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The mental health benefits of exercise


We know there are many benefits to regular exercise, including a decreased risk of stroke, heart disease and certain cancers. But can physical activity also benefit patients with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder? This was one of the topics discussed at a recent Speaker Series, entitled Anxiety and OCD: A More Wholistic Approach at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Dr. Peggy Richter is Head of the Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre and presented this talk at the event.

For many people, exercising regularly can be a challenge. Canada’s physical activity guidelines have been in place for years, and call for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. Statistics show that only about 15% of Canadian adults meet these guidelines, and yet there are new and compelling reasons to keep the body moving.

While the physical benefits of exercise are clear, there is now increasing recognition of exercise as a treatment option for depression. Not only can it help reduce depressive symptoms, but it can also help medications work better. In fact, studies now suggest the treatment of depression with exercise is on par with cognitive therapy and antidepressant medications in terms of the overall effect!

Guidelines recommend that for people with persistent, mild to moderate depressive symptoms, exercise is a good option at least three times per week, for 45 minutes to I hour for at least 10 to 14 weeks. And the type of exercise can be what the patient prefers.

There are still some areas that remain unclear, such as which type of exercise may provide the optimal response for patients with depression. There is a suggestion that low intensity exercise, performed in shorter bouts, may be best. There also appears to be some benefit for performing exercise in a supervised environment, such as in a gym, even if that exercise is done on one’s own.

Dr. Richter also discussed the impact exercise has on patients with anxiety and OCD. Other presenters at the event covered other wholistic approaches, including mindfulness and various E-Therapies.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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