What’s on Our Minds: Exercise Is Medicine

April 29, 2021

We spent this week diving into clinical depression and anxiety, with a specific focus on when sadness + stress are more than just the blues or passing worry. Clinical diagnoses of mental health conditions are common and treatable with clinical mental health resources, including telehealth options, widely available these days. While clinical resources are important to access when needed, the majority of us can benefit from simple changes in daily routine, with exercise considered a “miracle” cure for chronic conditions—including those affecting mental health.

 

Why It Matters

 

Those who get regular physical exercise from moderate to vigorous physical activities know what it can do for the body and the mind. Team sports or group fitness add the bonus of shared activity with others….which can also help the spirits. Powering through a heavy sweating and breathing activity will certainly keep you distracted from worrisome thoughts if we are focused on gritting our way through the workout. But some days, for people struggling with depression, even the thought of getting out of bed can seem to take more energy than they have.  It’s important not to forget the highly beneficial, free activity that most of us will be able to do for our lifetimes with low risk of injury: walking!  It doesn’t even (usually) require a change in clothes.

 

Something to Practice

 

30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But even as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time—can also improve fitness and mood. While 10,000 steps a day was a target goal originally championed as part of a marketing campaign, it’s still a pretty good estimate depending on your baseline number of daily steps. If you have access to a step counter, take a look at your daily average.

While not specific to mental health, leading scientists in the field of disease prevention recommend the following: more than 5,000 steps a day (below that is considered sedentary) with a target goal of greater than 7,500 steps.  Of which 3,000 steps at moderate intensity (cadence equal to or faster than 100 steps per minute—3,000 steps in 30 minutes) over and above your regular daily activity levels can reduce health risks and manage your weight.  While these changes take time, and are not a one time fix, getting more active is a cost effective, natural approach to improving your overall health.

Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash

Walking is possible for all, and a brisk four- or five-mile walk, taken not as a duty but as a recreation, is a physical and mental tonic of no mean value. Did it cost money instead of involving effort, it would be more popular.

- Journal of the American Medical Association, Editorial, 1909