KEY POINTS:

1. Approximately 20% of our population will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime.

2. Depression has been linked to sedentary behaviour. However, the good news is that it works the other way around. Research has shown that exercise is about as effective as traditional psychological treatments or anti-depressants.

3. If you feel like you don't have the mental or physical capacity for a long workout, even a 5-minute walk helps. The important thing is to just get out there and do something. 

 

A staggering number of people are struggling with mental illness. Approximately 20% of our population will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime. This is one of the gravest threats to our world because mental health challenges are often invisible. We can see a broken arm or when someone has a cold, but sadly we can easily miss it when someone has depression.
 
Last year I was giving a presentation at a school on how exercise, nutrition, and sleep can positively impact our mental performance and health. As I was nearing the end of the presentation a girl who was sitting at the front of the auditorium started crying. I finished the talk quickly so that I could help deal with her and to make sure she was ok. After a few minutes she calmed down and looked at me and said that she wished I had been there a year ago because her friend had committed suicide and maybe she could have been saved. I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest and I committed to always talking about mental health and opening this issue up for conversation at every opportunity from that moment on.
 
We don’t understand mental health very well, we don’t treat mental illnesses effectively and even worse people with mental illnesses are stigmatized. It reminds me of how we treated people with cancer in the 1950’s or people with AIDS in the 1980’s. Fortunately, we are beginning to understand the links between mental health, exercise, sleep, and nutrition.
 
Dr. Long Zhai from the Department of Epidemiology and Health Statistics at Qingdao University Medical College in China conducted a study of the links between sedentary behaviour and depression. He had his team analyze results from over 110,000 participants from 13 research studies and found that being sedentary (sitting or lying down for periods of time), television viewing, and prolonged computer use were significantly related to risk of depression.
 
As much as it is clear that physical inactivity may be a primary cause of mental illness, the mind-body connection can work in a positive way as well. Exercise and physical activity can be used as a treatment for some people who are struggling with depression, in addition to medications and or psychological therapy. When we look at review papers that summarize the growing body of individual studies that have explored the links between depression and exercise some interesting observations emerge. It is clear that when people are exercising or being more physically active there appears to be a benefit. The research shows that exercise is about as effective as traditional psychological treatments or anti-depressants. When exercise is added to anti-depressant therapy there is a moderate additional benefit. But if the exercise stops, the benefits don’t seem to last. So if you want to be mentally healthy, exercise has to be a part of life, forever.
 
When you’re depressed it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and that simply getting out of bed can be a challenge. Exercising in those moments might feel almost impossible. The key is that you don’t need to do much. You just need to get outside and go for a 5-minute walk. You could get down and do a few pushups. It’s amazing how good it feels to vent some anger into your muscles where it dissipates and eventually vanishes. Get as much help as you can from family and friends. Start small by asking someone to go for a walk with you. Use the mind-body connection for your mental and physical benefit.
 
If you want to amplify the benefits of exercise even more you can add meditation to your exercise routine. I’ve already shown you that exercise has benefits for people with various mental illnesses. Meditation is especially beneficial for people with anxiety and depression. Meditation helps people break out of negative patterns of thinking and reduces symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Interestingly, just like exercise, you have to practice meditation on an ongoing basis to keep the benefits. A new type of training called MAP (Mental And Physical) training has been proposed that combines exercise and meditation for people with anxiety and depression.
 
One of the first studies that investigated MAP training was done in a group that had some horrific experiences. The researchers worked with young mothers who had been rendered homeless and had suffered physical and sexual abuse, addiction and depression. The young mothers participated in 2 sessions per week where they sat for 20 minutes and meditated, and then followed that with 10 minutes of walking and 30 minutes of learning a dance routine. After 8 weeks aerobic fitness increased, and symptoms of depression decreased. This is a great example of how we can create amplified effects by combining exercise and mental skills training to help people overcome adversity and get healthier even in some of the worst situations.

Today's POWER-UP: What's the best time of day to exercise?

IF THERE IS ONE QUESTION THAT I GET MORE OFTEN THAN ANY OTHER IT’S WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF DAY TO TRAIN? THE ANSWER IS THAT THE BEST TIME OF DAY TO TRAIN, IS THE TIME OF DAY WHEN YOU CAN TRAIN CONSISTENTLY.

IF THAT IS FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, THEN THAT’S GREAT. IF IT IS ON YOUR LUNCH BREAK, FANTASTIC. IF IT IS IN THE EVENING, BRILLIANT.

THERE ARE BENEFITS TO EACH TIME OF DAY. IF YOU WORK OUT FIRST THING IN THE MORNING YOU ARE INCREASING YOUR METABOLISM TO GET THE DAY STARTED AND THAT WILL HELP YOU ALL DAY LONG. NOT TO MENTION YOU ARE FLOODING YOUR BRAIN WITH ALL SORTS OF CHEMICALS AND HORMONES THAT WILL HELP YOU TO THINK BETTER ALL DAY LONG.

LUNCHTIME CAN ALSO BE TERRIFIC AS IT WILL GIVE YOU A SURGE OF ENERGY THAT CAN HELP YOU AVOID THE AFTERNOON BLAH’S. MY COLLEAGUE ROBIN SHARMA, AUTHOR OF THE MONK WHO SOLD HIS FERRARI, CALLS THIS “THE SECOND WIND WORKOUT”.

AFTERNOON AND EVENING WORKOUTS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE NATURAL INCREASES IN STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE THAT HAPPEN WITH CHANGES IN OUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS AND CAN HELP TO BREAK DOWN ALL THE STRESS HORMONES THAT YOU’VE BUILT UP DURING THE DAY.

SO THE MESSAGE IS TO DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU AND WHAT YOU CAN DO CONSISTENTLY.

EXERCISE EACH DAY FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES. ANY TYPE OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY COUNTS. WALKING, GARDENING, STRETCHING, RUNNING, SWIMMING, YOGA, STRENGTH TRAINING AND PADDLE-BOARDING ARE ALL GOOD EXAMPLES OF ACTIVITIES THAT SUPERCHARGE YOUR HEALTH AND FITNESS.

CONSISTENCY IS KEY, SO REMEMBER THAT WHAT GETS SCHEDULED GETS ACCOMPLISHED. PROGRAM TRAINING INTO YOUR CALENDAR AND MAKE IT A HIGH PRIORITY.

Dive Deeper

Check out this video on the effects of exercise on your immune system.