“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor,

and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close

Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder all too often leads individuals to harboring intense feelings of shame and distress. Yet ironically, mental illness is one of the most common health conditions in the United States today.

Studies indicate that more than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime and that roughly 20% experience mental illness in a given year. Mental illness is certainly not something to be ashamed of.

Sadly, there remains a stigma surrounding mental health which all too often keeps those who are suffering from seeking professional helpAccording to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), this alarming reality happens more than half of the time. Currently, the number of people who are reporting symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts has nearly doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Our world needs more compassion and more resources for those suffering from mental health disorders. Fortunately there is good news. Long ago, an effective treatment that truly helps battle these hidden afflictions was discovered: exercise!

Does Exercise Really Work? 

Yes, in fact it does! According to Senior Guidance, exercising regularly as an older adult will reduce your rate of getting any type of mental illness. Exercise has been scientifically proven to boost your mood and lower symptoms of both depression and anxiety. It also primes us to connect with others, expanding our capacity for joy.

When you’re physically active, the endorphin levels in your body increase and natural feelings of happiness and joy are produced. Interestingly, exercise also supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus. This incredible process, all thanks to exercise, helps relieve depression through improving nerve cell connections.

There is also evidence that exercise helps our minds learn how to cope better with stress overall. In a recent study, researchers discovered that individuals who consistently participated in a vigorous exercise program were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years. Exercise even lowers your chances for developing dementia due to the increased blood flow throughout your body. Powerful results! 

All too often, we only acknowledge the physical benefits of exercise. Our goals tend to be exclusively focused on things like losing those 10 pounds. This perspective is so misguided! What if we started to view the physical results as secondary benefits? Can you imagine what might happen if we recognized that the true power of exercise is its direct correlation to our happiness? Because the truth is, when it comes to mental health, there is no medication as effective as exercise.

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