Mental Health & Exercise: Getting the ‘Dose’ Right

It is now well-known, and generally accepted, that exercise is beneficial for mental health.

For example, we know that:

1. Enjoyment Matters

Research demonstrates the pleasure response (officially known as affective valence) to a single bout of aerobic exercise can predict participation in the long-term, i.e. six- and twelve months later.

The less pleasurable the activity is perceived to be by the individual, the less likely they are to engage in exercise in the future.

This is an especially important element to understand and appreciate for:

  • Medical professionals as referrers to exercise programmes.
    • Medical professionals should have a pool of two or more exercise referral-trained exercise professionals to suit the different training styles of clients/patients.
  • Exercise professionals as the deliverers/facilitators of exercise programmes.
    • After an initial consultation (e.g. PAR-Q and exercise history), the exercise professional may need to refer the client/patient to another exercise professional whose style/training modalities better suit the client/patient.
  • Clients/patients as participants in the exercise programme.
    • It is important to note that exercise professionals differ in their styles and methods of training.
    • If need be, get referred to another exercise professional rather than leave the programme.

Finally, it is particularly important for clients/patients with mental illness whose motivation and self-efficacy may be low.

2. It Does Not have To Be Intensive

A review of exercise programme variables, in 2013, found that aerobic exercise, undertaken three times per week at moderate intensity for a minimum of nine weeks, was beneficial for depression.

Although the jury is still out on whether high-intensity exercise is superior for depressive symptoms, it may be less appealing to clients/patients with low exercise motivation.

3. Consistency is Key

Although exercise is beneficial for our health, it is not a cure. It can help clients/patients manage their condition and get back to a functional recovery where they can live their life.

However, long-term behavioural change is what we are after, and need to focus on.

4. What about Weight Training?

Research suggests that weight training is almost as good as aerobic measures for changes in:

  • Mood;
  • Anxiety; and
  • Intellectual capacity.

Clients/patients should to perform weight training exercises a few times per week.

What We Don’t Know

Although we know some of the benefits of exercise on mental health, there are still some questions to answer, for example:

  • How much is needed to reap the benefits;
  • At what intensity; and
  • How frequently.


The benefits of exercise on mental health are well-known, but it is important to pair the ‘right’ exercise professional with the client/patient to ensure they ‘enjoy’ their exercise programme and gain as much from it as they can, aiding their long-term mental health.


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