The second in a series of four articles for Mental Health Month.
Written by: Carrie Kubacki, Interim Family Living Educator, Langlade County UW-Extension
Many of us refer to “mental health” as somehow separate from physical health; however, the two are intricately related. Poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems just as poor mental health can negatively impact physical health, leading to an increased risk of certain conditions. The World Health Organization states that “addressing mental illnesses in primary care settings will delay progression, improve survival outcomes, and reduce the health care costs of other noncommunicable diseases” (www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/91/1/12-115063).
While many mental health conditions will require professional medical and psychological interventions, there are a number of lifestyle changes that we can make to help build our physical and emotional well-being. One such factor is regular physical activity. Studies have shown that exercise helps to release brain chemicals called endorphins which work to increase our mental alertness, energy and positive mood. In fact, research being conducted at Boston University has shown that even within five minutes of engaging in moderate activity, people experience a mood enhancement effect. These results demonstrate that taking a walk with a friend, going on a bike ride or playing with your children after a busy day can help to alleviate some stress symptoms and put us in a better mood for managing the rest of our daily tasks.
Beyond the short-term emotional benefits of exercise, research is also being conducted to demonstrate the benefits of regular physical activity in the prevention and recovery of mental health conditions (www.apa.org). Epidemiological studies conducted at Duke University have shown that active people are less depressed than inactive people. Further, experimental research studies have demonstrated that including exercise along with antidepressant treatment for depression results in higher remission rates than antidepressants alone. Similar results of regular physical activity from Southern Methodist University have been shown in the prevention and treatment of anxiety disorders as well.
Knowing the immediate and long-term benefits of regular physical activity on our mental health, what can we do to easily incorporate exercise into our lives?
- Look for daily activities that can provide easy exercise such as walking the dog or playing with children
- Instead of trying to find a full 30 minutes or hour at one time to exercise, take 10 minutes two to three times a day for physical activity.
- Make physical activity fun and social. Playing games outdoors or exercising with friends and family can help to make activity a daily occurrence.
For more information about physical activity and mental health, please visit www.mentalhealthamerican.net/may.