Mind and Body Can Work Together to Win the Fight against Depression; Exercise Is Increasingly Being Prescribed for People with Mild Mental Health Problems. Debbie Lawrence Explains How Being Active Can Combat Symptoms and Boost Mental Wellbeing

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THERE are many health benefits that can be attributed to exercising - it strengthens your muscles, keeps your bones strong, aids with weight control, strengthens your immune system, promotes relaxation, aids better sleep, improves your skin and the list goes on.

But there is also increasing evidence to show that exercise helps keep your mental health good.

Indeed, exercise and activity programmes are now being used in the treatment of mental health problems.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommends exercise treatment for those with mild to moderate depression, up to three sessions a week.

The use of exercise in treating heart disease and stroke patients is well known but this is a new departure, with exercise now recognised as having potentially excellent benefits within the healthcare system, for those suffering from mental health problems.

Given that one in four of us will experience mental illness of some sort during our lives - be that stress, postnatal depression, an eating disorder or breakdown - it's worth knowing that getting active can help you fight your way back to better mental health.

It is a fascinating area for those working in the fitness industry like myself, and there has never been a better time to specialise as Wales has just been given legislative competence in the field of mental health. It has been claimed this will pave the way for big improvements in mental health services in Wales.

For the first time Assembly Members will be able to make new laws to improve the assessment and treatment of mental health disorders, drawing down more powers from Westminster. It follows a long campaign by Conservative AM Jonathan Morgan.

As a counsellor, I loved hearing the life stories each person shared with me. I loved using my listening skills to get to know each person and I valued their courage and determination to work with the feelings they were experiencing.

In every case we looked at other ways they could help themselves, and the use of exercise and activity (such as walking, pilates, yoga) was always identified as something that they all recognised as something they could do to help make them feel better, even if they felt unmotivated to be active at that point in their life.

What was lacking, at the time, was appropriately-trained and qualified exercise teachers to work with this particular group.

There were no specific referral schemes that dealt with people experiencing depression or other mental health conditions.

Today we know that cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, swimming, dancing or aerobics, can contribute to the feel-good factor - the release of endorphins - which can motivate someone to take on other activities. …