some recent research that suggests exercise might be even more effective than antidepressants in addressing symptoms of depression. Singh et al. (2023) completed a systematic review of research data from controlled trials measuring the effect of physical activity on adults to address depression, anxiety, and other psychological distress. It was observed by this study that physical activity was just as or even more effective than psychopharmacological interventions like antidepressants and psychotherapy. I don’t want to talk us all out of a job here at QOP, but this is some compelling stuff!
Prioritizing exercise in some form would likely benefit the good work you are already doing to take care of yourself whether or not you are working with a psychotherapist or medication management provider. Just about ANY type of physical activity is effective, so don’t let any one specific exercise plan convince you that there is ONE WAY to achieve the fitness you are after (Singh et al., 2023). Here are a few things to keep in mind to help get you started:
- Always consult your primary care provider first to determine if any underlying medical conditions would be affected by increased exercise.
- ANY. MOVEMENT. HELPS. It would also likely help to do something you find marginally tolerable. Make a short list of a few types of body movement (walking, stretching, gardening, running, a group fitness class, an organized sport, etc.) and take a look at your weekly schedule. SCHEDULE IN a short period of time you could engage in one of these activities.
- Make some small goals. Perhaps start with committing to moving your body one time a week for 20 minutes. Then, consider slowly increasing this goal.
- The more the merrier! Ask a friend or neighbor to join you for your walk or gardening session. Or if you prefer to go it alone, consider asking a friend to be an accountability partner and let them know you are getting in your weekly movement or exercise!
- Engage in self compassion. You’re not going to get it right each day, week, etc. Life happens, so be kind in the way you talk to yourself if your exercise plan doesn’t work out. Commit to taking one step to making it more possible to move your body tomorrow or next week.
Particularly if you are working through depression and anxiety, physical activity can play a large role in helping to manage your symptoms. Working with your psychotherapist or medication management provider on motivating yourself and finding ways to move your body can support the other efforts you are already putting into your mental health care!
Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al (2023). Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195