I am constantly encouraging patients to exercise. Usually, the motivation is physical health — the patient’s weight, or blood pressure, or cholesterol, or sugar is too high and exercise is the healthiest way to normalize it. But I’m increasingly impressed by the ability of exercise to improve mental health. Patients tell me all the time that their mood is better, their anxiety lower, and their thinking sharper when they exercise than when they don’t.
A recent study adds evidence to that belief. A study presented this week at an American Heart Association meeting and covered in this USA Today article examined the effects of exercise on quality of life. The study involved over 400 sedentary overweight women who were randomized into four groups. One group did no exercise. Another group was instructed to do about 73 minutes of physical activity per week. The third group did 135 minutes of exercise per week, and the fourth did 193 minutes. They were closely supervised with heart rate monitors and pedometers to make sure they were compliant with their instructions.
The women filled out questionnaires that assessed different aspects of quality of life, from emotional health to participating in social activities. One questionnaire was completed before the beginning of the study and another after the women had been exercising for 6 months. Not surprisingly, the women who exercised most showed the greatest benefit in quality of life. What was surprising, however, was that even the women in the group that exercised the least did better that those who didn’t exercise at all. Even a little exercise improved their quality of life. The other surprise was that this improvement was independent of weight loss. The women who exercised felt better whether or not they lost weight.
So take a walk this weekend. You’ll feel better. And let me know if you want a pedometer.
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