Regular exercise can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It can also improve memory, help you sleep better, relieve stress, and boost your mood. Exercise can also get you out and about in the world, which can reduce social isolation and any feelings of loneliness by connecting you with other people. Research shows that even modest amounts of exercise can make a significant difference. Regardless of age or fitness level, exercise can be used as a powerful tool to help manage mental health problems.
Exercise and depression
Studies indicate that exercise may treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, and without the side-effects. A recent study by the School of Public Health at Harvard found that walking for an hour or running for 15 minutes a day reduced the risk of major depression by 26%. As well as alleviating depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent a relapse of a depressive episode.
Exercise seems to help to treat depression for several reasons. Firstly, it promotes changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also be a healthy distraction that can help you to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that fuel depression. Therefore, you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention to what you’re doing rather than zoning out.
Exercise and anxiety
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It alleviates stress and tension, improves physical and mental energy, and once again the release of endorphins improves well-being.
Mindfully engaging in the exercise helps reduce anxiety. Try noticing the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, or the feeling of the wind on your skin, or the rhythm of your breathing. By adding this mindfulness element to your workouts, really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you might be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries that feed your anxiety.
Exercise and PTSD and Trauma
Evidence indicates that by focusing as much attention as possible on how your body feels as you exercise, you can help calm your nervous system down and reduce the stress response that is a hallmark of PTSD or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your muscles, joints and internal organs as your body moves.
How much exercise do you need?
Australian guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate to intensive physical activity on most or all days of the week. You can make up 30 minutes over the day by combining shorter 10 to 15-minute sessions.
If you would like support with your mental health, contact the Centre for Clinical Psychology today. You can find a list of our clinicians on our website. Medicare rebates are available, and we provide telehealth and in-person consultations.
Australian Government Department of Health – Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians
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Black Dog Institute – Exercise & depression https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Exercise-and-depression.pdf
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/healthy-living/physical-activity-exercise
Choi KW, Chen C, Stein MB, et al. Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among Adults: A 2-Sample Mendelian Randomization Study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(4):399–408. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4175