If you google the word exercise along with mental health, more than a million links become available.
That’s because there’s a tremendous amount of research showing how working out, running, and even dancing can enhance people’s well-being and help ward off depression and anxiety.
“While structured group programs can be effective for individuals with serious mental illness, lifestyle changes that focus on the accumulation and increase of moderateintensity activity throughout the day may be the most appropriate for most patients,” several researchers wrote in a 2006 paper published in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. “Interestingly, adherence to physical-activity interventions in psychiatric patients appears to be comparable to that in the general population.”
But newer research only confirms what one Vancouver fitness pioneer, Ron Zalko, has understood for almost four decades in the industry. The owner of Kitsilano’s Ron Zalko Fitness & Yoga spoke to the Straight in his office just after finishing a 40-minute workout.
“I do upper-body weights for strength,” he said. “Also, I do core, and I do 25 minutes of cardio. I’m very happy with it.”
He explained that as a younger man training for triathlons or marathons, he would exercise for four hours a day. Nowadays he prefers shorter sessions to keep his mind and body in shape. It helps reduce any anxiety, which has been linked to insomnia.
“If you don’t sleep well, it creates other problems,” he noted. “You gain weight because your body thinks you are under attack. You start producing more fat.”
He recognizes that depression can sap motivation, and this reduced motivation causes some people to avoid exercise.
His advice is to start with “baby steps”—maybe a fiveminute walk around the block, building up to longer periods of exercise in the future. And he recommended that people experiencing everyday stresses from work and other challenges eat properly.
“Those who take my advice tell me it has helped them immensely, as we live in a very stressful time as technology advances,” he said. “Keep away from your smartphone and your computer and start thinking about yourself—and start to exercise!”
He even suggested that working out can assist those hoping to return to the workforce.
“If you start getting in shape, you’ll find a job,” Zalko said. “You start looking after yourself and you’ll find a job because you’re going to change. You start thinking more positively.”