In the first article for Health Month I noted that although it’s challenging to measure, mental health is of immense value to us. We know that many mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and related symptomatology are mitigated by diet and exercise. The stronger one’s markers of mental health are, the better their overall health rates on the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. However, there are no single markers for mental health that allow us to measure it like other health markers such as blood pressure and body composition. So how do we evaluate, and therefore measure changes in mental health?
Mental health can be assessed by psychiatrists and psychologists, but they often provide subjective reports. To obtain more objective (measurable) data, self-report questionnaires are used. These provide ratings of stress, anxiety and depression, and they score your perceptions of your mental and physical wellbeing. That means such questionnaires provide insight into how you feel about your mental wellbeing, not about how a doctor sees it. And there is a great body of research evaluating changes in the results of such self-report questionnaires in people participating in structured and guided exercise programs as part of their therapy and rehabilitation.
In NZ and Australia, healthcare is tax funded with very few people using health insurance (medical aid). So when people were deemed unfit to work as a result of poor health they would go on to an income disability benefit until healthy again. The exercise rehab clinic our department ran formed part of the multidisciplinary team that got these people healthy enough to return to work again. Something I certainly wasn’t initially prepared for was the amount of clients we worked with who were on income disability due to mental health. They made up 60-70% of our clientele.
The testing and programs we implemented for them were all evidenced based – directed by (the huge amount of) research. And the results were profound. Along with their other treatment modalities such as occupational therapy and psychotherapy, exercise contributed significantly to improvements in perceptions of both mental and physical wellbeing. Moreover, improvements in those perceptions occurred concomitant to improvements in markers of fitness.
There’s a strong relation between not just engaging in an exercise program, but in tracking and observing the results of an exercise program, and improvements in mental health.
To simplify that further, if you exercise and measure the results of that exercise program, you are improving your mental health. Sounds familiar, yeah?
So just by turning up to your sessions every week you’re already taking care of yourself a great deal. But always remember that while all your health and fitness markers might be good, your mental health is important too. So stay aware.
If you’d like to complete a self-report questionnaire to help evaluate changes in your mental wellbeing, get in touch with me. Likewise, if you’re know of people who might need an exercise intervention for their health, send them in. We have the resources at CFJ!