The link between exercise and better overall health is firmly established, and today doctors often encourage patients to incorporate physical activities in the treatment of many medical conditions. The link between exercise and mental health is also well-known but is often overlooked anyway. The connection between mental health and physical health goes both ways: When a person feels stress, the body experiences physical fatigue and wear-and-tear. When a body is healthy and fit, the person experiences elevated moods. Part of the reason for this is the production of endorphins during exercise.
The Link Between Exercise and Well-being
Some facts about this relationship are clear:
- Aerobic exercise reduces tension, improves sleep, and increases self-esteem.
- Just five minutes of exercise stimulates anti-anxiety changes in the body.
- A 10-minute walk could lead to several hours of relief from a depressed mood.
- Exercise stimulates processes in the brain that increase the ability to deal with stress.
- Physically active people show lower levels of anxiety than sedentary people.
With plenty of research to back up the idea that exercise, or basically any regular physical activity, can powerfully affect a person’s mood and overall well-being, it isn’t surprising that many therapists recommend exercise as part of their therapy and treatment.
Treating Depression With Exercise
For some clients, therapists have found that regular exercise is as effective as medication in treating the symptoms of depression. This doesn’t mean people should quit taking their medications, but it should encourage them to add twenty minutes to an hour of activity in their daily routines. As with all types of therapy, exercise may be more effective for one person than for another.
Physical Healing and Repair
For those clients who have the added issues of drug or alcohol dependency, regular exercise is an important tool for repairing the physical and emotional damage the body has experienced. Many medications, both prescription and illegal, affect the body’s systems, including a person’s ability to be satisfied or happy. Exercise may improve and repair the body’s systems, including brain chemistry.
Exercise as an Element of Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic condition. The substances involved affect the structure of the brain and lead to many unhealthy behaviors. While working to overcome these conditions, individuals need to develop new habits to replace the behaviors that support substance abuse. One very positive option is exercise (or physical activity.)
As already discussed, this new behavior has benefits including repair to brain chemistry, improved sleep and mood, and improvements in overall well-being. However, regular physical activities provide several other vital advantages, including distractions from cravings and reductions of other medical conditions that exacerbate addictions.
Health care providers and therapists are using treatment methods that combine exercise with other recovery practices. For example, the addict 2 athlete program focuses on balance in areas such as health, recreation, diet, and exercise, eliminating and replacing addictive attributes with “things of greater value.”
Exercise Is For Everyone
Anyone, with or without an addiction to face, should add exercise to their daily routine. From taking a short walk during lunch to training to compete in an athletic event, daily exercise has long term benefits. For those who are working to change their current lifestyle, adding a few minutes of physical activity to each day could significantly improve their chances.