Exercise and Well-Being

We all know that exercise is good for us, but why do most people find it so hard to do? Despite the wide acceptance among researchers and medical authorities (e.g. American College of Sports Medicine, 2000; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007) that exercise is an essential element of healthy living and can be effective in the prevention and treatment of a myriad of medical conditions, researchers have found that the large majority of adults (and children) remain sedentary. The truth is that most people engage in far less than the recommended levels of physical activity believed to have a positive impact on health.

Using Exercise to Treat Anxiety and Depression
In addition to the many benefits of exercise on physical health, recent research supports the use of physical activity to promote psychological health as well. A physically active lifestyle has been associated with greater psychological well-being, specifically lower rates of depression and anxiety. If you have ever gone on even a short run, bike ride, or a walk around your neighborhood after a stressful day, you have probably noticed that you felt significantly better afterwards. The link between exercise and mood is surprisingly strong; usually only five minutes of moderate exercise will provide the mood-enhancing effects, showing that a small amount of exercise can go a long way. Over longer periods of time, researchers have found that moderate exercise has been correlated with lower rates of depression over the long-term. James Blumenthal (Blumenthal, et al. 1999), a prominent researcher in this field, found that after 4 months of exercise, people with major depression showed reduced rates of depression comparable to those taking anti-depressants. Further, those engaging in exercise had lower-rates of relapse 1 year after treatment, lower even than those taking the antidepressants.

In my research as a graduate student, I studied the link between physical activity and well-being in older adults and found that not only were older adults who engaged in exercise less likely to experience physical problems (including disability, problems walking, body pain), they reported significantly lower rates of depression and higher levels of psychological well-being. This was in participants ranging in ages from 70 to 95, proving that it is never too late to start exercising.

Counseling Upper East Side NYC
At the current time, most psychotherapists are hesitant to suggest exercise or physical activity to their clients, as it does not fit into their idea of what “therapy should be.” At City Psychology Group, we use an integrative approach which combines our expertise in psychotherapy with other modalities that have been proven to get our clients feeling better faster. While the road to recovery is always a unique and individual path, we believe that exercise can often be a part of one’s process to happiness and psychological well-being.