The Partnership of Exercise and Mental Health (September 2022)
Over the past two decades, mental health issues have become and continues to be a global concern. It has been ranked as the third most common comorbidity in the Philippines. Since the pandemic, the number of individuals with mental health issues has increased. Depression, anxiety, and distress were the three most common mental health issues identified during the pandemic. Coping mechanisms ranged from getting more hours of sleep, doing home workouts, and taking a leave from work to destress. Among the coping mechanisms, exercise proved to have a benefit on people with mental health issues in terms of emotional response.
How Exactly Does Exercise Help?
Based on recent studies, exercise improves emotional and cognitive response. It also enhances a person’s coping mechanism by lowering stress levels through biological processes. After exercising, the brain releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that give the feeling of happiness or excitement. Studies have also shown that exercise stimulates neurotransmitter activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These transmitters are responsible for a better sleep, for happy feelings, and for the body’s fight or flight response, respectively. The stimulation of these three neurotransmitters has been linked to the same effect of the drugs used in people with mental health issues.
Exercise has been proven to improve cognition by creating better communication pathways in the brain. This results in sounder judgment, healthier coping mechanisms, and promotes learning behavior. It allows for a better and healthier response to the negative effects of stress.
Aerobic and Resistance Training
The two exercises that positively affect mental health are aerobic training and resistance training. Aerobic training, specifically running, was found to decrease depressive episodes and increase a sense of well-being. However, it is not limited to running alone. Choosing another aerobic exercise encourages a more personal choice and a more fun activity. Resistance training, on the other hand, has a positive effect on a person’s anxiety. Both aerobic and resistance training improve self-regulatory skills or how one emotionally responds to the demands of a specific situation. This creates an organized, realistic, and a more practical self-sustaining coping mechanism. Both self-regulatory skills and behavioral control are essential to a healthier mental health.
Frequency and Intensity of Exercise
Although there is no specific regimen on the exercise for a healthier mental health, it is recommended to do 150 minutes of exercise per week. Physically active individuals were found to have a lower risk of developing mental health issues. As mentioned earlier, because of better communication between the brain pathways, the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders were lower. Intensity of the exercise would depend on an individual’s needs. Most of the time, people would choose to tire themselves out when exercising. However, this only encourages an increase of cortisol levels, or the stress hormones, and instead creates a negative effect. A self-paced and a personalized treatment program would be more beneficial because it allows enjoyment of the activity while exercising. This creates a healthier mind and body as an added bonus.
Physical Therapy and Mental Health
It has been studied that a combined psychiatrist treatment along with a personally tailored exercise program better addresses mental health issues. Physical therapists are often called in to assess and evaluate the physical needs of an individual. One of their duties is to determine the pace of the exercise program to save energy and time, giving more time to focus on their goals. It also lets issues resolve at a steady pace to not physically and mentally overwhelm the mind and body. A well-structured exercise program allows for a more focused and goal-oriented regimen for patients facing mental health issues. This also allows the individual to enjoy the exercises without the occurrence of fatigue and stress.
Consultation and Exercise
Despite the increase in awareness on mental health in the country, the stigma in seeking help still remains. Exercise alone cannot completely address the mental health needs of an individual. It is still encouraged that individuals going through mental health issues still seek professional help. A combined treatment plan from a psychiatrist and an exercise plan would help improve an individual’s mental and physical health.
Written by: Czarina “Cha” Mangubat
Czarina is an experienced physiotherapist using a range of physical techniques to improve mobility, flexibility, stability, strength and conditioning. She always enjoys seeing patients recover which inspires her to fulfil her role as a movement expert.
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