Mental Wellness Month - Exercise can help!

Mental Wellness Month

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January is Mental Wellness Month!

Mental health issues are on the rise as shown by the following statistics:

  • 50% of all Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.

  • Adults living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others.

  • About 1 in 5 American adults and 1 in 5 children will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives.

  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

*Statistics provided by the CDC and ADAA

How are Chronic Pain and Depression related?

If you are dealing with chronic pain, chances are you may also be dealing with depression or anxiety. Dr. Hall-Flavin from Mayo Clinic describes the relationship, “Pain and depression are closely related. Depression can cause pain — and pain can cause depression. Sometimes pain and depression create a vicious cycle in which pain worsens symptoms of depression, and then the resulting depression worsens feelings of pain.”

Individuals with chronic pain are often treated with opioids, which have recently been criticized as dangerous, addictive, and ineffective in managing pain/disability in the long term. However, exercise and physical therapy are safe and highly effective alternatives to pain medication when treating chronic pain.

How can exercise improve our mental health?

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental illnesses, and both benefit tremendously from exercise. Regular physical activity, as little as 30 minutes a day, can positively affect your mind and body. Exercise also provides a distraction from life’s daily stressors and negative thoughts that can worsen your symptoms. Here are some of the many benefits of frequent exercise to improve mental  health:

  • Changes your body and brain chemistry in a positive way.

    • “Runner’s high” is more than just a saying – research shows exercise may be correlated with increased levels of endorphins and endocannabinoids, which are chemicals that function to decrease pain and increase feelings of well-being.

    • Exercise increases mTOR- a chemical important for aging, cell growth and metabolism.  Increased mTOR supports learning, memory, and decreases effects of depression.

    • Respond better to stress, and decrease overall stress levels: at the center of our brain, there are two parts called the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland that regulate our bodies response to stress by releasing hormones. Exercise helps to control the release of these stress hormones.

    • Exercise increases serotonin – another brain chemical that produces a calming effect.

  • Boosts immune function and decreases inflammation.

    • Chronic inflammation is a common symptom of  chronic disease and has been linked to depression and poor mental health. Exercise decreases inflammation by triggering release of anti-inflammatory molecules, decreasing body fat, and reducing whole-body inflammation.

  • Improves self-esteem and encourages positive thinking.

    • Exercise allows you to practice and master something which boosts your self-esteem with a sense of accomplishment and success.  Physical therapists know the best strategies to help you move again; we are trained to progress your program safely, and help you achieve your goals for activity, work, and recreation.

    • Exercise is a mental time out. It shifts your focus away from constant negativity. Physical therapy creates  a positive environment for you to work towards being happy, healthy, and the best version of yourself!

All in all, exercise may be our best defense against pain, depression and anxiety!  

Click this link to schedule an appointment to address any chronic pain issues and have one of our therapists at Vital Step PT develop the best exercise program for you.


  1. Roehrig, C. (n.d.). Mental Disorders Top The List Of The Most Costly Conditions In The United States: $201 Billion. Health affairs (Project Hope), 35(6), 1130–5. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2015.1659

  2. Mental Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published January 26, 2018. Accessed December 14, 2018.

  3. Facts & Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Accessed December 14, 2018.

  4. Hall-Flavin MDDK. Pain and depression: Is there a link? Mayo Clinic. Published March 11, 2016. Accessed December 19, 2018.

  5. Opioids Largely Ineffective for Low Back Pain. Move Forward PT. Published June 1, 2018. Accessed December 19, 2018.

  6. Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48–56.

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