Helping the Hive

Paving the Way for Better Mental Health: Exercise

Libby Anderson

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One of my best friends suffers from insomnia and moderate anxiety. While medication and therapy may seem to be the easy fix, he is against taking that type of medication for personal reasons, and his family cannot afford to pay for that as well as a therapist. The most concerning part for me to hear was that he felt as though the doctor was just throwing him pills rather than trying to find out what was actually going on and giving him an explanation as to why his anxiety was related to the rashes spreading over his body. As someone who wants to go into this type of profession, this point of view was really sad to hear as I believe that patients should not only have the right to understand what is happening but to also have multiple solutions to choose from, especially when it comes to mild or moderate mental health problems. This got me thinking about other variables my friend could try in his everyday life and eventually brought me to exercise.

Yes, exercise. Some people’s best friend and other’s worst enemy. While we have been lectured on and on about how great exercise is for our physical health, what about our mental health? Surprise, surprise, exercise can, in fact, help with our mental health! Depression, anxiety, insomnia, and various other mental health issues are becoming more prevalent especially with the recent pandemic. In fact, the CDC found that in June 2020, 40% of adults in the United States reported having a struggle with their mental health or substance abuse.

Depression and anxiety have had an increase in growth rates for the past decades. A study conducted in 2019 concluded that symptoms of depression occurred highest in the ages 18-29 with more than one in five people exhibiting key behaviors of depression. As a generalized population within the U.S, one of thirty-five adults experienced severe symptoms of depression, one of twenty-three adults exhibited moderate symptoms, and more than one in eight adults had mild symptoms.

These results were all surveyed by asking questions relating to the past two weeks. The reason they did it this way was because a diagnosis of depression affects or changes a person’s cognitive and bodily function for at least two weeks; thus, it can be assumed that if it lasts that long, it is likely prevalent most of the time, which ultimately affects how they live their lives from day to day.

Anxiety is also a growing concern as it is currently the most common mental illness in the United States. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable but only about one of three that have been diagnosed are receiving treatment. With a yearly rate of about 40 million adults, this mental illness has been able to interfere with many people’s everyday lives, and the way they interact with those around them.

Unsurprisingly enough, a study conducted in 2020 drew the conclusion that Gen Z will likely suffer long-term consequences of the stress and trauma/panic caused by COVID-19 as many are already reporting signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression. With this information, many professionals agree that action needs to be taken now.

The question still remains, how can we proceed without increasing the amount of substance abuse and perhaps preventing a lot of mild to moderate depression and anxiety? I propose that doctors as well as therapists should encourage more physical activity and going outside if the patient is able. Those who live with the patient should also be encouraged to do these exercises with them too.

In fact, just getting started is not hard at all and it does not need to be strenuous or take up a large amount of your time. Starting with something you like and gradually building up from there is a great start in implementing into a daily routine. There are many organizations that are currently trying to spread awareness about this topic such as the Mental Health America: Fitness 4Mind 4Body (MHA) which gives many reasons, other than to stay in shape, as to why more people should try to exercise.

Exercise can lead to an increase in brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is a protein that produces neurons to help transmit electrical impulses (messages) more efficiently which can regulate depression-like symptoms and behavior.

Serotonin is also released when we exercise and plays a role in our hunger, sleep, and mood. This is the neurotransmitter that is targeted when patients who experience depression or anxiety receive SSRIs or SNRIs medication. The Mental Health America organization gives you the facts about exercise and how it helps play a key role in brain function.

They also currently have a challenge that is going on during the month of May which can be found on their website. The best parts are that it is free, confidential, and anonymous. This screening allows its participants to take multiple mental health tests, and they will then receive information, resources, and tools to help the person understand and improve their mental health.

Mental health should not have to be so expensive, and by understanding the symptoms as well as the various treatments and steps towards improving, you can help yourself and others around you. During this time of isolation and quarantine, exercise is proving to be a great way in connecting with friends outside as well as serving to be a great motivator to get in shape or even start on a house project.

Keeping your mind and body active is more important than ever during these times and reaching out to your neighbors and friends to go on a walk, play a sport, or even having a yoga session is a great determinate to the mental health crisis that is hitting us all. So, take a break, enjoy the weather, and drag some friends out of their homes to go with you too, this is the time to start moving towards a better and healthier horizon!

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