Exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression and anxiety. There is evidence to suggest that in the treatment of depression, exercise interventions lead to a treatment effect with a magnitude similar to other established forms of treatment such as CBT and medication (Johnsen & Fribog, 2015; Kirsch et al, 2008; Kvam et al, 2016). Psychologists believe that exercise is helpful for a number of reasons:
- It can help you to switch your attention away from unwanted or unhelpful thoughts or worries
- It can lead to an increase in your body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemicals, including endorphins and endocannabinoids
- It can help you to sleep better which is an important effect given the important role of poor sleep in the maintenance of mental health problems
- It can lead to increases in self-esteem and resilience
- Regular exercise can increase your energy levels which can have knock-on effects upon how you engage in valued activities
Exercise For Mental Health is an information handout presenting information about exercise and mental health, reasons why exercise has beneficial effects upon mental health, and advice about how to get started. It is designed as a guide for clients who are considering exercising and there is evidence from multiple research studies that “exercise prescription or motivational messages in printed form or by computer are more effective than face-to-face counselling alone” (Richardson et al, 2005).
This is a Psychology Tools information handout. Suggested uses include:
- Client handout – use as a psychoeducation resource
- Discussion point – use to provoke a discussion and explore client beliefs
- Therapist learning tool –improve your familiarity with a psychological construct
- Teaching resource – use as a learning tool during training
- Budde, H., & Wegner, M. (Eds.). (2018). The Exercise Effect on Mental Health: Neurobiological Mechanisms. CRC Press.
- Johnsen, T. J., & Friborg, O. (2015). The effects of cognitive behavioral therapy as an anti-depressive treatment is falling: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 141(4), 747.
- Kirsch, I., Deacon, B. J., Huedo-Medina, T. B., Scoboria, A., Moore, T. J., & Johnson, B. T. (2008). Initial severity and antidepressant benefits: a meta-analysis of data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. PLoS medicine, 5(2), e45.
- Kvam, S., Kleppe, C. L., Nordhus, I. H., & Hovland, A. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: a meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 202, 67-86.
- Richardson, C. R., Faulkner, G., McDevitt, J., Skrinar, G. S., Hutchinson, D. S., & Piette, J. D. (2005). Integrating physical activity into mental health services for persons with serious mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 56(3), 324-331.