In our society, much time is spent and money made focusing on physical activity and weight loss. More specifically, not weight loss for health but weight loss for appearance. While this isn’t true for everyone, it is often the downfall for people who are trying to achieve their weight loss goals. They are often focused on the way they look, and not on the way they feel. Instead of finding intrinsic motivators to keep them committed to the value of physical activity, they are distracted and frustrated by the way they look which can be an additional source of stress. In order to avoid this problem, I encourage people to focus on the way they feel and their state of mental health.
I feel very strongly that now, more than ever, professionals need to start paying more attention to the mental health of the patients and clients they are working with. Whether it’s excessive stress, depression, anxiety, anger, sleep problems, mood, or otherwise, our society is fostering a culture of mental health problems. I’m certainly not advocating to begin practicing outside the scope of your training. Rather, acknowledge these issues and work with your clients and their health care providers. Exercise is a great prevention and coping tool that can be used to address many of these problems.
Although there is not compelling evidence in the literature (yet) whether or not physical activity is an effective treatment for mental health disorders (I think it is), we do know it can be an effective adjunct tool. We also know that the physical activity enhances psychological well-being and lowers the risk of:
- anxiety symptoms
- anxiety disorders
- depressive symptoms
- major depressive disorder
- age related decline in cognitive function
But, how much and what type of physical activity do we need to prevent problems and/or achieve these results? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states that 3-5 days per week of 30-60 minute sessions of moderate to vigorous activities are necessary to be effective. Obviously this is going to vary base on the medical history and situation of each individual. These guidelines aren’t new, but you can take a new approach to using them. Set goals for activity based around stress levels, sleep quality, mood, and cognition – not just around the scale, the skin fold caliper, and inches.
If you want more on this topic, I suggest you check out my “Your Brain on Exercise” which talks about what exercise can do for cognition, learning, and mood. And remember that everyone is motivated to exercise by different things and for different reasons.