The Unexamined Life

Is Exercise Better Than Medicine For Mental Health Issues?

As the risks involved in taking antidepressants sometimes outweights the positives, researchers and the federal government are working toward finding more effective solutions to treat mental illness. Case in point being the expedited approval in March by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) of the nasal spray, esketamine, for sufferers of treatment-resistant depression (TRD). However, the restrictive usage under supervision and its short term benefits are the drawbacks worrying critics. 

Another such solution was studied by researchers at University of Vermont to examine a multidisciplinary approach to managing mood disorders and psychosis. The particular differentiator in this study was the guided enforcement of an hour long exercise routine four times a week, imparted to patients using the in-patient facilities. Titled the "Positive Patient Response to a Structured Exercise Program Delivered in Inpatient Psychiatry," the paper was published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine last week. 

There has been considerable research before on the connection between exercising and reduced symptoms of depression, which is evidenced by this study of 1.2 million people across 50 states in America. The largest study of its kind, published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, said that people who exercised 3 to 5 times per week for 45 minutes experienced depression for 1.5 lesser days than those who failed to exercise.

Taking this wholesome perspective a step forward, the in-patient adults at University of Vermont’s Medical Center participated in hour-long exercise sessions held by group therapists who were either nurses or mental health technicians. A wide range of medical equipment, such as fitness balls, ellipticals, bikes, rowers and aerobic exercises, was introduced to creatively bolster physical flexibility and stamina. 

They did not stick to a single routine and incorporated many styles of exercise for lasting affect. Stretching, muscle activation and free style exercises were practiced by them for an entire period of 12 months, four times a week. Enrolment in the study was voluntary and conducted with safety measures in place, the researchers said. 

The secondary goal of the study was to facilitate an individualistic and patient-centric approach to managing symptoms of mood disorders and psychosis, so they also additionally participated in 60-minute long discussions, sharing nutrition-related information. Researchers tried to figure out if patients had knowledge of food categories and labels and the importance of the gastrointestinal system to psychological well-being.  

Depression Treatment Researchers at University of Vermont examined the benefits of exercising and providing detailed nutritional advice on 100 patients receiving treatment at the inpatient facility. Fernando Cabral/Unsplash

The exchange happened two ways since the therapists tried to understand the barriers to leading a healthy lifestyle, brought on by battling impaired cognitive function. Volunteers and students helped gather specific information to hold individual consultations to apply solutions based on specific advice given to them. Surveys and questionnaires were distributed before and after the various educational and interactive ssessions, even the exercise sessions. 

“The pre- and postsession surveys addressed overall mood, willingness to engage in further education, physical condition, physical fitness/readiness, and movement-based practices, nutrition group attendance, and perceived body image, using a combination of binary (yes/no) responses and Likert-type scales, with reported percentages and P value from McNemar’s test and P value from Wilcoxon signed-rank test,” the study said.

The results of the study analysing the response to nutritional education and the willingness to exercise were divided into two categories — responses of patients receiving treatment for mood disorders and responses of patients admitted for psychosis.

A whopping 93.2 percent of people with mood disorders answered in the affirmative to the question on whether they were pleased about how their body felt. Interestingly, 90.6 percent of those with psychosis said “yes” to the same question.

All patients, that is to say, a 100 percent of the psychosis group, answered positively to the question of exercising more, while 97 percent of those people with mood disorders said that they would exercise again. 

The larger goal of the study to contribute to the abundance of research and provide valuable information on mental health was met, for it was able to confirm older studies, saying that exercise can reduce symptoms of various mental illness.