Exercise & Mental Health

Strengthen your mental health

While Kieser has focused a lot on the importance of staying physically strong during these past 18 months, keeping your mental health strong is equally important. There is a long list of physical benefits to exercise and strength training but one major benefit to building strength is improving your mental health.

Mental health is complex and according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, nearly 20% of the Australian population experience a mental health condition in any year. In addition, nearly half of Australian adults will be affected by a mental health condition during their lifetime. This creates a significant impact on society, with mental health conditions and substance use disorders making up the 4th highest disease group contributing to the greater burden of disease. The top three most common mental health conditions are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder)
  • Substance use disorders

Mental Health and Exercise

Although not a cure for mental health conditions, exercise is a treatment option that can reduce depressive symptoms, improve physical health and overall quality of life. In contrast to other treatment options, exercise is a cost effective, readily accessible, low risk option for managing mental health conditions.

However, due to the often-debilitating nature of mental health disorders, people with mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to live inactive lifestyles. This can quite commonly lead to worsening of symptoms, or the development of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Depression refers to a variety of mental health problems characterised by a persistent low mood, loss of interest in regular activities and experiences, and a wide range of associated emotional, behavioural, physical and cognitive symptoms.

While there have been numerous studies showing the correlation between depressive symptoms and aerobic activity, in 2018 the first major meta analysis was published showing the link between resistance training and depressive symptoms. The study reviewed 33 randomised clinical trials involving nearly 2,000 participants. The results showed that resistance exercise “significantly reduced depressive symptoms” among research participants. Interestingly, the study noted that participants showed an improvement in their mood regardless of how much strength they gained or how much they trained. These results are similar to studies in aerobic exercise showing that being active improves your mood regardless of whether it improves your fitness.

Depression is not the only mental health condition that can be improved with strength training. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. When anxious feelings don't go away, happen without any particular reason or make it hard to cope with daily life it may be the sign of an anxiety condition. According to a 2017 study published in the journal of Sports Medicine, resistance training “significantly improves anxiety symptoms among both healthy participants and participants with a physical or mental illness.”

Mental health conditions can have a debilitating impact upon the individual, their families and the community. The underlying pathophysiology of these mental health conditions can at times be quite complex, which presents challenges when trying to determine the best mode of treatment.

How an Exercise Physiologist can help

As university qualified allied health professionals, Accredited Exercise Physiologists are best placed to implement lifestyle interventions incorporating exercise, to improve the overall health and well-being of people living with mental health conditions. Exercise Physiologists are trained to create exercise programs that are tailored specifically to the individual, while also helping address potential barriers that may be preventing engagement in regular physical activity. The important thing to remember is to find something you enjoy doing, as doing something is always better than doing nothing at all.

 

Resources

Gordon BR, McDowell CP, Hallgren M, Meyer JD, Lyons M, Herring MP. Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms: Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Jun 1;75(6):566-576. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0572. PMID: 29800984; PMCID: PMC6137526.

Gordon BR, McDowell CP, Lyons M, Herring MP. The Effects of Resistance Exercise Training on Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Sports Med. 2017 Dec;47(12):2521-2532. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0769-0. PMID: 28819746.

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