Exercise is generally considered an activity that primarily benefits our physical health. From improving muscle strength, balance, and oxygen flow, there are dozens of fitness-related reasons to stay active throughout your life.
However, Even many psychologists They are not fully aware of the impact exercise has on mental health, including mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Ago estimated at a third of people in the United States have symptoms of anxiety and depression (almost twice as original estimates For 2020), health coaches should think about how to do it Exercise and physical activity guidelines Apply to those with these conditions.
In this article, we review the evidence and science behind how exercise affects anxiety and depression.
The science behind the effect of exercise on mental health
Exercise and physical activity require increasing breathing and heart rates and activating the parts of the brain that control balance, muscle activation, and coordination. When we exercise, our metabolic rate increases (the processes by which our bodies convert food and drinks into energy) so that our cells can access energy with increased activity.
The brain participates in each one alone of these operations. While we tend to separate mental health from physical health, remember that the brain is responsible for controlling both conscious and unconscious actions. Conscious actions, originating in the cerebellum, including lifting a weight, moving from warrior II to a triangle pose, or deciding to keep pace with a morning walk. Unconscious actions originate in the brainstem, and these include increasing your breathing, heart rate, and controlling blood pressure.
When we refer to mental health, we are referring to thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perception. These, of course, also originate in the brain, more specifically in limbic system, which includes the amygdala, hypothalamus, and hippocampus.
The effect of exercise on mental health
In general, health professionals less aware There are more mental health outcomes of exercise than physical health outcomes. This is, in part, due to the fact that there is little research on the relationship between exercise and mental health, and that limited sources have theorized and tested biological mechanisms of action.
To date, most research examining the benefits of exercise and physical activity focuses on mental illness rather than mental health. There is a lot of evidence about the benefit of physical activity for people with anxiety and depression, which we discuss below. However, few researchers have studied how exercise benefits mental health regardless of mental illness, in part because of the challenges involved in identifying and reporting positive measures of mental health.
Recently posted search In the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity he took up the challenge. Researchers studied how participation in physical activity affected basic psychological needs. They enrolled 937 children aged 10-11 and took regular measurements of physical activity levels and mental health.
Researchers have found that physical activity enhances mental health by mediating three basic psychological needs:
- independence: feeling able to Autonomous behaviorchoices and decisions
- Skill: a sense of mastery Through effective interaction with the social environment and opportunities to express one’s abilities
- Relevancy: feeling sense of belonging Communicating with others in one’s social environment
In addition, the more years participants engaged in physical activity, the better their perception of their general mental health.
Finally, the researchers found that the longer participants engaged in physical activity in general, the more likely they were to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Moderate to vigorous physical activity Add physical health benefits for most people.
some of the Theories and explanations Regarding How to do exercise and physical activity Mental health may benefit:
- Increased blood flow to the brain stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-enhancing chemicals.
- Exercise increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has been linked to improving mood and helping brain cells stay longer.
- Exercise increases levels of the brain stimulant phenylethylamine, which is likely related to the release of dopamine and endorphins — two natural antidepressants.
- Exercise can affect brain plasticity by facilitating increased adaptation, cell regeneration, and cell protective processes.
- Regular exercise modifies the stress response.
Effects of exercise on anxiety and depression: What the research says
A growing body of research emerges therapeutic effects of exercise on mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. Below, we summarize the main findings of this research:
Exercise protects against depression.
a Systematic review of studies Examine whether exercise effectively prevents depression. The researcher found that there is strong evidence from longitudinal studies that physical activity and exercise provide protection against depression in adolescents, adults and the elderly.
Exercise is an effective adjunct intervention for mild to moderate depression.
The same systematic review mentioned above also examined whether the studies were consistent in their findings on exercise therapeutic effects For people with mild to moderate depression. The researcher found that there is, in fact, support for the use of exercise in treating depressive symptoms. The effect may be significant, but the lack of consistent study designs does not allow an estimate of the potential effect.
Exercise is associated with better health outcomes for people with mood disorders.
In people with mood disorders, anxiety and depression increase the body’s stress response, thereby increasing generalized inflammation. Inflammation is associated with an increased risk of many negative health outcomes, including chronic disease and a suppressed immune system. Exercise helps balance inflammation, not only Reducing the risk of chronic diseases But it may also improve outcomes for mood disorders.
There is limited research on the effect of exercise on anxiety, but the results are positive.
Search Published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Nursing a systematic review of inpatient studies (studies involving patients admitted to hospital for mental health episodes) in which exercise was recommended or prescribed as an adjunct therapy.
While researchers have emphasized that there is strong evidence to confirm the positive effect of exercise on people with depression, there is a severe lack of evidence examining the effect of exercise on anxiety disorders. However, those studies identified found that there was a positive effect.
Both resistance and aerobic exercise may benefit less active people with generalized anxiety disorder.
Six weeks Tria random watchto Conducted with sedentary women with generalized anxiety disorder. The researchers found that there was a reduction in anxiety, stress, and irritability in those who performed resistance exercise twice a week, and there was a moderate reduction in anxiety symptoms in the groups that combined aerobic and resistance exercise.
Tips for incorporating this knowledge into your training practice
As a health or fitness coach, you likely already incorporate strategies to support your clients in getting regular physical activity. However, a person’s transition from wanting to exercise, to starting to exercise, and then maintaining exercise as part of Continuity of healthy behavior change It is not a natural process for many.
This is where your coaching skills can make a difference in supporting clients during their physical activity journey.
Here are some tips to support your client who may have mental health issues in making exercise a part of their regular routine:
- Support them in identifying the types of exercise they enjoy and do not enjoy.
- Create a safe space for them to discuss their experience with exercise in the past, including items that may not have made the experience enjoyable.
- Help them navigate resources that will allow them to get professional mental health support.
- Avoid pressuring clients to exercise or exposing them for not following a fitness plan. If the client is not following the fitness plan, work with the client to reevaluate the plan and make changes if necessary.
- After obtaining their permission, provide information on how exercise may benefit their mental health.
Human bodies have evolved to move. Researchers have demonstrated the benefits of physical activity to support multiple dimensions of wellness, including mental and emotional health.
Some of the mechanisms of action that describe how exercise can positively affect mental health include increasing blood flow, modulating hormone secretion and absorption, and reducing inflammation.
Clinical studies in people with and at risk of depression and anxiety have shown that regular physical activity and exercise can help prevent and treat symptoms of mood disorders.
As health coaches who may have clients with anxiety and depression, it is important to implement training best practices Sensitive to how anxiety and depression It can influence your client’s interactions with you and create a safe space for them to build confidence in wanting to exercise.
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