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Healthy body integral to healthy mind

Healthy body integral to healthy mind
October 6, 2012

Mental Health Week, to be held from 7th to 13th October, is set to offer Australians the opportunity to reflect on the value of regular exercise in maintaining not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.

While those who exercise know that the release of endorphins feels good, many do not know that exercise can go as far as treating those suffering from depressive symptoms, a fact supported by over 100 population-based observational studies published since 1995.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 6.2% of people aged between 16-85 years will suffer from mood disorders such as major depressive disorder, dysthymia and bipolar affective disorder, about 7.1% of all women and 5.3% of men.

Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) Executive Officer, Anita Hobson-Powell believes there is little knowledge of the impact exercise can have in helping those suffering from a serious mental health condition/mental illness, without worrying about the side-effects that more traditional pharmacological treatments may have such as dizziness, weight gain, fatigue and anxiety.

Hobson-Powell explains "because exercise is an effective treatment for those experiencing depressive symptoms with little or no side effects, it should be part of the usual care a depressed person receives, either on its own or in combination with other therapies.

"Studies show that about 60% of people halve their depression score by exercising and that more than 40% stay that way for at least three months. That's an overwhelming response and when we're talking about avoiding depression altogether, studies show that active people on average had nearly 45% lower odds of experiencing depressive symptoms than inactive people."

"Most people will relate to feeling happier and more positive after a workout thanks to the natural release of endorphins when you exercise. The combination of the psychological benefits of exercise such as improved self confidence, body image and self esteem and reduced anxiety or stress as well as the physical benefits such as strengthening of muscles, helping control body weight and blood pressure and better sleep patterns, supports the theory that exercise plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of depression."

The mental health benefits of structured exercise are not exclusive to those suffering from depression. A new body of research investigating the impact that regular exercise can have on serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder and substance abuse is emerging with promising results.

Simon Rosenbaum, an Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP) and PhD candidate from Sydney University adds "exercise is being shown to improve symptoms, assist with sleep and have significant effects on overall quality of life of those with a serious mental health condition."

ESSA recommends that exercise programs are prepared by an accredited exercise physiologist to ensure a balance between aerobic activity and weight-lifting exercise, which studies show may be more effective for sufferers of depression.

Hobson-Powell continues "while we recommend assistance from an exercise physiologist in developing and managing the most suitable program for individual needs, it's interesting to note that studies show that people who exercise at home are more likely to continue their exercise routine than those who exercise at a centre.

"When dealing with individuals who suffer from depression, exercise needs to continue over a long term period and there needs to be regular monitoring of both physical and psychological health which is what an accredited exercise physiologist is trained to do."

ESSA recommended exercise guidelines:

• Moderate-intensity aerobic training, such as walking, running or cycling at 60-80% of maximum heart rate reserve, for 30-60 minutes per session, at least three days per week; and 
• High-intensity resistance training over 80% of 1RM (the maximum weight a person can lift for one repetition) in a progressively difficult manner, with three sets of eight repetitions, for one hour on three days each week.

ESSA recommends that people see an accredited exercise physiologist for an appropriate and safe exercise prescription.

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