Exercise & Mental Illness

Exercise & Mental Illness

Benefits of Exercise for Stress, Depression & Anxiety [ Infographic ]
Evidence based research for the improvement of mental health.

Regular exercise benefits the body physically, but not everyone is aware that exercise is one of the most powerful ways to improve the treatment of mental health issues.  Mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being that determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices in our day-to-day lives.  It turns out that physical health and mental health are deeply intertwined with each other.

On average, people with poor mental health have a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety, as well as ADHD, stress, Alzheimer’s disease, and other serious mental illness risk factors. Before seeking medication, researchers now show regular physical activity as one of the most effective treatments for challenging mental health conditions.

Physical Activity & Depression

Depression is the persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in daily activities. Biologically, depression has been linked to imbalances of serotonin (mood regulation), norepinephrine (stress hormone), and dopamine (reward and pleasure center) in the brain.

The therapeutic benefits of exercise training not only balance out the biological factors, but have also proven to increase self-confidence, a sense of mastery, distraction from negative thoughts, and changes in self-concept. Research shows that if you participate in 3-4 training sessions a week for at least 30 minutes each session, it can have an impact on treating depression and easing its symptoms.

There are many mental health benefits for individuals who exercise regularly. One, consistent exercise is associated with fewer symptoms of depression spanning up to 10 years, and two, a steady 16 weeks will have the same beneficial effects as antidepressant medication. However, it is important to exercise at 70% of your max heart rate in order to receive the best results and treatment response.

To estimate what 70% of your maximum heart rate is, subtract your age by 220, then multiply by 0.7. Example: (220 – your age) * 0.7 = 70% of max heart rate

There are many types of exercise individuals can participate in that are proven to reduce major depressive disorder symptoms, like walking and/or running on the treadmill, weight training, and yoga. Group exercise also has mental health benefits due to the socializing aspects and moral support from others that can improve your self-esteem.

“About 40% of my clients sign-up for personal training because they suffer from high stress or are diagnosed with a mental illness” Lucas James, Celebrity Personal Trainer

Physical Activity & Anxiety

Anxiety is the feeling of worry or fear that interferes with one’s daily activities and psychosocial functioning. Physical fitness and mindful activities have been proven to improve mood stabilization and result in better mental health. More specifically, aerobic training (also known as cardiovascular fitness or simply cardio) produces many of the same bodily sensations that often elicit anxiety reactions, such as increased heart rate, respiration, and perspiration. Repeated exposure to those anxiety-related stimuli through exercise can extinguish fear responses along with how individuals interpret those stimuli.

Moderate to high-intensity exercise 3-4x a week for a duration of 30 minutes plus with 70% of your maximum heart rate has been proven to give the best results. One study found that with the 10-week mark exercise can be just as effective as pharmacotherapy! Following each and every workout, individuals will feel temporary releases of psychological distress, a significant symptom of the anxiety disorder. Yoga and tai chi have also shown therapeutic effectiveness by refining tranquility and revitalization. Evidence also suggests that exercise may be biologically necessary to keep anxiety at healthy levels in general.

Physical Activity & Stress

Everyone feels stressed from time to time and that is completely normal! Stress is actually essential for survival, but chronic stress, on the other hand, can cause many serious physical and mental health conditions. There are many known techniques for reducing stress, but the most significant one is moderate physical activity. Being physically active every day will help combat the negative responses we receive by being exposed to stressful environments.

Exercising has a positive effect on our brain endorphins, which are known as the body’s natural painkillers. When stress affects the brain, it also affects your body as well. Researchers have found that regular exercise has been proven to decrease an individual’s overall tension and elevate and stabilize mood, which results in stress reduction. Any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever, so get moving and do something for your mental health care!

Physical Activity & ADHD

ADHD (also known as attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder) is a condition characterized by attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.  Numerous studies have shown that physical exercise is a promising alternative to stimulant medication and/or therapy for individuals with ADHD. Although all types of exercise activities show mild improvements, 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory fitness seem to be the most beneficial for both behavior and cognitive functioning.

In one study, immediately after cardio exercise, impulse control, concentration, motivation, processing speed, and attentiveness were improved. There are many different types of cardio activities individuals can participate in but to give a few examples, there is running, cycling, dancing, rowing, and swimming.

Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive disease that impairs memory and other important mental functions. Genetic factors are known to play a role in the vulnerability of Alzheimer’s, but less than 1% are directly linked to genetic factors, which implies that environmental aspects play a role in most cases. Mental health professional researchers have been investigating the association between physical activity and the risk of Alzheimer’s and the findings are really interesting! Two major risk factors for developing AD are a history of severe life stressors and cardiovascular disease.

As mentioned above, physical activity does a great job at reducing stress and it also is fantastic for cardiovascular disease! As we age, the benefits of exercise become vital to promote changes in brain structure and mental function. For individuals already diagnosed with AD, depression is among the most frequent symptoms observed. Depressed individuals can present a loss of interest and lack of motivation to engage in physical/cultural/social activities, which increases the likelihood of being sedentary both at home and in society.

One study recommends individuals who get little to no physical activity should aim for 6,000-6,5000 steps per day. Another study suggests moderate-intensity cycling on a stationary bike for 10-35 minutes 3 times a week has been proven to increase cognition and improve executive functioning in older adults with mild AD. It is important to integrate yourself or your loved ones into a moderate exercise program because it improves cognitive function, encourages social contact, increases body stimulation, may ease depression and anxiety, and improves the overall health-related quality of life.

