WEEK 42 (2023) – Exercise is More Effective Than Medication

Spring is heating up for us here in Melbourne, mixed in with some very cold days. We go from shorts for a few days, followed by puffer jackets back on for the next few days.

All this mixed-up weather certainly seems to make people get sick; we are going through a period again where the chat is that everyone is slightly under the weather. My son has a fever, so it’s been a slow week for him.

Last weekend, I took part in my first-ever run! I decided 8 weeks ago that I wanted to learn to run. So I booked in for a 5km race at the Melbourne marathon. I downloaded an app called Watch to 5km and set off learning!

I haven’t done any distance running before. Much of my exercise has been classes like bootcamps, HiiT or CrossFit style training. I’ve favoured the get-in-and-get-it-done fitness style and was undoubtedly put off by the fact there are no breaks with running!

But I had a few friends inspiring me to run myself. I also went along to my GP about the anxiety I was feeling after returning from the UK and the passing of my dad, Robert. She said I could either go on medication, SSRI’s, or start exercising correctly every week. I thought I’d look into this claim, as I was surprised a GP would say that medication is unnecessary! And she was correct; countless studies prove that exercise is more effective than medication in many mental health challenges.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed more than 1,000 research trials examining the effects of physical activity on depression, anxiety and psychological distress. It showed exercise is an effective way to treat mental health issues – and can be even more effective than medication or counselling.

They found doing 150 minutes each week of various types of physical activity, such as brisk walking, lifting weights and yoga, significantly reduces depression, anxiety and psychological distress compared to usual care, such as medications.

It found the higher the intensity of exercise, the more beneficial it is. For example, walking at a brisk pace instead of walking at the usual pace. And exercising for six to 12 weeks has the most significant benefits, rather than shorter periods. Longer-term exercise is essential for maintaining mental health improvements. Their findings suggest training is around 1.5 times more effective than either medication or cognitive behaviour therapy.

The reason why exercise is good for you is that immediately after exercise, endorphins and dopamine are released in the brain. In the short term, this helps boost mood and buffer stress. In the long term, the release of neurotransmitters in response to exercise promotes changes in the brain that help with mood and cognition, decrease inflammation and boost immune function, which all influence our brain function and mental health.

Regular exercise can lead to improved sleep, which plays a critical role in depression and anxiety. It also has psychological benefits, such as increased self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment, which benefit people struggling with depression.

As a full-time mum, this is something I can vouch for. I did something for myself, and it felt like such an achievement.

The race went well, the atmosphere was fantastic, and people from all walks of life ran together. I have even signed up for my next run in seven weeks!

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