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Exercise And Mental Health

It’s the boy who made the winning basket in the last game of the season, the man who completed an Iron Man in record time, the girl who scored a perfect ten on the balance beam, and the mom who reached her goals in CrossFit. We find them in gyms, in parks, on trails, and on sidewalks – walking, jogging, playing sports, and working out.

The mentally ill are no longer hidden away in scary hospitals and terrifying institutions. They are taking advantage of recent research suggesting lifestyle modifications for the mentally ill. Like so many others, they are adding exercise — or, to quote a line from the CrossFit website, “letting themselves go physically.”

Exercise Can Improve Quality of Life

The National Institute of Health reports, exercise has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. However, for children, adolescents, teens, and young adults whose mental illness affects their “personality type,” any social interaction, especially in group exercise classes or team sports, can be scary. Improving Lives Counseling Services’ team of licensed, mental health professionals can discuss adding appropriate, and practical, exercise intervention to a client’s treatment plans.

Physical activity and exercise play a significant role in maintaining good mental health and it can be a cost-effective way to improve health and quality of life. Research indicates low impact exercise has a positive impact on ADHD, behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, and stress. Releasing endorphins in the brain, exercise promotes a range of important benefits including neural (new brain cell) growth, reduced inflammation, improved mood, improved memory, and feelings of happiness and self-confidence. This all sounds great, yet removing the fear and knowing when and how to motivate, inspire, and provide support can be challenging.

Parents can’t say, “Look at how much fun those kids are having” and expect their mentally ill child to rush right out to play. It is more common for children, adolescents, and teens diagnosed with mental illness to be introverted and lack self-confidence. Many have a negative body image and low self-esteem. Others have consistently been told all the things they “can’t” do. A mentally ill child seeing others enjoying the outdoors, participating in sports, exercising, or even riding a bike can cause bitterness, sadness, feelings of inferiority, and anxiety.

There is No Perfect Exercise Plan

There is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment plan for the mentally ill and questions remain about which exercises are proven to be most helpful. Some in the psychiatric community believe controllability “and even forced exercise might protect against depression and anxiety symptoms.” What there is agreement on is the importance of including a mental health counselor or therapist when choosing and/or introducing an activity to the client. Though most mentally ill adults and seniors will acknowledge “regular exercise coupled with a healthy lifestyle directly affects mental decline,” surprising them with a trip to the gym or forcing them to take a walk on the street where they live can trigger symptoms.

Parents watching the Special Olympics see children, adults, and seniors building confidence, improving self-confidence, socially interacting, and achieving goals. Unfortunately, this isn’t the norm for the mentally ill – just as joining gyms and doing CrossFit isn’t the norm for healthy-minded people. According to the CDC, only 23% of Americans exercise and less than 15% maintain a long-term exercise regimen.

Our Counselors are Here to Help

People with severe mental illnesses have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and immobilization. Trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, stress, and behavioral disorders have related symptoms of exhaustion, desperation, hopelessness, and pain. The counselors and therapists of Improving Lives Counseling Services understand the mounting evidence on adopting exercise into their treatment arsenal. They acknowledge the physiological, psychological, and emotional benefits of exercise – and the importance of meeting each client’s “specific needs.” Call us to learn more.

Improving Lives Counseling Services offers individual, couples, family, group, and video counseling sessions. We accept most insurances, take SoonerCare, and no one is turned away. Live the life you were meant to live.