Exercise: A Proven Solution for Mental Health Issues
Exercise is essential for physical health, but it also has mental health benefits. A study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed 97 reviews, 1039 trials and 128,119 participants, and found that physical activity interventions can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations, with some groups showing even greater signs of improvement.
Lead author Ben Singh, a postdoctoral research fellow in Health and Human Performance at the University of South Australia (UniSA), emphasizes the importance of physical activity for mental health. “Yet despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-choice treatment,” he says.
The review showed that shorter interventions—usually 12 weeks or less—are most effective at reducing mental health symptoms, as they are easier to comply with. All types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercises such as walking, resistance training, Pilates, and yoga.
People with depression, pregnant and postpartum women, people diagnosed with HIV or kidney disease, and healthy individuals all benefited the most from increased physical activity. The largest benefits were observed in people with depression, highlighting the speed at which physical activity can make a change.
Exercise not only improves mental health, but it can also ward off cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers, and can even help prevent cognitive decline and lengthen life span. Studies have shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, without the side effects.
It is clear that physical activity should be prioritized in order to address the increasing incidence of mental health issues. Regular exercise can help boost endorphins and neurotransmitters, improve mood, reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even help people live longer and healthier lives.
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4. “Evidence Synthesized: Exercise Promotes Mental Health” Psychology Today, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/evidence-based-living/202302/evidence-synthesized-exercise-promotes-mental-health