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The Impact of Exercise on Mental Health

fitness Mental IllnessThis is the fourth installment in a series of articles related to the factors that put people with serious mental illness at higher risk of mortality. People with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than the average person, and the reasons are largely preventable. Here we focus on physical activity and fitness in those with mental illness.

According to a report published by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) Medical Directors Council, a lack of exercise is cited as one of the lifestyle factors that can be modified for improved health.

The association between inactivity and mental illness might not be surprising. Research shows that women who spend most of their days sitting are more likely to have symptoms of depression. Of course, the link prompts the obvious “chicken or the egg” question: Does depression lead to increased inactivity, or does a sedentary lifestyle contribute to increased depression?

No matter which came first, regular exercise can have a positive impact on mental health and physical well-being. Lack of activity leads to many conditions, such as obesity, and related medical issues – high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, even cancer – which are all of those risk factors that cause death at an early age.

Physical activity is a very positive supplement to treatment for mental illness. It can improve mood and give your body infusions of endorphins which can assist with your ability handle pain, or the perception of pain. Exercise can be effective at any level of intensity. Yoga, walking, running, biking, swimming, or perhaps engaging in a team sport on a regular basis are just a few examples. In addition to helping to treat mental illness, the physical benefits follow. Blood pressure goes down, the heart gets stronger, and pounds come off. All of this leads to an overall healthier – and longer – life.

At our Florida and New England-based residential treatment programs for dual disorders, we encourage a whole-life approach to wellness and recovery, providing information and encouraging family support.

Stay tuned for a series of articles on our blog related to preventable causes of death for those with mental disorders and resources for support. Subscribe to our email newsletter and join our Facebook community for more information and updates on topics that affect you or your loved ones.

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