We always hear about how beneficial exercise can be to weight loss goals, heart health, living a longer life and a half dozen or more other things that nearly all of us want to accomplish. What you often don’t hear as much about, however, are the benefits regular exercise can have on your mental health and general state of mind.
Psychiatrist Dr. Julia Wood from Blount Memorial Parkway Psychiatric Service says in addition to reducing a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke and dementia, exercise also can help treat depression. “If I could inspire my patients to do one thing to improve their overall health, it would be to exercise,” Wood said. “Exercise is incredibly important for brain health at all ages. Studies of children, for instance, show an increase in school performance for children who engage in physical activity versus those who do not. Because of this, some schools are implementing exercise programs to engage children in physical activity before the school day begins. Those programs have led to improvements in test scores, as well as drastic decreases in problematic behavior,” she explained.
“As we age, exercise continues to be vital for our physical and emotional health,” Wood said. “Studies have found similar effects between exercise and antidepressant medications when it comes to treating depression. The effects of exercise on mental health actually may be longer lasting, as well. Those who continue to exercise in addition to taking other treatments, such as medications or psychotherapy, are less likely to relapse into another episode of depression than those who do not exercise,” she explained. “In addition to treating depression, exercise can substantially reduce one’s risk for dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. A 2014 study that appeared in the journal, ‘Neurology’ found that strong physical fitness between the ages of 40 and 65 is incredibly important to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Another study from the ‘British Journal of Sports Medicine’ in 2013 found that regular physical activity increased the likelihood of ‘healthy aging,’ and concluded that people who regularly exercised were less likely to struggle with depression and dementia,” Wood added.
So, what type of exercise is best for our mental health? “While some studies have found exercises such as yoga can have positive impacts on depression, cardiovascular exercise appears to be particularly beneficial for reducing the risk of dementia and cognitive decline,” Wood said. “With regard to frequency, studies indicate around 150 minutes of exercise each week is necessary to gain the benefits of regular exercise. This could be accomplished through a brisk, hour-long walk two to three times weekly or a 30-minute walk five days a week. At this time of year, taking a walk with your family before or after dinner while it is still light outside would be an ideal way to complete this activity,” she said.
“We don’t know exactly why exercise is effective in treating depression but we have some theories,” Wood said. “One thought is that exercise releases endorphins – our bodies’ natural ‘feel-good chemicals’ – which translate into easing pain. Additionally, exercise is thought to increase levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is targeted by many antidepressants and has a positive effect on mood,” she explained. “The fact is that we all should be exercising as if our lives depend on it because, in truth, they do,” she added.
Wood sees patients at Parkway Psychiatric Service, located at 451 Blount Memorial Physician Office Building in Maryville. For more information or to schedule an initial appointment, call Parkway Psychiatric Service at 865-980-5377.