Exercise and Mental Health: More Beneficial Than Medication?

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The link between exercise and mental health could be stronger than medication.

We’ve long known that a regular exercise is one of the foundational components of a healthy life routine. Along with diet, sleep and other factors, exercise is relevant to just about every physical aspect of health. Some form or level of exercise is beneficial to nearly everyone. Even those who may have health problems or are of advanced age can benefit from an exercise program built with their doctors. However, not as many are aware of the connection between exercise and mental health. A recent study suggests that this link could be strong.

Our team of Orange County mental health professionals at SoCal Empowered has long believed that exercise is an essential component of the programs we personally tailor for those who stay with us. Below we’re going to delve into the findings that suggest that the benefits of exercise and mental health is actually appreciably stronger than the benefits provided by medication.

About the Exercise and Mental Health Study

The study linking exercise and mental health was published in a relatively unlikely place when it comes to the analysis of conditions such as anxiety and depression. The British Journal of Sports Medicine published the research, which included 97 meta-reviews of more than 1,000 randomized controlled trials. More than 128,000 people were included in the overall data analysis.

Subjects in the studies underwent different types of physical activity and for different durations in order to study more specific potential links between exercise and mental health. Depression and anxiety were of particular interest given their prevalence across the human population. The effectiveness of physical activity in terms of improvement of these conditions was measured against the effectiveness of medication, which is at this point the more “traditional” form of intervention.

These measurements also involved comparisons between populations that differed in gender, age and overall medical condition in order to find out if the link between exercise and mental health was more pronounced in any type of subgroup. In addition, researchers analyzed different types of physical activity.

What the Study Found

The study found that there is, in fact, a discernible link between exercise and mental health benefits. In fact, the results indicated that across all cohorts, exercise was approximately 1.5 times more effective in treating anxiety and depression than medication.

Specifically, researchers found that:

  • Physical activity resulted in a reduction of mental health issues by a factor of 42 to 60 percent.
  • Psychotherapy and medication resulted in a reduction of mental health issues by a factor of 22 to 37 percent.
  • 150 minutes of physical activity per week seemed to produce the best results.
  • Physical activity included walking, lifting weights and yoga.

These are somewhat startling results, but researchers also found that the most positive results came from exercise programs that lasted up to 12 weeks. There was no measurable benefit from exercise programs lasting longer, although the exercise involved was relatively intense in nature. Researchers stated that the effectiveness of programs of shorter duration may be because, “the longer interventions might not provide sufficient progression of PA (physical activity) dose, leading to a reduction in their effectiveness.”

What It All Means

The exercise and mental health study provides some important initial guidance not only for additional study, but for possible treatment approaches going forward. The authors explicitly stated that they were not exercise experts. Therefore, additional studies with such experts could be helpful It would allow for a more precise measurement of the effects of different types of exercise and their potential benefits.

The study also does not state that medication is not helpful for some people suffering from these challenges. Instead, exercise could be an additional form of treatment that provides people with needed and noticeable benefits. Overall, the researchers may have opened some doors for new ways of thinking regarding how certain mental health conditions are treated for people in different stages in life.

The Importance of Prevalence

One of the reasons that this study could be of importance is because of the prevalence of anxiety and depression. We recently discussed this prevalence, and these conditions are the most common in the United States and around the world. Specifically, more than 42 million people in the United States suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. More than 21 million people suffer from some form of depression. That’s 63 million people in the United States alone who could be affected by innovations in treatment protocols of these conditions.

How SoCal Empowered Can Help

As stated above, our team of Orange County mental health professionals believe that when treating mental health conditions, several different approaches are always possible. No two people are ever exactly alike, which is why we work with everyone who stays with us to put together a treatment program that will give them the best chance for success.

For some people, that involves medication. For others, treatment involves individual psychotherapy, group therapy or exercise. Generally speaking, everyone who works with us will enjoy the benefits of several different types of treatment in varying degrees of intensity. We put in a lot of time when we’re getting to know someone in order to help match a person’s needs with those potential treatments.

If you or someone you love is suffering from mental health challenges, then it’s time to do something about it. Contact our team today to tell us what’s happening. We’ll listen to what you have to say and help you plot a course of treatment that fits your needs. That may include a stay with us, but if not, we’ll help you find the right resource. Contact us today to get this critically important process started.

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