Beginning exercisers are often frustrated by how long it takes to start seeing — and feeling — results. When you’re starting from square one, it can take 6-12 weeks or longer to even begin noticing a difference in your physical fitness level. Unfortunately, many people don’t make it that far — they decide it’s not worth it, and drop out. Here’s what I wish everyone new to exercise understood — the mental health benefits of regular physical activity are powerful, and they’re often noticeable much sooner than the physical benefits. Recent research underscores the anti-depressive, anti-anxiety, stress-buffering, mood-boosting effects of exercise. Higher levels of physical activity have even been linked with greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm — could you use more of that? If you just hang in there and stay active, even when you don’t feel like it — especially when you don’t feel like it — the payoffs are priceless:
- Exercise is used to treat anxiety and may be useful in preventing it. Subjects participating in a 2-week exercise program experienced big improvements in anxiety compared to a control group. Researchers say that because exercise increases heart rate, sweating, and breathing rate —similar to anxiety symptoms — it may serve as a kind of “exposure” treatment, conditioning patients to interpret the symptoms differently.
- In a study of adults with diabetes and depression —conditions that often occur together — subjects undergoing a 12-week program of exercise and cognitive-behavioral therapy showed improvements in both depression and blood-sugar control.
- Another study had subjects with major depressive disorder complete either a 30-minute treadmill workout or 30 minutes of quiet rest. Both groups reported similar reductions in distress, depression, confusion, fatigue, tension, and anger. But only the exercise group reported a substantial surge in positive well-being and vigor scores.
- Weir K, The Exercise Effect, APA Monitor, Dec 2011, Vol 42, No.11 Print version: p.48
- Ramirez A, Kravitz L, Resistance Training Improves Mental Health, IDEA Fitness Journal January 2012
- Bartholomew, J B, Morrison D, and Ciccolo JT. Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood and Well-Being in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 37, No. 12, pp. 2032–2037, 2005.
- Conroy DE, Elavsky S, Hyde A, and. Doerksen S. The Dynamic Nature of Physical Activity Intentions: A Within-Person Perspective on Intention-Behavior Coupling. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 2011, 33, 807-827. Retrieved March 9, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/02/120208132709.htm
- American College of Sports Medicine, Boost Your Mood at Least Half the Day with Physical Activity, ACSM In The News, 2011