Michigan State University has recently conducted research on 295 patients who are currently receiving mental health treatment to investigate the inclusion of physical exercise as part of their program.
Before initiating the study, all patients were asked if they’d be interested in increasing their levels of exercise and working with their mental health provider towards upping their activity. A staggering 85 per cent were keen on the idea of adding physical exercise as part of their treatment.
"Physical activity has been shown to be effective in alleviating mild to moderate depression and anxiety," said Carol Janney, lead author of the study and an MSU assistant professor of epidemiology. "Current physical activity guidelines advise at least 30 minutes, five days a week to promote mental and physical health, yet many of those surveyed weren't meeting these recommendations."
In an unfortunate catch-22, almost half of the participants identified their mood and anxiety as barriers to getting started on an exercise program, despite 80 per cent noting boosts in mood post-physical activity. The same half were open to working with fitness professionals during treatment, but noted that exercise was rarely talked about during consultations.
Continued research into the links between exercise and mental health could signify a significant shift in the treatment and management offered by therapists and psychiatrists. With the identified benefits of exercise in managing mental health, a unique opportunity has been presented to practitioners to partner with fitness providers.
"Mental health treatment programs need to partner with fitness programs to support their patients' willingness to exercise more," Marcia Valenstein, senior author and professor in psychiatry at the University of Michigan added. "This support might come from integrating personal trainers into mental health clinics or having strong partnerships with [local gyms] or other community recreational facilities."
"Mental health providers such as psychiatrists and therapists may not have the necessary training to prescribe physical activity as part of their mental health practice. But by teaming up with certified personal trainers or other exercise programs, it may help them prescribe or offer more recommendations for physical activity in the clinic setting."
Whilst the study looks at the involvement of physical activity as a small piece of a holistic treatment, with continued research and proved effectiveness, we may even see a move towards fitness providers being covered by insurers.