Over the last few years, our understanding of psychological disorders has begun to evolve. More and more resources are being allocated to studying, diagnosing, managing, and treating these diseases. Simultaneously, large social campaigns have been initiated to provide education and reduce the stigma often associated with mental illness. One of the most common physiological diseases is depression; a mood disorder that can have a catastrophic impact on one’s life if not treated and managed adequately. While the mental effects of depression become more well known, the relationship between mental and physical health is sometimes overlooked.
Our mental and physical health are intricately linked. Reduced physical activity has been clearly associated with decreased physical health, but also linked to an increased risk of developing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. It is believed that regular physical activity enhances one’s well-being and mood. Inversely, people diagnosed with depression can experience hopelessness, decreased motivation, decreased interest, and withdrawal from social interactions, all of which can contribute to a decrease or absence of participation in physical activity. This decreased activity predisposes one to a host of physical ailments. It is increasingly common for those suffering from depression to be co-diagnosed with physical diseases like cardiovascular problems and diabetes.
Of course, even active people aren’t immune to mental illness. Injured athletes have been found to show depressive symptoms throughout their rehabilitation. Injured workers display similar findings. An injury affecting one’s ability to complete a task, especially one important to their self-identity, can spark feelings of hopelessness and reduced self-worth that can lead to a clinically diagnosed depression. These same negative feelings and emotions can also influence beliefs about their recovery. Positive expectations are one of the biggest predictors of a successful recovery and negative expectations can be a huge detriment. If you don’t believe in your treatment or ability to recover, there’s a good chance that you won’t! Negative expectations lead to hopelessness and other depressive symptoms that feed into more negative expectations creating a cycle of psychological barriers to recovery. To prevent this from occurring, it is important to address your psychological as well as physical symptoms when being treated for an injury. Don’t be afraid to mention any psychological concerns you may have. While it’s not a physio's place to diagnose or treat a mental disorder, we do have resources to referral systems to put you in touch with a qualified professional.
As I mentioned earlier, depression is associated with decreased physical activity. Unfortunately, genetics are thought to account for up to 50% of the likelihood of developing a mental disorder. No matter how active you might be, there will always be some degree of risk that you can’t control. However, regular exercise can still play an important role in the management of psychological symptoms for those diagnosed with depression. A review by Knapen et al. found that “exercise therapy” helped improve body image, ability to cope with stress, and quality of life. They actually found that when treating mild to moderate depression exercise was just as effective as taking antidepressant medication or undergoing psychotherapy! The mechanism behind this phenomenon is complex and still being investigated, but put simply, chronic exercise seems to have similar effects as antidepressants on the physiology and structure of the brain. For cases of severe depression, they suggest exercise in addition to traditional therapy methods. (Note: If you have been diagnosed with depression, please don’t go for a run and discontinue your usual treatment(s). Consult with your managing health professional before making any changes to your treatment plan!)
There is no clear consensus on the type of exercise best suited for managing depression. Some studies have found resistance training to be superior, while others have found aerobic training to have the most effect. A combination of aerobic and resistance exercise is likely the best choice to achieve maximal benefits for your mental and physical health. Exercising as little as 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a week has been found to have positive impacts on mental health. When selecting a style of exercise, keep in mind that the most effective programs seem to be those that are committed to on a long-term basis. An exercise program that is realistic, convenient and enjoyable will be more likely to have the longevity necessary to reap the positive results!
There you have it, another reason to be exercising regularly! Not only for the plethora of physical benefits, but to maintain a well-rounded state of physical AND mental health!
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Knapen, J., Vancampfort, D., Moriën, Y., & Marchal, Y. (2015). Exercise therapy improves both mental and physical health in patients with major depression. Disability and rehabilitation, 37(16), 1490-1495.
Wegner, M., Helmich, I., Machado, S., E Nardi, A., Arias-Carrion, O., & Budde, H. (2014). Effects of exercise on anxiety and depression disorders: review of meta-analyses and neurobiological mechanisms. CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders), 13(6), 1002-1014.