Exercise and improving mental health

22 Feb, 2019

The Role Of An Exercise Physiologist In Improving Mental Health

This is specifically focused on Depression And Anxiety

An Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP) are allied health professionals trained in the delivery of exercise and lifestyle interventions for people with chronic illness including mental illness. They are dedicated in improving mental health through exercise. There is now a vast amount of evidence that concludes regular exercise sessions from an exercise professional is a viable, cost-effective treatment for anxiety and depression.

Benefits of Exercise and Improving Mental Health

Physical activity has been consistently shown to be associated with improved physical health, life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, and psychological well-being. Exercise therapy is now a well-supported treatment for many mental health conditions including anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Physiologically, the benefits of exercise on mental health is attributed to a multitude of chemical reactions that the human body undergoes when exercising. More blood and oxygen is pumped throughout our body and to the brain and endorphins are released which are known to be the body’s own natural antidepressant. The brain also releases a neurotransmitter called Serotonin, research has shown that there are strong links between low levels of Serotonin and depression.

Regular exercise, increased levels of Serotonin and endorphins have been shown to help the following symptoms of depression and improving mental health:

▪ Increasing energy levels

▪ Improving sleep

▪ Providing social support and reducing loneliness if exercise is done with other people

Increasing a sense of control and self-esteem, by allowing people to take an active role in their own wellbeing.

Recommended Prescription

There is no one prescription for exercise and mental health. Current research will often state that people with a mental illness are likely to be less adherent to an exercise intervention compared to people without a mental illness. Therefore, it is important that practitioners work closely with their clients to establish good repour and communication. Creating a program that is both beneficial, achievable and enjoyable for the client is of up most importance. Current research often states a combination of both aerobic and resistance training when treating depression and anxiety. However, as previously stated this may be modified to achieve greater compliance.

Exercise prescription from an AEP will of course vary case by case however a general overview may include the following:

2-3x weekly face to face sessions in the initial few weeks of exercise intervention with the potential to decrease to 1-2x weekly sessions depending on compliance and progress

Sessions held at a light to moderate intensity for minimum of 30min up to 60min

Initial intervention of 12-14 weeks with potential continuation of program pending review

Home program implemented within the initial 2-4 weeks to encourage client to begin a prescribed program autonomously

Education and motivation provided to the client including benefits of exercise, optimising adaptions to exercise, mental health and exercise, risks of inactivity

A major end goal of treatment is providing the necessary skills and knowledge of exercise to the client to enable them to continue treatment autonomously. However, the ability of the client to achieve this will rest on a variety of factors including but not limited to severity of condition, motivation and mobility. Therefore, interventions may vary from 12 weeks to long-term/continuous.

Clinical assessments for mental health within the scope of practice for an AEP are not as ‘black and white’ when compared to physical injuries. Commonly, practitioners will rely on subjective assessments with some objective assessments such as STS test and Shuttle Walk Test to help track trends and provide quantitative feedback. Questionnaires may be implemented but this will vary from one AEP to another.

If you have any further questions regarding the role of an AEP in the treatment of anxiety and depression, please do not hesitate to contact Generation Physio on 1300 122 884.

Blog by our Accredited Exercise Physiologist Stephanie Perotti

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