Should exercise be the new primary prescription for those with mental health problems?

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Exercise helps reduce mental health disorder symptoms such as anxiety, depression, anger and psychomotor agitation…

Yesterday I read an article from neurosciencenews.com about how using exercise could help reduce mental health issues like anxiety and depression as well as anger and psychomotor agitation.

As someone who suffers from extreme anxiety, and has suffered since a very young age (as far back as 12 years old), I use exercise daily as a big relief for my stress and anxiety, and this is something I’ve also promoted for years to all of my clients. I often state that exercise is by far the best prescription for most health and mental health issues and that more doctors should be jumping on board with this.

I was very happy to see that the findings from the study show that physical exercise is so effective at improving people’s symptoms that it could lessen patients’ time admitted to facilities and dependence on medications.

“The general attitude of medicine is that you treat the primary problem first, and exercise was never considered to be a life or death treatment option. Now that we know it’s so effective, it can become as fundamental as pharmacological intervention,” explains David Tomasi, a lecturer at the University of Vermont, psychotherapist and inpatient psychiatry group therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and lead researcher of the study.

If you want to read the full article, you can find it here. There’s lots of great information and content supporting this claim and it makes me happy to see that medical science is really pushing physical fitness as a prescription instead of just pushing pills.

But helping treat anxiety and depression doesn’t just stop at moving your body! I think that adding in a healthy and free-from processed foods diet is another great way and support system for helping alleviate anxiety and depression. For myself personally, it’s as simple as ‘when I eat like shit, I feel like shit’, both physically and mentally. But now there’s some science behind it.

There are lots of studies coming out with supporting information about how inflammatory foods raise levels of anxiety and depression. Vincent Pedre, M.D., states that, “Inflammation causes oxidative stress (a form of biochemical stress), which leads to distress signals in the brain that can lead to either depression or anxiety—or both. On the flip side, we know that the brain will release cytokines (the same chemical messengers your immune system uses to communicate an alert) in response to mental stress. The cytokines regulate really important brain functions, including neurotransmitter metabolism as well as the connection and communication between nerve cells.”

These are things we preach at Just Fitness; an overall healthy lifestyle. We don’t believe in fad diets, low-cal crash diets, magic pills, or special drinks! Just move your body daily, and eat a healthy well-balanced diet, and you’ll be healthy overall. It’s really that simple! The hard part is committing and sticking with it, but we can help!

When I coach our Life Change Program, the first class of Life Change is always an orientation and talk about nutrition. At the end of the 75 min talk, I always end the first class with me talking about my struggles with food and anxiety to show and share and be honest with the group about what I’ve been through. I’ve often wondered if me taking a full class to talk about nutrition and adding my personal story in there is the way to go, or should I just start kicking their butts right away in the gym. Well, after my most recent orientation class I had a Life Changer come up to me and thank me for sharing my story about my anxiety, and by the time I got home from the gym, I had an email from another Life Changer thanking me for sharing and for opening their eyes and mind, and helping them realize they have a lot they need help with.

This is why I love what I do. Helping others is the most rewarding job I could ever have. As anxiety-ridden as I am, this stuff makes my heart happy. Ironically, I wasn’t going to do this talk at the beginning of our sessions anymore and decided last minute to do it. I’m glad I did.

Anxiety, depression and mental health are no joke. If you have these feelings, try to move and eat healthy as that’s going to work, but also make sure you talk to someone. If the first person doesn’t listen, talk to someone else, and keep talking to people until you find someone who will listen. Help is out there.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Running definitely helps me with my anxiety. Thing is I’ll start to feel better and feel I don’t need to work so intentionally because I’m “better”. Thanks for the article!

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