Can Exercise Help Solve the Mental Health Crisis?

Between Covid 19, riots, and mass shootings, the subject of mental health comes up, right?  While mental health may or may not be at the root of horrific acts of violence, quarantine and terror, it’s undeniable that people with mental health challenges do not always receive adequate or appropriate treatment.

That’s a big problem, particularly when evidence suggests even our children’s mental health is in decline, with increasing rates of depression and suicidal thoughts; coupled with statistics suggesting many people may not be getting the help they need.

Could something as simple as exercise become a primary tool to help improve mental health? A recent study supports that notion, suggesting that physical activity “may be a helpful way to reduce mental health disorders in the context of inpatient psychiatry by targeting anxiety, depression, anger, psychomotor agitation, and muscle tension and addressing stressors and triggers and to develop a more balanced and integrated sense of self.”

In the study, published in Global Advance in Health & Medicine, researchers provided 60-minute exercise sessions to psychiatric patients at an in-patient facility four times per week. Each session featured “a combination of cardiovascular training, resistance training, and flexibility development inclusive of (a) free-body exercises; (b) stretching and strengthening exercises; and (c) muscle activation-specific fitness equipment such as upright and recumbent bikes, ellipticals, standard rowers and water rowers, push-up bars and stands, [Bosu] balance trainers, exercise balls, handheld fitness balls, balance pods, and aerobic steps.”

Pre-exercise and post-exercise surveys assessed variables such as perceived mood and perceived body image. In fact, more than 93 percent of patients said exercise improved their mood, while 93 percent stated exercise made them feel better about their bodies. Nearly 100 percent of patients also indicated their interest in continuing a regular physical activity routine after the study’s conclusion.

The potential reasons underlying why exercise may be an effective mental health boost in this inpatient population are the same reasons why anyone and everyone should participate in regular physical activity from a mental health perspective: a positive environment away from home / your room, interaction with others, opportunity to socialize, improved sense of body image / self-worth, etc.

For more information on exercise and mental health, contact Maurie Cofman, CMES, CES, TBMM-CES, Personal Trainer, Certified Medical Exercise Specialist, Health Coach and Corrective Exercise Specialist in the St. Louis, Brentwood, and Clayton, MO area.