Originally published on the Life Ready blog 

It’s a well known fact that exercise can help with the management and prevention of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancers and cardiovascular disease.

However, what you might not know is that regular exercise can also be a very effective way to treat the broad spectrum of mental illness that is becoming increasingly relevant in modern society.

The important role that exercise plays in mental health is often not adequately understood by patients and health care professionals alike.

Many studies have documented the effective use of an exercise intervention to assist in treating mental illness including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders and others.

A study by Blumenthal et al in 2007 concluded that the effect of exercise was comparable to antidepressant medication for the management of major depressive disorders. This is not to say medication and psychological assistance are not beneficial, but it highlights the important role exercise can play in mental illness.

So how does it work?

Exercise stimulates the release of the bodies “feel good” hormones or endorphins that improve mood and wellbeing and in my experience there are not many better feelings than the hours after a tough session of exercise. Regular exercise can also reduce immune system chemical imbalances that can worsen the symptoms of mental illness.

Additional emotional benefits include an increased confidence when you meet your exercise goals, the realisation you have lost a few kilos or put on more muscle, and it can be a distraction from the cycle of negative thoughts and social interaction.

What kind of exercise is best?

Moderate intensity exercise is sufficient; a standard example is a brisk walk whilst still being able to carry a conversation. But any exercise is good exercise.

Thirty minutes per day is recommended and this does not have to be done all at once – three 10-minute sessions will have the same benefit.

Tips on getting started

  • Pick something you enjoy, whether it be swimming, running, boxing, dancing….
  • Find an exercise buddy. It is always nice to have the support of a friend and you won’t sleep in if you know someone is waiting for you!
  • Make exercising part of your routine. Pick particular days and make time for it. This way it will just become part of your life.
  • Remember how good you feel after it. Those ‘feel good’ hormones are hard to beat and will leave you wanting more.
  • Set a goal,whether it be how long you can swim for, weight loss or training for a fun run. If you make this public then that’s even more motivation!
  • Start small and increase. Ease into it. As long as you are heading in the right direction it doesn’t matter where you start.
  • Make your choice of exercise convenient. Try and find something close to home. With less effort in getting to it, the more chance you will stick to it.
  • Vary your exercises. Mix up your exercises to keep it interesting.


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