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Physical activity and mental health

Exercise for your mental health!

by Isabelle Doré(20/10/2011)
The promotion of physical activity is a top priority in public health. It is now recognized that physical activity improves the overall health of individuals and reduces the risk of several chronic physical illnesses. Studies have recently confirmed the positive impact that physical activity has on mental health. Clinical trials even show the effectiveness of physical activity in the treatment of depression. In terms of mental health promotion and the prevention of common mental disorders among the population in general, the regular practice of physical activity is associated with an improved quality of life and mental well-being, as well as a reduced level of anxiety, depressive symptoms and stress.

Physical activity of moderate to high intensity maintains or improves mental well-being by strengthening individual protective factors such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, body image, quality of life and contentment. These protective factors interrupt negative thoughts associated with stress.

Physical activity also has a favourable impact on certain social factors that can affect mental health. Physical activity promotes an extended and diversified social network, which reduces the effects of stress and psychological distress by providing individuals with the skills and resources to face adversity and to manage events in everyday life. Social integration leads to different forms of positive mental states in individuals (feeling of belonging, safety, recognition of their personal value) that help increase the motivation to adopt healthy behaviours and modulate the stress response. Several recent studies maintain that the benefits of physical activity on mental health are heightened when practiced in a group setting. Physical activity that requires a social commitment (e.g.: sports club) has a favourable impact on stress reduction, resiliency toward stress, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even on the risk of suicide, by acting as a social catalyst. In older people, physical activity in a social setting reduces solitude and isolation.

The promotion of physical activity is an intervention strategy that is increasingly considered to be effective in reducing the burden of mental disorders that continues to rise throughout the world.

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Isabelle Doré
Marie-Claude Roberge, Étienne Pigeon, Lise Gauvin.

August 2014
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