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E is for Exercise

Author: null null Published: 4th August 2012 18:39

Girl playing frisbyThe benefits of exercise for our mental as well as our physical wellbeing are well documented and publicised. ‘Prescribing exercise' has been included in the 2011 National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommendations for the treatment of common mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

So how does exercise help good mental health? These quotes are from Department of Health reports from 2004 to 2011.

"Physical activity can help reduce physiological reactions to stress, improve sleep, reduce anxiety .................... Rhythmic aerobic forms of exercise - including brisk walking and cycling, appear to be the most consistently effective" 

"Regular physical activity reduces the risk of depression and has positive benefits for mental health including reduced anxiety, and enhanced mood and self-esteem"

"Physical activity may improve at least some aspects of cognitive function that are important for tasks of daily living, and is also associated with a reduced risk of developing problems of cognitive impairment in old age"

"Physical activity is effective in the treatment of clinical depression and can be as successful as psychotherapy or medication, particularly in the longer term"

Shockingly, levels of physical activity in the UK are low. Research shows that 40% of men and only 28% of women meet the minimum recommendations for physical activity in adults.

However, there's also a case being made for the benefits of ‘green exercise' for good mental health, meaning exercise outdoors connecting with the natural environment. The charity Mind surveyed 100 people engaged in outdoor exercise such as gardening, walking groups, conservation work, running and cycling groups, and not surprisingly found very positive benefits reported. However when they compared people doing on outdoor walk and those doing an indoor walk, it seems that those outside reported significantly better results in terms of reduced tension and depression, and increased self esteem.

In fact, it's likely that there are other aspects to physical exercise which also benefit our mental health. As well as the contact with our natural environment, there may be the added benefit of becoming part of a social network, there's the sense of achievement which helps build self-esteem and self-confidence, and there may also be that feeling of being absorbed in an activity which allows the mind to rest from busy thoughts, worries and fears.

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