WRPA top banner
Western Reserve Psychological Associates, Inc.Empowering change for over 40 years
> return to archived articles >

Archived Article

Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Role of Exercise on Emotional Health

The association between exercise and emotional well-being has been documented by numerous studies over the last 20 years. A recent article in the journal "Clinical Psychology" reviewed eleven well designed treatment outcome studies of individuals with depression, which significantly demonstrated the effectiveness of exercise. Exercise appears to be as effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. The relapse rates for those who exercise is significantly less than for those individuals treated with medication alone.

Physical activity has also been found effective in treating anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders and is associated with improvements in the sleep cycle. Studies have also shown that regular (five times a week) high intensity physical activity is more effective than lower intensity exercise at a lower dose (three times a week or less). Preliminary findings indicate that anaerobic (such as weight lifting) exercise may be as effective in reducing depressive symptoms as aerobic activity (running, biking).

How exercise exerts positive effects on our emotional state is unclear. It is most likely that the positive effects of exercise are the result of the interaction of physiological and psychological factors. But further research is needed to clarify the specific mechanisms.

But how do we motivate ourselves to exercise? First, it is important to consider your current and past physical activities and identify what you have enjoyed and what you want to accomplish now, both physically and psychologically through exercise.

Next, consider the environment in which you are most likely to be motivated to exercise regularly. We are more likely to exercise regularly and at a reasonable intensity if we do it in a social environment and as part of a group. Try joining a gym and hire a personal trainer, recruit friends to join you and set aside a regular time to exercise. Include a variety of activities in your exercise program to avoid boredom and burn out and tell your friends and family to ask about your exercise and progress. Support from others is a powerful motivator.

Keep written records of your exercise sessions and share them with others, at least at first and look for other ways to increase your physical activity. Walk up the stairs rather than take the elevator and park your car further away from your work or the store.

Be sure to check with your physician before starting an exercise program. Even if you don't have any physical problems getting baseline data on your physical status is important for later comparisons.

Finally, reading about healthy behavior and exercise can be very motivating. I high recommend Younger Next Year or Younger Next Year for Women. This is an excellent book, well based on science, easy to read and written by a physician and one of his patients.

Ref. Crowley, C & Lodge, H.S. (2005) Younger Next Year, Workman Publishing Co., New York, NY.

Richard C. Rynearson, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

> return to archived articles >