Walking toward Mental Health

By Lamba, Gurprit S. | Clinical Psychiatry News, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Walking toward Mental Health


Lamba, Gurprit S., Clinical Psychiatry News


"It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor."--Marcus Tillius Cicero

Every year, the multibillion dollar health and fitness industries go into high gear, pushing consumers to start eating healthfully, losing weight, and getting great physical workouts.

As we help our patients process these messages, we must remember that the oldest and safest mode of exercise is simple and inexpensive: walking. And as Cicero suggested so many years ago, physical activity is key to mental vitality.

For example, a literature review of 29 randomized controlled trials found that aerobic exercise training has substantial benefits for neurocognitive performance, particularly aspects of attention and processing speed, executive function, and memory (Psychosom. Med. 2010;72:239-52). In addition, a study using male college students either running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike for 50 minutes at 70%-80% of maximum heart rate found that exercise of moderate activity activates the endocannabinoid system, leading to exercise-induced analgesia (Neuroreport 2003;14:2209-11).

And in yet another study, researchers used a microarray to identify a profile of exercise-regulated genes in the mouse hippocampus. They found that exercise upregulates a neurotrophic factor signaling cascade that has been involved in the actions of antidepressants (Nat. Med. 2007;13:1476-82). Physical exercise keeps the brain active. A randomized controlled study of male patients with chronic schizophrenia and matched healthy subjects found that hippocampal volume is plastic in response to aerobic exercise (Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 2010;67:133-43).

At least two recently published studies corroborate these correlations between physical activity and mental health. A group of Norwegian investigators, for example, examined the associations between frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity, and physical and mental health among 4,500 adults ranging in age from 19 to 91 (Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2010 Dec. 1 [Epub ahead of print]). Fifty-six percent of the participants were females, and 40% were less active than recommended by international guidelines. …

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