I recently completed a fascinating course on the subject of exercise and sport psychology. I’ve long been a believer in the importance of regular physical activity for physical, mental and emotional health, but some of the research I reviewed in the course was so interesting that I wanted to share it.
On the subject of exercise and mental health:
- The World Health Organization (1999) estimates that by the year 2020, depression will surpass cancer as the world’s second leading cause of disability and death (after cardiovascular disease).
- Exercise participation has shown benefits related to state experiences of anxiety and depression but can also positively affect more chronic conditions. One somewhat dated study (1979) showed that running had as much impact as psychotherapy on the reduction of trait or clinical depression. A more recent study (1999) suggests that clinically depressed patients benefited as much from a supervised aerobic exercise program as they did from the antidepressant medication, Zoloft.
- Even periods of exercise as short as 10 minutes have been shown to impact mood states, though longer training programs over a period of many weeks or months are likely to provide more reliable benefits.
- For maximum psychological benefits, exercise intensities of between 30% and 70% of a participants maximal heart rate appear to be most effective. Anaerobic exercise (such as weight training) also shows benefits.
- Participation in training programs has particular benefit for people who have high levels of anxiety, but also reduces anxiety in those who are less anxious. Reductions in anxiety levels are likely to rebound to previous levels within 24 hours, suggesting exercise should be regular and maintained (as it should be for all Canadians!).
- Evidence suggests exercise may be as effective as psychotherapy or antidepressant medication in reducing depression. If you are taking medication for depression, please discuss this with your doctor before making any changes to medication.
- For the treatment of depression, training programs of nine weeks or longer are suggested.
- In a review of 79 studies (2000), almost 80% of new-to-exercise participants reported significant gains in self-worth and other physical self-perceptions after exercise participation.
More good reasons to get moving…