Exercise May Prove an Effective Natural Treatment for Depression & Anxiety, New Study Shows

Image by cue­ga­los, via Flickr Com­mons

Maybe it seems intu­itive that exer­cise would be pre­scribed to treat anx­i­ety and depres­sion, low­er stress lev­els, and make peo­ple hap­pi­er. After all, exer­cise and nutri­tion­al inter­ven­tions are reg­u­lar­ly dis­cussed in the con­text of the U.S.’s oth­er major killers: heart dis­ease, dia­betes, var­i­ous can­cers, even Alzheimer’s. How often have we heard about the dan­gers of a seden­tary lifestyle or over-processed foods? Or read about reme­dies from walk­ing, yoga, and spin cycling to the Mediter­ranean diet?

But men­tal health is seem­ing­ly different—the dis­ease mod­el that guid­ed depres­sion research for so long has fal­tered. “We do not have a biol­o­gy for men­tal ill­ness,” writes Derek Beres at Big Think. Researchers lack a med­ical pathol­o­gy for mood dis­or­ders that affect over­all health, careers, rela­tion­ships, and qual­i­ty of life for mil­lions. The anti­de­pres­sants once sold as a cure-all and pre­scribed to dizzy­ing degrees proved to have lim­it­ed effi­ca­cy and unfor­tu­nate side effects. No one seems to know exact­ly how or why or if they work. “Men­tal health scripts are guess­work,” Beres writes, “more of an art than sci­ence.”

Where does this leave the state of men­tal health research these days? One team of sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ver­mont found evi­dence that exer­cise sig­nif­i­cant­ly improved mood in patients with severe and chron­ic men­tal ill­ness­es. As Newsweek reports, “a total of 100 patients signed up to par­tic­i­pate in the study,” whose results were pub­lished recent­ly in the jour­nal Glob­al Advances in Health and Med­i­cine. The study vol­un­teers came from “wards that dealt with con­di­tions such as bipo­lar dis­or­der, depres­sion, bor­der­line per­son­al­i­ty dis­or­der, gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­der and schiz­o­phre­nia.”

After a work­out sched­ule that includ­ed car­dio, resis­tance, and flex­i­bil­i­ty train­ing, four times a week for six­ty min­utes at a time, as well as nutri­tion­al pro­grams “tai­lored” for each patient, 95 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants “said their mood has improved… and 63 per­cent said they were ‘hap­py’ or ‘very hap­py,’ rather than ‘neu­tral,’ ‘sad,’ or ‘very sad.’” 97.6 said they were moti­vat­ed to con­tin­ue work­ing out and eat­ing bet­ter. “The research yield­ed pos­i­tive out­comes in all areas inves­ti­gat­ed,” write authors David Tomasi, Sheri Gates, and Emi­ly Reyns of the study’s results. They con­clude that phys­i­cal exer­cise may con­tribute to “a more bal­anced and inte­grat­ed sense of self.”

The researchers also rec­om­mend exer­cise as a treat­ment before the pre­scrip­tion of psy­chi­atric drugs. There may not yet be a clear med­ical expla­na­tion for why it works. But that may be because mod­ern med­i­cine has only recent­ly begun to see the mind and the body as one, at a time when our cul­tur­al evo­lu­tion sends us hurtling toward a greater arti­fi­cial divide between the two. “We’ve con­struct­ed a world in which most of the pop­u­la­tion sur­vives by per­form­ing min­i­mal phys­i­cal activ­i­ty.” A world soon to be engulfed in VR, AR, self-dri­ving cars, and an “inter­net of things” that promis­es to elim­i­nate the few phys­i­cal tasks we have left.

We are in dan­ger of for­get­ting that our men­tal and emo­tion­al health are direct­ly tied to the needs of our phys­i­cal bod­ies, and that our bod­ies need to move, stretch, and bend in order to stay alive and thrive. Read more sum­ma­ry of the study at Newsweek and see the full results from Glob­al Advances in Health and Med­i­cine here.

via Big Think/Newsweek

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What’s a Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-Proven Way to Improve Your Abil­i­ty to Learn? Get Out and Exer­cise

This Is Your Brain on Exer­cise: Why Phys­i­cal Exer­cise (Not Men­tal Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

How Stress Can Change Your Brain: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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