Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Jen­nifer Small­ridge

Dis­cover how 20 min­utes of move­ment can im­prove your mood Jen­nifer Small­ridge

Each year, one in ev­ery five Aus­tralians will ex­pe­ri­ence a men­tal ill­ness. The most com­mon type, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics (ABS), are anx­i­ety dis­or­ders, fol­lowed by mood dis­or­ders, which in­cludes de­pres­sion. Com­mon and ef­fec­tive treat­ment path­ways for men­tal health dis­or­ders in­clude coun­selling and med­i­ca­tion, but have you con­sid­ered the role of ex­er­cise as an ad­junct treat­ment for de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety? Although ex­er­cise can some­times feel like the hard­est thing to do, the re­search link­ing move­ment and im­proved men­tal health is con­stantly grow­ing.

Sero­tonin, the best known ‘happy’ chem­i­cal, is pro­duced in the brain dur­ing ex­er­cise.


Long­stand­ing de­pres­sion is not only un­pleas­ant for the suf­ferer, but it is also as­so­ci­ated with an in­creased like­li­hood of hav­ing a chronic dis­ease, such as car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and type 2 di­a­betes. The proven ben­e­fits of be­ing ac­tive for man­ag­ing de­pres­sion in­clude:

• im­proved mood, par­tic­u­larly via the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter sero­tonin, which in­creases af­ter a sin­gle bout of ex­er­cise

• im­proved self-con­cept and self­es­teem – com­plet­ing some ex­er­cise can give a great sense of achieve­ment

• im­proved per­for­mance at work – peo­ple who ex­er­cise in the morn­ing are bet­ter able to take on chal­lenges dur­ing the day

• im­proved so­cial­i­sa­tion – even if the in­ter­ac­tions are small and sub­tle, such as greet­ing a neigh­bour in the street or say­ing hello to the re­cep­tion­ist at the gym, are pos­i­tive

• help­ing to main­tain a healthy weight and body im­age, par­tic­u­larly if med­i­ca­tion has caused un­wanted weight gain.


Anx­i­ety is ex­pressed quite dif­fer­ently from per­son to per­son, but re­gard­less of the symp­toms, re­search which sup­ports the link be­tween ex­er­cise and man­ag­ing anx­i­ety, finds the fol­low­ing:

1. An im­me­di­ate low­er­ing of anx­i­etyre­lated symp­toms oc­curs af­ter ex­er­cise.

This will be ap­par­ent af­ter the com­ple­tion of 30 min­utes of aer­o­bic ex­er­cise, such as walk­ing, jog­ging, cy­cling, swim­ming, row­ing or danc­ing.

2. Be­ing phys­i­cally ac­tive can pro­vide a great dis­trac­tion.

Over­think­ing and per­sis­tent wor­ries play a part in anx­i­ety. Most peo­ple find that the wor­ries have lost their sig­nif­i­cance af­ter the ex­er­cise is com­pleted.

3. Ex­er­cises that unite the breath and body move­ments re­duce anx­i­ety.

Pi­lates, yoga and tai chi, are ex­am­ples as they strengthen the abil­ity to fo­cus on the present mo­ment and leave less room for fear and worry.


Here are the top tips on get­ting ac­tive in the face of men­tal dis­tress:

1. Re­alise that the best ex­er­cise is some­thing that you’ll come back to.

This could in­clude reg­u­lar walk­ing, a class at the gym or per­haps some­thing non­tra­di­tional like fenc­ing or hula hoop­ing. The key mes­sage from the re­search is that when it comes to im­prov­ing mood, en­joy­ment is more im­por­tant than in­ten­sity and du­ra­tion.

2. Find your sup­port net­work.

Men­tal dis­tress fre­quently causes feel­ings of iso­la­tion that can en­gulf and over­whelm the per­son. Hav­ing a trusted, safety net of peo­ple can be ideal, for voic­ing emo­tions and con­cerns – per­haps a close fam­ily mem­ber, part­ner, friend or health pro­fes­sional, whom you can eas­ily reach when needed. A GP can as­sist in pro­vid­ing a re­fer­ral to an ac­cred­ited ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist, who spe­cialises in ex­er­cise and men­tal health. A plan can be de­vel­oped to es­tab­lish some achiev­able goals to pro­vide that extra sup­port.

3. Use ex­er­cise as a cir­cuit breaker.

De­ci­sion making and ra­tio­nal thought tend to be­come lost when we’re not feel­ing our best. In psy­cho­log­i­cal set­tings, a ‘cir­cuit breaker’ is any­thing that in­ter­rupts the thought pat­tern and pro­vides some dis­tance be­tween us and our thoughts. This could be a warm bath, a cup of tea, a phone call with some­one in your sup­port net­work or even bet­ter – a brisk walk around the block. A good strat­egy to get go­ing when you lack mo­ti­va­tion, is to prom­ise your­self, that it’s only go­ing to be a short walk and you can re­turn home at any mo­ment. Of­ten by the time you are ex­posed to fresh air, with a change of scenery, the thoughts have lost their grip and you are able to gain some much-needed per­spec­tive. Al­ways re­mem­ber that it just takes 20-30 min­utes to cre­ate a shift in anx­ious and de­pressed states, with ex­er­cise pro­duc­ing the mood chang­ing neu­ro­trans­mit­ters of the brain. Put ex­er­cise in the tool­kit for man­ag­ing de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

20-30 min­utes of aer­o­bic ex­er­cise changes anx­ious & de­pressed mind­sets.

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