More than half a century ago, Dr. Brock Chisolm said, “Without mental health there can be no true physical health.” He was a psychiatrist and the first Director-General of the World Health Organization, and though the statement he made was one of the first suggesting the link between mental and physical well-being, he turned out to be entirely correct.

Your body responds physically to how you feel emotionally, and vice versa. For example, when you are stressed out, anxious, or upset, your body may respond with symptoms like high blood pressure or a stomach ulcer. Alternately, when your body is not working as it should, you can experience emotional symptoms. In the case of a long-term disability or chronic illness, you may become depressed.  

Even though the connection between the two is clear, in many cases mental health issues and physical ailments are still being addressed separately. General practitioners commonly “prescribe” exercise as a treatment for physical ailments like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. According to some experts, mental health practitioners should be doing the same for mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and even addiction.

Research shows that, by addressing the physical and mental health together, you can see better results in both areas simultaneously. Patients being treated for mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are seeing immediate and long-term results. There is even evidence that incorporating physical activity into treatment can help addiction patients get clean and stay clean.

In actuality, exercise isn’t all that much unlike taking an anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication in a lot of ways. Physical activity causes your brain to release endorphins and serotonin, your body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Studies have proven that aerobic hobbies, from walking to gardening to dancing, positively impact more than just your heart health. This type of physical fitness also reduces anxiety and depression while it increases self-esteem and cognitive function almost immediately. Some people call it the “runner’s high,” and it’s real.

Some mental health practitioners are even beginning to prescribe exercise either in conjunction with or as an alternative to traditional treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy. Scientists say these common treatments don’t always have the desired effect on mental health patients and note ease of access and low cost as additional benefits of physical activity as a mental health treatment option.

This concept of treating mental health issues with “alternative” treatments, known as integrative medicine, is becoming more popular. As more evidence-based research becomes available regarding the efficacy of these non-traditional, non-drug treatments, more and more mental health professionals are beginning to incorporate them. As more doctors prescribe exercise and other integrative treatments and see more success, we’ll likely see more funding go towards the study of these alternative treatment options specifically.

Furthermore, integrative medicine is becoming more popular with patients who are taking an active role in their own healthcare. As the healthcare landscape in America continues to change, many of these patients are seeking alternatives to the high cost of traditional mental health drugs. Others are seeking a substitute so they can avoid the dependency and sometimes-debilitating side effects that can accompany antidepressants and antianxiety medications.

Hobbies are a great way to ward off stress and give your life more balance. Making physical fitness your hobby — whether you dance, jog, rock climb, kickbox, or simply find a favorite cardio machine at the gym — can help you maximize the benefits even more. So get on your feet and boost your mental health!

 

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