Exercise as Anxiety and Depression Treatment

Anxiety and Depression

There is a very important physiological link to aerobic exercise and recovery from mental illnesses. The most common mental illnesses of the day are, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mood and anxiety disorders. Although the brain is most directly implicated in these illnesses, they are "systemic illnesses". They affect the entire body; that is they can affect-and be affected by-one's general health, behavior and environment.

The co-occurance of mental health issues with physical illness is common. It is clear that they may play a role in the cause and progression of other ailments. Depression is common in people with heart disease and increases the risk of dying 6 times more than heart patients who are not depressed. Depression occurs more frequently in adults with diabetes than in otherwise healthy control subjects. Mood and anxiety disorders are prevalent in people with neurological disorders like stroke; 40% of stroke patients suffer from major to minor depression. The symptoms of mental illness co-occur in cancer patients; 50% suffer from depression. Findings indicate diminished immune system activity of depressed people may explain the heightened risk of developing cancer. Finally, it is estimated that HIV/AIDS patient rates of depression are as high as 45%. Deoression may affect their disease progression through influence on immune functioning.

However, investigators know that depression and anxiety should not be dismissed as consequences of chronic illnesses. They are discrete conditions amenable to treatment. Research indicates that depression, left untreated, can have a negative effect on the impact of medical illness. Evidence has shown aerobic exercise to be an effective treatment by itself and as an augmenting strategy with medications and behavioral therapies. According to Madhukar Trivedi, M.D. of the University of Texas, exercise is an attractive treatment as there are reduced likelihood of adverse affects, and benefits to health.

The Effect of Runner's High

The effect from exercise is not well understood. It is not clear what the effect is with brain chemistry gone awry. However, the effect of "Runner's High" may certainly be at work. This high is a calm, clear, euphoric state reached after exercise. Psychological tests have shown that exercise causes a boost in self-esteem, confidence and feelings of accomplishment. But, a chemical cause of the runner's high has now been proven. In Germany, Dr. Henning Boeker from the University of Bonn has proven that a flood of the body's own natural "morphine" called endorphin is a result of aerobic exercise. Release of endorpins reduces stress, relieves anxiety, enhances mood and decreases the perception of pain.

Donna Kritz-Silverstein from the University of California San Diego found exercise must be regular to maintain the positive effects. Consequently, mental health professionals want to encourage people to check with their doctor before beginning any exercise program and start slow. Remember, walking is an aerobic exercise. There is a lot of literature and there are professional trainers who can help avoid injury or complications with other medical conditions. So, once you have ensured your safety, get on out and exercise the blues away!

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