Regular exercise has multiple benefits for people with mental health issues.
A patient came to see me some time ago asking if I could be her family physician. I asked her the typical “meet and greet” appointment questions including those about past illnesses, family health history, medications and allergies. She told me she had suffered from severe depression for most of her adult life and had been hospitalized, sometimes for months, for repeated suicide attempts.
For a split second, based on purely what I recognized as my own fears, I questioned whether I could care for her effectively. I proceeded to learn that her mental illness had been compounded by significant social isolation. She had had no family or other support for most of her life. While she was outlining this obviously difficult-to-recount history, I noticed a serene and contented energy. This led me to ask “How are you currently feeling?” Her prompt reply: “I’ve never felt better in my whole life.” “What has made things different for you?” I asked. “I joined a fitness club and hired a personal trainer one year ago and started working out two hours a day. I’m back to my healthy weight and haven’t been depressed this whole time….I haven’t felt suicidal once.”
This woman didn’t know anything about my practice. She didn’t know that I’ve been using exercise to treat and prevent illness in my patient population for the past five years by providing a program that minimizes some of the typical barriers to activity – such as cost and lack of personalized fitness training support – that many people face. What was astounding to me was how this woman, facing nearly all the typical barriers (e.g., female, low socioeconomic class, mental illness) had decided to overcome these and spend a significant amount of her income to join a gym and work with a personal trainer. By doing so, she had regained her life.
I had immediate admiration for her strength and courage and felt lucky to have the opportunity to care for her and learn from her.
My new patient is one of 36% of Canadians who report having suffered from anxiety or depression. As a woman, she is statistically more likely (40%) to have experienced depression or anxiety then a man (32%).
Everyone knows about the positive benefits of exercise for the body. But what about the mind? Intuitively, and if we view the mind/spirit/body as one, we can be certain that exercise of any amount and type benefits the mind. But what is the evidence, and how can we ensure that exercise is as routinely prescribed to patients with psychiatric illness as pharmacological treatments?
months of exercising three times a week, the patients lost weight and gained cardio-vascular fitness. Compared with a control group of sedentary patients, the exercisers also had fewer psychiatric symptoms such as social withdrawal and paranoia.Exercise has even shown to help reduce auditory hallucinations in patients with psychotic symptoms. Schizophrenic patients participating in a study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology in 1999, reported sleeping better and feeling better about themselves on the days …