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It is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness in a year. The most prevalent mental illnesses are mood and anxiety disorders.
Mental illness can impact a person's ability to function and participate in daily activities of life. However, with supports, self-management skills and/or treatment, individuals with a mental illness can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. Physical activity is recommended to be included as part of mental health services and programming.
The recommendations are as follows:
- The recommendation for exercise as a treatment for depression is 30 minutes at moderate-intensity, 2-3 times per week for a minimum of 9 weeks and supervised if possible.
- For individuals with schizophrenia, 90 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise per week has been shown to decrease psychiatric symptoms and increase functioning.
- For individuals with anxiety, aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms (with a greater effect seen with higher intensity exercise).
- For individuals with bipolar disorder less is understood about the impact of physical activity on mood, but is acknowledged as important for general health benefits.
Precaution: protect against over-exercising when an individual is in a state of mania.
The Exercise and Depression Toolkit (University of British Columbia, Canada)
This toolkit was developed by researchers in partnership with adults who have lived experience with depression, health care providers, and exercise professionals as well as several major organizations who support mental health. It may be downloaded in sections or in its entirety. The introduction provides a summary of how it was created and instructions and recommendations for use. A subsequent section can be used by professionals together with clients to guide discussions about exercise and depression. There are also handouts of tools to help clients get active (e.g., a mood and activity diary, goal setting, schedule, and motivating statements).
Exercise and Mental Health (Open University, United Kingdom)
Online course focusing on exercise for improving mental health and psychological well-being, particularly aimed at combating stress, anxiety and depression, and enhancing mood.
The health benefits of physical activity: depression, anxiety, sleep, and dementia (British Medical Journal Learning, United Kingdom)
Online course focussing on the importance and effectiveness of exercise to both prevent and treat depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and dementia, as well as strategies on how to recommend exercise to clients.
Mental Health (British Association of Sport & Exercise Medicine, United Kingdom)
Chapter 6 of this comprehensive guide for health practitioners on physical activity provides brief bites of key information on mental health conditions.
Using Exercise in Mental Health Treatments (Therapist Aid, USA)
Webpage providing a brief summary of the evidence (with references) for using exercise as treatment for mental health. It also provides ideas for how to incorporate exercise during treatments and strategies to address common barriers reported by client.
Last updated: November 2021