Struggling with anxiety or depression? How Staying Active May be Key to Treating These Common Conditions

If you’re one of the millions of Americans dealing with anxiety and/or depression, you’re in good company. According to stats on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) site, 1 in 5 Americans deals with some form of mental illness. A separate article on NBC news notes that 1 in 6 Americans takes antidepressant medication. That’s both a lot of people suffering with difficult medical conditions as well as a lot of medication helping treat it; however, a less discussed form of treatment that can often assist in treating both anxiety and depression is exercise. Today we look at the connection between movement and mental health:

Exercise Really Benefits Your Brain

A recent article in Psychology Today (PT) online discusses the vital role that physical exercise plays in mental health. The PT online article discussed dramatic potential that exercise has for those struggling with various forms of mental illness, anxiety and depression specifically – although other disorders such as schizophrenia even saw benefits. They note that in the medical community it’s been long accepted and understood that physical activity boosts endorphins and enkaphalins, which are the body’s “feel good” hormones.

Yet rather than cover old ground, the PT article went on to note that exercise doesn’t just kick up some “feel good” hormones and call it a day; instead, exercise has a real and verifiable impact on the brain. According to PT data, exercise impacts the brain through improved blood flow (which helps deliver more oxygen and nutrients) and also through factors that stimulate neuron signaling, connections, and growth. Put another way, studies have shown that exercise can help the hippocampus (critical to mental health) develop new neurons. If getting active can help change the very structure of your brain being impacted by mental illness, it could certainly have a positive effect! One psychiatrist quoted who has researched the connection between exercise and mental illness has shown that three 45-minute sessions a week have improved symptoms of anxiety and depression. Over time, your body and brain will adapt to associate exercise with a “reward” feeling and it’ll be easier to enjoy the effort.

Conversely, when formerly active people are sidelined with injury, they can fall victim to anxiety or depression – especially if they’d struggled previously with these conditions, and no longer have the physical activity they are used to. We wrote about that situation before here. There can be a profound emotional side to injury that can (and should) be addressed by providers.

What to Do:

Get moving – even if you start slowly, with a walk outside
Sign up for a class – a friend or class can help keep you motivated
Set a goal – even if it’s a work 5k or softball team at church
Try the pool – swimming may have extra benefits for mental health
Do what you can – even if you’re limited by injury, do what you can no matter how small

If you aren’t sure how to get started on your own mental or physical recovery, give Body One Physical Therapy a call. Body One is a locally-owned practice with four convenient locations serving Central Indiana: North Indianapolis, South Indianapolis, Fishers, and Zionsville. Our team of caring physical therapists will help get you going and keep you motivated to work toward your goals. Call us today!