New Research Shows Exercise Is a Huge Mood Booster For People With Mental Illness

It may be even better than medication!

New research published in the journal Global Advances in Health and Medicine adds to a growing body of evidence that exercising is a powerful tool when it comes to battling depression and anxiety, potentially even stronger than medication. Researchers at the University of Vermont, who conducted this recent study, are calling on mental health experts to advise patients to exercise regularly instead of going straight for the prescription pad.

David Tomasi, psychotherapist and inpatient psychiatry group therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and his colleagues built a gym for roughly 100 patients in the psychiatric unit of the University of Vermont. They weaved 60-minute nutrition and exercise classes into their treatment program to see what effect it would have on the patients' overall wellbeing.

Their results showed that 95 percent of patients reported improvements in their moods following exercise, 92 percent of them reported improvements in their body image, and 63 percent reported feeling happy.

There are very few inpatient psychiatric hospitals in the country that actually provide gym facilities for their patients. They instead predominantly rely on medication to deal with the symptoms of their illnesses. "The general attitude of medicine is that you treat the primary problem first, and exercise was never considered to be a life or death treatment option," Tomasi said in a press release. "Now that we know it's so effective, it can become as fundamental as pharmacological intervention."

While the study focused primarily on how to improve methods of care for patients in psychiatric facilities, the results carry implications for anyone who is struggling with mental health issues—and that's a lot of us. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults is living with a mental illness, and most of them are not getting the care they need. Suicide rates are rising, and our happiness index is at a historic low, which is why there's an increasing belief among experts that we need alternative forms of treatment.

This does not, of course, mean that people shouldn't take medication to deal with mental health issues. But there is a growing belief that, as Blair T. Johnson, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, previously told Best Life, "medical practitioners are often too quick to prescribe these drugs in response to the normal negative events in people's lives." And Harvard research has shown that, in some cases, exercise is even more effective at treating depression and anxiety than pills.

So if you're struggling with a mental health issue, it's worth seeing whether or not implementing a regular exercise routine will be as beneficial for you as it has been for others. And for more recent research on the mental health benefits of hitting the gym, check out The Single Best Exercise For Your Brain.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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