A cost-effective strategy to improve health and quality of life in this age of obesity and the “metabolic syndrome” is through lifestyle changes. Changes in lifestyle might be especially significant for those who suffer from severe mental illness. Many of these people have a significant risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease, which are all linked to sedentary behavior and prescription side effects.
1 Exercise is a crucial part of lifestyle adjustment. Both patients and mental health providers do not fully understand or value the value of exercise. Exercise may be a frequently overlooked strategy in mental health therapy, according to the evidence.2
It has been demonstrated that aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, reduces anxiety and sadness. These mood benefits are thought to be brought on by an increase in blood flow to the brain brought on by exercise, as well as by an impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, consequently, on the body’s response to stress.
Distraction, self-efficacy, and social interaction are a few other theories that have been put forth to explain why exercise is good for mental health. While structured group programs can be helpful for people with severe mental illness, most patients may benefit from lifestyle adjustments that emphasize increasing and accumulating moderate-intensity activity throughout the day.
It’s interesting to note that adherence to physical exercise therapies seems to be on track with that of the general population among psychiatric patients.
Exercise boosts mental health by lowering anxiety, depression, and negative symptoms, as well as by raising self-esteem and increasing cognitive abilities. It has also been discovered that exercise helps with symptoms including poor self-esteem and social withdrawal. Exercise is crucial for schizophrenia patients because they are already at risk for obesity and because antipsychotic medication, particularly atypical antipsychotics, carries an added risk of weight gain.
Health benefits from regular exercise that should be emphasized and reinforced by every mental health professional to their patients include the following:
- Improved sleep
- Increased interest in sex
- Better endurance
- Stress relief
- Improvement in mood
- Increased energy and stamina
- Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
- Weight reduction
- Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness