Can Physical Activity Prevent Mental Disorders?
As humans, we want to remain in control of our lives.
To take care of ourselves. Be self sufficient. Autonomous.
We don’t want to be a burden for others. Especially to our family or friends.
As we get older, though, we come face to face with reality. That our ability to move around and take care of the day to day responsibilities slowly gets tougher.
You’ve read in the magazines and newspapers that cognitive decline and mental disorders are becoming more common as we get older.
It’s a scary thing. And wanting to know how to delay or prevent that situation from happening becomes a priority.
Keeping your mind nimble is one of the areas I try to focus on for obvious reasons. And a lot of the research I’ve seen tells us that exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of cognitive decline and reduce chances of dementia.
Now more research from Spain is adding to this evidence. They found that levels of physical activity are tied to preventing mental disorders and keeping your mind healthy.
Solutions To Problems
As the state of our mental health continues to become a bigger problem, the researchers decided to explore the relationship of mental disorders and physical activity a bit deeper.
In a sampling of people between the ages of 15-74, they found that 15% of the population in the community of Madrid had a mental disorder. Of those people, about 20% weren’t considered physically active enough.
So here’s how they set up their study.
They would study levels of activity along with the occurrence of mental problems. Either low, mild, or high.
Additionally, they would also look at when this physical activity was done. If it was at work, commuting, or in their leisure time.
Finally, they would look to see if physical activity was linked to any vulnerabilities to mental disorders.
More Robust Data
While other studies have looked at the association between mental health and activity before, the data in this study may be a bit more robust.
The questionnaire used in the study provided data on the intensity, frequency, and length of the physical activities performed across different tasks. Which is a bit more detailed and specific than some past studies have done.
They also used another questionnaire to check mental health. The particular survey they administered had also been used to detect psychological issues and disorders in primary care of the general population.
They found that the mental health of the population of Madrid was indeed linked to two factors.
The first was the amount of physical activity done in leisure time. The second was the total overall physical activity. As summed up in their leisure activities, commuting, and their occupation.
So people who performed at high or even mild levels of total physical activity had better mental health.
Looking at physical activity in leisure time, the results were also significant. The risk of suffering mental health pathologies was reduced up to 56% when comparing the sufficiently active population to one that was not.
“Sufficiently active” – if you’re curious – was defined as those who performed mild to high levels of physical activity.
Considering the large reduction in risk, and better data acquisition from the questionnaire, this is a strong win for physical activity being able ward of mental problems.
The researchers’ findings have also been published in the journal Revista de Psicología del Deporte.
Considering society in the US is growing older, you can bet we’ll see continued research in studying and preventing mental decline.
This is another step that helps us understand how to age gracefully. However, it seems exercise (and general physical activity) will continue to be the leading method in keeping our brains sharp.
Don’t just take my word for it. If you take a look at the other benefits that exercise gives the mind, it presents a pretty convincing case.
It’s definitely worth the look. Who knows, it may even provide that missing motivation to get to the gym. Or at least get you outside more often.
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