Physical Activity: The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise

Physical Activity: The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise

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More and more studies in the area of mind-body medicine show the mental health benefits of physical exercise. Michael Babyak and his colleagues at Duke University Medical School, for example, showed that exercising three times a week for thirty minutes each time was as helpful for patients diagnosed with the major depressive disorder as taking an antidepressant.

Moreover, those who were on the drug were four times more likely to relapse into depression once the intervention ended than those who exercised. Is exercising, then, like taking an antidepressant? Not exactly. In essence, not exercising is like taking a depressant.

We need physical exercise, and when this need is not fulfilled, we pay a price. We were not made to be inactive, sitting in front of a computer screen all day, or spending our days in meetings. Also, we were made to run after an antelope for lunch, or run away from a lion so that we don’t become lunch. We frustrate a physical need when we don’t exercise, and when we frustrate a need—whether of vitamins, proteins, or exercise—we pay a price.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.


Related: What Is Gratitude, And Why Is It So Important?

John Ratey, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry, says:

In a way, physical exercise can be thought of as a psychiatrist’s dream treatment. It works on anxiety, panic disorder, and stress in general, which has a lot to do with depression. And it generates the release of neurotransmitters—norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine— that are very similar to our most important psychiatric medicines. Having about of physical exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin, right where it is supposed to go.

And, I should add, with the potential positive side effects of increased self-esteem, improved mental functioning, a longer life span, better sleep, better sex, and a stronger immune system. Whether we suffer from depression or simply want to be happier, we should use this natural “wonder drug” more often.

Physical exercise, it must be stressed, is not a panacea, and sometimes drugs are important—each case of depression or anxiety is different, and some people may be helped by drugs and not by exercise.

How do you feel after exercising? What form of physical exercise do you enjoy most?

Physical Exercise- Move It!

Commit to a ritual of physical exercise, beginning today. This month, you could start by going for a ten-minute walk three times a week. Next month, you could increase the time you spend exercising, until eventually, you are exercising four times a week for forty-five minutes each session.

Below, write down your commitments for the next six months. You may want to contact a friend or a family member to embark on this ritual together, something that will significantly enhance your likelihood of staying the course.

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.” —Cicero

Also Read: Gradually Changing Your Life: 6 Days Challenge

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