Physical Activity and Creativity

Following the positive effects of mental health and physical activity, regular exercise can boost your creativity too! Creativity is a combination of concepts that exist in the human mind hidden in the subconscious and can be activated as needed. Walking has been shown to open up a free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and healthy solution to any goal of increasing creativity and physical activity.

There were studies comparing the total ideas produced by people walking and sitting. Researchers concluded that participants who walked yielded 50% more ideas than those that did not. This is a great tool to improve one’s performance right before a brainstorming session and has shown that immediately after physical fitness, people demonstrate greater creativity potential for up to two hours.

It does not matter where you take a walk or whether it is an urban or rural area, but the outdoors can offer cognitive and emotional renewal as a bonus. A walk in nature presented a restoration in individuals’ exhausted attention capacities, and as a result, they had improved performances at difficult cognitive tasks. Overall, aerobic exercise increases the speed of concurrent cognition and creativity seems to be more developed in people who regularly participate in physical activity.

Physical Activity and Life Expectancy

Overall, physical fitness is one of the best modifiable factors for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and a longer life expectancy. Some individuals tend to over-exercise, thinking that they are doing well for their body, but in turn, it can put added stress on your body. Exercising more than 100 minutes a day is not necessary because it does not appear to be associated with additional reductions in mortality rates.

Some of you are probably thinking, “how does anyone have time to work out for 100 minutes?” which is understandable. As humans, we sometimes get too caught up in work, relationships, children, and other responsibilities that we forget to take the time to take care of ourselves. Even with a busy lifestyle, you should always invest some time in yourself by squeezing in a workout that can not only prevent weight gain but also help with mental health disorders and prolong your life.

Better Mental Health and Physical Condition Thanks to Exercise

Studies show that a minimal 5-10 minute run a day can reduce mortality from all causes and cardiovascular disease and even add 3 years of life expectancy. Now, what’s your excuse? Running is a far better option for time efficiency. For example, a 5-minute run is as good as a 15-minute walk and a 25-minute run can generate mental and physical benefits that would require 4 times longer to accomplish by walking. 

A tip to yielding more favorable effects on mortality and disease risk is to participate in higher-intensity workouts if possible. If running is not an option for you, a 15-minute brisk walk has been proven to reduce mortality from heart disease by 25%.

The takeaway message is clearly stated and shown; physical activity is extremely important as it can not only improve your physical health but also have outstanding mental health outcomes. Be consistent, make it a habit, and expect greater and greater benefits.


Exercise & Mental Illness

Exercise & Mental Illness Infographic by Lucas James, CPT – Celebrity Personal Trainer

Download Infographic: Here

Infographic & Blog References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702700/
  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743503000422
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00702-008-0092-x
  4. http://www.bmj.com/content/322/7289/763
  5. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/485159
  6. https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2000/09000/Exercise_Treatment_for_Major_Depression_.6.aspx
  7. http://web.b.ebscohost.com/abstract?direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=0002838X&AN=49094436&h=fddfgdKgS39I1V04PDapVEVH%2ft6x2g2YMEHa1y4Rt7n2sA%2f1OptEYVfzj0opf1f83CfxW6abWLcDDx4bbPu6ww%3d%3d&crl=c&resultNs=AdminWebAuth&resultLocal=ErrCrlNotAuth&crlhashurl=login.aspx%3fdirect%3dtrue%26profile%3dehost%26scope%3dsite%26authtype%3dcrawler%26jrnl%3d0002838X%26AN%3d49094436
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032706000905
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12744913
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20177034
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796703001037
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23300122
  13. http://web.b.ebscohost.com/abstract?direct=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=0002838X&AN=49094436&h=fddfgdKgS39I1V04PDapVEVH%2ft6x2g2YMEHa1y4Rt7n2sA%2f1OptEYVfzj0opf1f83CfxW6abWLcDDx4bbPu6ww%3d%3d&crl=c&resultNs=AdminWebAuth&resultLocal=ErrCrlNotAuth&crlhashurl=login.aspx%3fdirect%3dtrue%26profile%3dehost%26scope%3dsite%26authtype%3dcrawler%26jrnl%3d0002838X%26AN%3d49094436
  14. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/acm.2007.7166
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17148741
  16. https://insights.ovid.com/psychiatry/coip/2005/03/000/exercise-review-mental-physical-health-benefits/13/00001504
  17. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00702-016-1593-7
  18. https://insights.ovid.com/pubmed?pmid=26741120
  19. https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/72/6/733/2797763
  20. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987711000855
  21. http://www.journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/doi/abs/10.1177/0193945911420174
  22. wiley.com/10.1111/j.1447-0594.2011.00830.x
  23. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/doi/10.1111/j.1547-5069.2006.00127.x/full
  24. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042812015273
  25. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109714027557?via%3Dihub
  26. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2468899?redirect=true

About the Author

, Celebrity Personal Trainer and Fitness & Nutrition Expert headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ. He specializes in helping men and women achieve weight loss, muscle building, toning and other customized fitness & nutrition programs to create a Healthy Lifestyle. James offers private luxury personal training, 12-week custom workout plans, and personalized nutrition meal plans. Follow on Google+.

Comments are closed.