Exercise away your mental conditionSunday, September 25, 2016
By PENDA HONEYGHAN
PHYSICAL exercise is synonymous with physical fitness and wellness, but its prowess in contributing to improved mental health has garnered little attention. But senior registrar with the Kingston and St Andrew Community Mental Health Services and psychiatrist at the Edgewater Medical Centre in Bridgeport, St Catherine, Dr Danielle Nelson, explains that much benefits could be reaped by patients with mental conditions.
"In examining this issue, we have to ponder, does exercise improve mental health, or is exercising a sign of good mental health? Scientists do acknowledge that persons who take the decision to exercise may naturally practise a wide range of positive health behaviours that keep them in better mental health. They also may have a psychological disposition that may in itself protect their mental health, like being resilient. The different types of studies, however, show that the association of exercise with improvements in mental health is clear," Dr Nelson explained.
She pointed out that physical exercise has been touted for its role in the control of a host of diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and some cancers have been linked to lack of physical activity.
"But people may not be aware of the beneficial effects exercise can have on mental health. The positive effects of exercise on mental health can be categorised into prevention of mental illness, treatment of mental disorders, and improvement, in general, of mental and physical well-being – both for those with mental illnesses and those without," Dr Nelson said.
Dr Nelson pointed out that while exercise is known to aid in coping with mental illnesses, one of its finest attributes is its role in the prevention of these conditions.
"In many studies, regular exercise has been associated with a reduced risk of the development of depressive and anxiety disorders, the most common mental disorders. Paffenbarger, a leading physician and public health researcher, and his colleagues, studied a group of young men over a 25-year period. They found depression rates to be lower in the men who exercised, as well as the athletes. The lower rates of depression stayed the same over the 25 years for those who continued this healthy habit," Dr Nelson shared.
In a second study, which Dr Nelson said was conducted by Hassmen and colleagues in over 3,000 men and women in Finland, the findings suggest that exercise shares a close association with improvements in signs of general mental well-being across populations.
"[The study shows] that persons who exercised more frequently reported better social lives and increased sense of belonging than those who exercised less. They also found persons who exercised reported feeling less stressed than those who did not. Persons who exercised regularly reported higher self-esteem and other positive personality traits, such as a balance of feelings of external and internal locus of control," Dr Nelson said.
She said that with even the argument of prevention out of the way, physical exercise, like other forms of medication, have found a home in the treatment department of mental illnesses, earning the respect of a plethora of health practitioners, and comes highly recommended for these patients.
"Exercise is also used as a treatment for disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders, in combination with other therapeutic interventions. Several studies on exercise as the treatment for depression found there to be a significant reduction in depressive symptoms in those diagnosed with depression, with regular exercise. Insomnia is also a common problem, affecting approximately 30 per cent of adults over a lifespan. Daytime exercise has been found to be the most influential behavioural factor in improving sleep quality, although this positive effect is also related to sunlight exposure during exercise and sunlight’s effect on the body’s internal clocks," Dr Nelson told
She said The American College of Sports Medicine defines exercise as planned, repetitive and structured activity, with the goal of improving fitness.
"The same group recommends that adequate exercise is a physical activity performed at least two or three times a week, for at least 15–20 minutes on each occasion, and with an intensity that results in increased breathing and perspiration. Physical exercise does not have to be complicated, nor does it have to involve gyms or expensive equipment. Walking, jogging and exercises that involve using one’s own body weight as resistance are only some of the many free, simple forms of exercise," Dr Nelson shared.
She acknowledged that, while physical exercise is beneficial to the treatment of mental and other medical conditions, it is important to keep all doctor’s appointments and to follow through with medical recommendations as per ordered by your personal physician.
"It is important to note that exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, but is not a cure-all for any health concern. Persons who are experiencing physical illness, psychological distress and psychiatric illness still need to seek expert assessment and care to tackle these issues. Your physician [should be able to help you to start] a suitable exercise regimen," she urged.