Exercise Your Body to Shape Up Your Mind

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Exercise & Mental Health

The evidence that using exercise regimens is effective in treating negative emotional and mental states is building. In the last ten years, several review articles have summarized the research in the field, stating a positive correlation between increasing levels of aerobic exercise and the extent to which symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even the most serious psychiatric conditions can be improved.

In my own practice as a psychiatrist in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem, I have begun implementing this new understanding, prescribing intensive physical activity in addition to psychopharmacological intervention even at the earliest visits at the onset of symptoms. It might seem counter-intuitive to encourage people to exercise whose symptoms might include feelings of sluggishness and fatigue in depressive states, for example, or panic symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, and numbness. However, often we see that the severity and duration of patients’ conditions can be diminished when prescribed vigorous exercise, especially when it is accompanied by competent practitioners.

While the field is still young and requires further research to prove these facts unequivocally, many of these findings are starting to be buttressed by more and more trials and analyses in research studies that demonstrate this positive “dose-effect” correlation. That is, the more intensive and prolonged exercise in which a patient can invest, the more positive effect that s/he will see. Because of this, I also encourage my patients that engaging in more intensive exercise will enable them to discontinue their psychiatric medications sooner.

To this effect, I am happy to team up with competent exercise professionals who are eager to work with those suffering from varied psychological maladies. Alan Freishtat and his team at “Lose It!” in Jerusalem combine psychological counseling, Behavioral Therapy and Exercise coaching along with basic Nutritional Counseling to achieve quicker results in alleviating negative psychological states. I have had personal experience with them that has yielded positive outcomes.

Dr. Michael E. Bunzel M.D.
Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatry
Head Psychiatrist, Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital, Bnei Brak

It is commonly known that exercise is considered very good medicine for many physiological problems such as the prevention of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and countless other physical issues. More and more, exercise is being recommended by doctors and other health providers across the board in place of and/or in conjunction with medication for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and even gastrointestinal issues.

But one area that has not received much publicity is the increased use of exercise to help those with common mental illnesses. Mental health disorders affect about 20% of the population in the United States today. Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability (lost years of productive life) in North America and Europe. By 2020, major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children. But the good news is that treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90% of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports, of which exercise can be a significant component. Some of these disorders are short-term problems while others are classified as severe mental illness. In any case, exercise is being used with increasing frequency as a first-line treatment for many forms of mental illness.

The definition of mental health describes a state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life. From the perspective of positive psychology or holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and to strike a balance between activities and efforts to achieve a sound psychological state. Mental health is an expression of emotions, and signifies a successful adaptation to a range of demands.

This 4-part series will focus on Depression, Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Panic Disorder. At its conclusion, the reader will have a reasonable understanding of the above conditions, and the role that exercise plays in treatment.

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ALAN FREISHTAT is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 15 years of professional experience. He is the Co-Director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress management center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. They are available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. They have begun working with Dr. Michael Bunzel, M.D., a psychiatrist in Bnei Brak, Israel on incorporating exercise as a therapy for several mental health disorders. Alan can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, U.S. Line 516-568-5027, or by email at alan@loseit.co.il.

The Lose It! Center for Weight Loss and Stress Management is a fully integrated Weight Loss program which combines a healthy and balanced eating plan, a supervised and professional exercise program and cognitive behavioral therapy to achieve behavior modification. The emphasis of the program is for long term, sustainable weight loss. Lose it! has programs available to assist people with Stress Management, and overcoming Depression and Anxiety Disorders. The program is done both at their Jerusalem offices and throughout the world online and by telephone.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.