Incorporating exercise with psychotherapy may be better way to improve patients’ depression, anxiety symptoms

LANSING, Mich. — Regular exercise is not only simple and effective in helping treat depression, but it seems to be an intervention that depressed individuals may actually desire, a new study finds.

Researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan recently interviewed 295 mental health clinic patients on their attitudes toward physical exercise. Participants were mostly middle-aged, White women with diagnoses of depression and/or anxiety disorders. The majority of respondents self-reported multiple mental health diagnoses that they managed with medications and/or received group or individual therapy.

Patients were asked about whether they wanted to be more physically active, if exercise helped them improve their mood and anxiety, and their willingness to speak with their therapist about starting a routine. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they wanted to work out more, while over 80 percent believed that regular exercise could help them decrease their stress, while elevating their mood.

Nearly half of those interviewed said that they would be interested in a one-time discussion about exercise with their therapist, while a significant percentage would enjoy more regular dialogue with a mental health specialist.

“Physical activity has been shown to be effective in alleviating mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” says Carol Janney, the study’s lead author, in a university news release. “Current physical activity guidelines advise at least 30 minutes, five days a week to promote mental and physical health, yet many of those surveyed weren’t meeting these recommendations.”

A majority of participants indicated that their depressive mood was a roadblock to sufficient exercise, which may hint at the role that mental health professionals can play “Offering physical activity programs inside the mental health clinics may be one of many patient-centered approaches that can improve the mental and physical health of patients,” Janney suggests.

Marcia Valenstein, the study’s senior author, proposed that mental health facilities and gyms partner, whether it’s “the YMCA or other community recreation facilities.” Both researchers emphasize the difference between merely recommending exercise, and formulating a comprehensive plan to make working out a reality.

One of the researchers’ final inquiries addressed whether a patient would be willing to pay for a personal trainer, which a majority of those surveyed responded to affirmatively.

“This is a missed opportunity,” Valenstein concludes. “If we can make it easier for both therapists and their patients to have easier access to physical activity services, then we are likely to help more patients reduce their depression and anxiety.”

Should this approach be effective, the researchers don’t rule out the possibility of health insurers adding services to help ameliorate depression.

The study’s findings are published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

This article was first published on November 16, 2017.