Regular exercise has always been touted as an effective way to keep stress at bay, get a better night’s sleep, and keep your body healthy. According to new research, exercise may even be a viable treatment option for mental illness.
Research presented at the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s annual conference in October shows that exercise can be as effective for treating mental illness as medications and therapy. Drawing on research published during the last five years, Christopher Willer, MD, a senior psychiatry resident at the University of Toronto in Canada, concluded that exercise can boost both a patient’s physical and mental health, as well as offset the effects of certain medications.
“It’s not too soon to talk to patients about exercise as another treatment option, especially if they are asking about it or if they have a history of sport being important in their lives,” Dr. Willer told Medscape Medical News.
“As psychiatrists, we have to remember that we’re not just concerned with our patients’ psychiatric symptoms, but also their physical health,” he continued. “It is important that we promote an active lifestyle to our clients as part and parcel of good psychiatric treatment.”
How Much Exercise Is Needed for Mental Illness Treatment?
If you are struggling with a mental illness, especially one with depression symptoms, beginning an exercise routine may be the last thing you feel like doing. But research has found that only 20 minutes per week can give you lasting effects.
A 2008 study found that people who got as little as 20 minutes per week of any physical activities were less likely than inactive people to report psychological distress.
“Although as little as 20 minutes of physical activity might provide some benefit, those individuals that were physically active every day had the lowest risks of mental and physical ill health,” said study researcher Mark Hamer, Ph.D., of University College London’s department of epidemiology and public health in a 2008 WebMD article. “Therefore, I’d recommend to stick to current guidelines that suggest at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five times per week.”
What Type of Exercise Is Helpful for Mental Illness Treatment?
There is no specific exercise that will help treat your mental illness. What’s important is to engage in an activity that you enjoy, whether that’s doing yoga, biking, gardening, or walking your dog. In addition to the health benefits associated with these activities, engaging in activities that you enjoy can do wonders for your mood and outlook.
Whatever activity you decide on, try to get in the habit of doing it regularly. The more exercise you get, the more positive effects you’ll see. If you’re the type of person who gets bored easily, mix up your exercise routine so that you’re more inclined to stick to it.
Even though exercise is beneficial when it comes to improving your health and your mood, remember that it’s not a cure-all when it comes to mental illness treatment. Talk to your doctor or therapist about incorporating exercise into your treatment plan to give you the most effective mental illness treatment possible.