While many of us go to the gym to keep our bodies healthy and strong, the benefits of working out extend far beyond the physical. Scientists are continuing to discover new ways exercise can boost mental health.
In a recent study, researchers at the University of Vermont found physical exercise to be so effective at relieving symptoms of mental health and mood disorders - anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, suicidality and psychotic episodes – that it decreased the amount of time patients spent at facilities and the amount of medication they needed.
When treating mental health in the past, exercise was typically used as a supplement to medication. Now, studies are showing it can act as a replacement!
The Study: Exercise Used as Treatment at Psychiatric Facilities
Normally, practitioners at inpatient psychiatric facilities prescribe psychotropic medications as a first step to treat mental illness. In the early stages, natural treatment isn’t taken into consideration.
"The general attitude of medicine is that you treat the primary problem first, and exercise was never considered to be a life or death treatment option. Now that we know it's so effective, it can become as fundamental as pharmacological intervention," said David Tomasi, psychotherapist and lead researcher of the study.
Tomasi and his team introduced exercise and nutrition education programs into patient treatment plans at the medical center's inpatient psychiatry unit. To measure the impact of exercise on psychiatric symptoms, they examined the programs’ effect on mood, self-esteem and self-image before and after the exercise sessions.
Results showed higher levels of self-esteem, improvement in mood, and decreased levels of anger, anxiety and depression. After exercising, 95 percent of patients said that they experienced a mood boost, 63 percent said they were “happy” or “very happy” (compared to “neutral,” “sad” or” very sad”) and 91.8 of patients said they were satisfied with the way their bodies felt after completing the exercises.
This improved mentality “allowed patients to better understand, monitor, and control their psycho-physical well-being.” In other words, being in a positive mindset gives them the power to effectively manage their thoughts and ultimately, their state of mind.
Changing Your Physical State Directly Impacts Your Mental State
When it comes to treating mental health naturally, these findings open up an exciting new realm of possibilities. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or another mental illness, start by moving your body in the right direction. Your mind will follow.