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The Exercise Prescription…For Mental Health?

Posted by wmagnus On April - 7 - 2010

When I was in medical school, the term “exercise prescription” began to be thrown about with regard to getting patients up and motivated to move. The focus then was on weight loss and fitness. The term still gets used but outside of sports medicine circles has never really caught on as a mainstream primary care formality. Doctors often recommend that patients exercise but rarely if ever offer really solid directions and advise.

It turns out that the experts at SMU’s Anxiety Research & Treatment Program promote the idea that the exercise prescription should expand well beyond the old thinking and be applied to mental illness as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy have long been the mainstays of treatment for anxiety and depression but according to Japser Smits of SMU, “Exercise has been shown to have tremendous benefits for mental health.”

Smits contends in his book, Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Therapist Guide (Treatments That Work), that modest levels of exercise such as 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity can have significant positive impact on mental health. He’s got the literature support to prove his point and he provides therapists with the knowledge they need to write their own “exercise prescriptions.”

That’s not a lot and for those suffering from anxiety or depression it’s definitely once more reason to climb on the exercise bandwagon.

Smits also points out that in his workshops he urges providers not to focus on long-term fitness goals since those are harder to target and keep the patient motivated. Instead he recommends looking at the shorter term results of exercise and states, “After just 25 minutes, your mood improves, you are less stressed, you have more energy — and you’ll be motivated to exercise again tomorrow. A bad mood is no longer a barrier to exercise; it is the very reason to exercise.”

In that he’s absolutely right.

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