By: Rachel Trope, MS CEP
Each year, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S experiences anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness.
Adults diagnosed with a mental illness are at an increased risk for chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes. Certain forms of mental illness are associated with a 10-fold increased risk of mortality from preventable chronic disease.
What is it that makes this group so vulnerable to chronic disease? Psychotherapy and medications are often the first line of prescribed treatment for mental illness.
Exercise, which is widely used to treat and prevent chronic disease, may not be incorporated into the treatment plan. When exercise is recommended, it can prove challenging. Beyond the normal difficulty of starting an exercise program, mental illness symptoms act as additional barrier that must be overcome.
The benefits of incorporating exercise into a treatment plan for mental illness are expansive. On top of the cardiovascular benefits, regular exercise has been shown to decrease tension, improve, and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and increase self-esteem.
Just 5 minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, biking, dancing, swimming) can begin to stimulate the part of the brain that manages anxiety and stress. In fact, moderate intensity exercise can provide hours of relief for people with anxiety disorder.
Exercise also has a protective effect on the cardiovascular system which can be adversely effected by depression and stress. The best part, these benefits, and the ones outlined below, occur regardless of weight loss.
Benefits of Exercise
* Improves mental health by decreasing anxiety, depression, and negative mood
* Improves self-esteem and cognitive function
* Helps to alleviate symptoms of mental illness (low self-esteem, social withdrawal)
* Improves sleep
* Decreases stress
* Increases energy and stamina
* Decreases fatigue
* Increases mental alertness
Knowing exercise is good for you, however, is only half the battle. The biggest challenge we face is going from doing nothing, to doing something.
It is important to start small. If you’re doing no activity or exercise, set a goal of walking around your house for 1-5 minutes a few times a week.
Notice the change in energy level and mood. Keep a journal of what you did for exercise, and how you felt doing it. This can serve as a positive reminder when energy and motivation are running low.
Remember, some activity is always better than none!
1 Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, from – See more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers#sthash.abIBmU4U.dpuf