It’s often cited as one of the most logical, effective ways to aid mental health recovery, but how can exercise therapy actually make such a positive difference? As attitudes towards medicating mental health change, exercise therapy can present you with an alternative way to help your service users along the path to recovery.
Why is exercise therapy important?
Exercise therapy is now being prescribed because it works. Doctor are now offering exercise classes at local community gyms, and it has been demonstrated to have physical effects,
but more significantly, an impact on emotional wellbeing. The joy of exercise therapy is that it doesn’t feel like medicating; I tell my clients that if you ever call it exercise then you are doing it wrong. If you go and do something that you enjoy, that is appropriate to your body and that gets you moving, you will feel better both mentally and physically. Most importantly, however, you will not feel like you deserve a counter-productive reward afterwards, such as using or any other destructive behaviour because you have really enjoyed what you are doing, and so exercise therapy can come to be a rewarding experience in itself.
In the 1960s and 1970s, medication was widely seen to be the way forward. Even if older Doctors didn’t prescribe medication, patients would demand a prescription otherwise they would feel short-changed. Working globally, I continue to witness differing cultures around medications, showing how differently physical and mental health continue to be treated worldwide. Some European practitioners will still prescribe at every opportunity. The US is reeling from it’s overprescribing of pain treatments, and we in the UK are learning to accept that the patient should take more responsibility for their health. Exercise therapy ultimately helps place the initiative on the service user, taking vital responsibility for their recovery.
1. Find a new passion
The NHS recommends that to stay healthy, adults should do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week. Being physically active is easiest when you enjoy the activity you’re doing. This means that when you use exercise therapy as a way to feel better, you’ll look forward to the activity you’re doing instead of dreading it. Seeking out new activities as part of your exercise therapy lets you find something you love, and helps you to stick at it too.
As practitioners, it may be our role to offer and encourage our service users to try new activities within exercise therapy, for them to invest in themselves and discover a new passion.
- Get a good night’s sleep
Struggling to sleep can have enormous repercussions for your health. By tiring yourself out healthily, exercise therapy can help you wind down, setting yourself up for a regular routine that helps anchor you. Thanks to the endorphins you release, exercise therapy helps you sleep more deeply too, leaving you feeling refreshed and energised.
When I worked in rehab, the vast majority of residents would claim to have severe long-term sleep issues, many would report that their substance use was partly used to help them to sleep. Drinkers, for example, would report that by the end they would drink to ‘knock themselves out’ so that they could sleep. After a couple of weeks in rehab, where these same residents had immersed themselves in their treatment routines, their sleep routines were almost entirely resolved. The daily programme of a rehab is a mix of intense sedentary therapy alongside intense physically active daily routines which serve to occupy, upskill and challenge the residents in equal measure.
- Improve your self-confidence
The more you engage with exercise therapy, the better you’ll feel about your body. Spending time focusing on what your body can do, will give you a greater respect for yourself, boosting your self-confidence and ultimately shoring up your self-esteem. Being kind to yourself, respecting your body’s limitations and understanding how much you can do helps you connect with yourself on another level. The process of doing more physically results in increased capacity and also demonstrates that the more you do the more you will achieve in a simple lived example. In this way, exercise therapy raises expectations and self-confidence as a whole.
- Reduce your stress levels
Exercise therapy can also be a very positive way of relieving stress. Exploring new scenery, getting out in the fresh air and taking part in an activity with a friend are all part of exercise therapy, helping you live a more energetic lifestyle. Taking the time to make exercise therapy a part of your routine will help you make time for yourself, no matter how busy your day is; time out in this way helps you reset and refresh, propelling your productivity forward. So go out and find your thing, do it with friends or alone, whatever works for you, just remember, keep it simple – just do it!
Here at Betterminds, our training courses and techniques are built to make you feel better, as well as your clients. If you’d like to find out more about the wide ranging benefits of exercise therapy and how to integrate it with other therapeutic approaches, take a look at our courses, or get in touch.