What if your mental health clinic was attached to a gym, and in addition to prescribing antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications your mental health provider also prescribed five hours of exercise a week? The idea makes perfect sense, both in light of research showing how exercise improves mood and the findings of a study of depressed and anxious patients, 85 percent of whom said they wanted to exercise more and believed exercise helped improve their moods and anxiety.
Nearly 300 patients at a mental health clinic took part in the study. “Physical activity has been shown to be effective in alleviating mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” said Carol Janney, lead author of the joint Michigan State University and University of Michigan study, in a statement. “Current physical activity guidelines advise at least 30 minutes, five days a week to promote mental and physical health, yet many of those surveyed weren't meeting these recommendations.”
Many of us don't exercise as much as we should, and people who are experiencing depression or anxiety are especially likely to find it hard to get out the door and head to the gym. But what if their mental health providers offered not just support for exercise, but could recommend a trainer and exercise facility as part of therapy?
“Offering physical activity programs inside the mental health clinics may be one of many patient-centered approaches that can improve the mental and physical health of patients.”
The study, published in General Hospital Psychiatry, found that over half of the patients surveyed were interested in getting help from a personal trainer. They were even willing to pay a bit extra for the training, but exercise was rarely discussed as part of their therapy.
“Mental health treatment programs need to partner with fitness programs to support their patients' willingness to exercise more,” Marcia Valenstein, senior author and professor emeritus in psychiatry at U-M, said. “This support might come from integrating personal trainers into mental health clinics or having strong partnerships with the YMCA or other community recreational facilities.”
“If we can make it easier for both therapists and their patients to have easier access to physical activity services,” said Valenstein, “then we are likely to help more patients reduce their depression and anxiety.”
If the effectiveness of this approach can be proven, Valenstein believes, insurers may get on board, much as they have for exercise programs designed to reduce diabetes risk.