My Q Health | The Exercise Effect
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The Exercise Effect

The Exercise Effect

By Kirsten Weir

When Jennifer Carter, PhD, counsels patients, she often suggests they walk as they talk. “I work on a beautiful wooded campus,” says the counseling and sport psychologist at the Center for Balanced Living in Ohio.

Strolling through a therapy session often helps patients relax and open up, she finds. But that’s not the only benefit. As immediate past president of APA’s Div. 47 (Exercise and Sport Psychology), she’s well aware of the mental health benefits of moving your muscles. “I often recommend exercise for my psychotherapy clients, particularly for those who are anxious or depressed,” she says.

Unfortunately, graduate training programs rarely teach students how to help patients modify their exercise behavior, Carter says, and many psychologists aren’t taking the reins on their own. “I think clinical and counseling psychologists could do a better job of incorporating exercise into treatment,” she says.

“Exercise is something that psychologists have been very slow to attend to,” agrees Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University. “People know that exercise helps physical outcomes. There is much less awareness of mental health outcomes — and much, much less ability to translate this awareness into exercise action.”

Researchers are still working out the details of that action: how much exercise is needed, what mechanisms are behind the boost exercise brings, and why — despite all the benefits of physical activity — it’s so hard to go for that morning jog. But as evidence piles up, the exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore.

Mood enhancement

If you’ve ever gone for a run after a stressful day, chances are you felt better afterward. “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong,” Otto says. “Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect.”

But the effects of physical activity extend beyond the short-term. Research shows that exercise can also help alleviate long-term depression.

Some of the evidence for that comes from broad, population-based correlation studies. “There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program,” says James Blumenthal, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Duke University.

To read full article, visit American Psychological Association.

 

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