The benefit of physical activity is most commonly explained through its positive impact on the health and well-being of individuals. These positive outcomes are mostly recognised as due to themitigation of risk factors and reduced incidence of injury, illness and disease. It is the psychological benefit of exercise that is less understood but just as important. There is abundant anecdotal evidence that physical activity does improve our mood however there is less scientific evidence available to support the relationship between exercise and a reduction in the symptoms of depression and mood disorders. A paper by Bailey, Hetrick, Rosenbaum, Purcell & Parker (2018), reviewed research published between 1980 and 2016 exploring this relationship amongst adolescents and young adults. Their conclusions corroborated the popular belief held by many psychologists that physical activity represents a very promising intervention for this sample group and they recommended further research to support this and its inclusion in future treatment plans for depression and other mood disorders.
There are many theories as to why exercise has this impact on mood. One explanation is through the behaviour activation model. A behaviour that is rewarded with a positive result is likely to be continued. Benefits can also be explained through a biological model, when our body is more balanced and running more efficiently this will impact physiological markers such as cortisol and hormones, heart rate and of course our general feeling of wellness. Obtaining a feeling of mastery over learning a new activity or improving your ability and performance in an existing activity, also has the potential to contribute to improved mood. Experiencing the ability to create and change your own behaviour and notice subtle changes as a result of this is extremely rewarding and this results in cognitive benefits. The potential social benefits of physical activity are also noteworthy, especially if there is an opportunity to exercise in a group environment and feel more connected as a result.
The take home message is that moving your body is good for you. Lifestyles have changed so much over time meaning we generally don’t have or have reduced opportunities to move as much as we used to. This means that we need to create more opportunities to move and shake our body and mood.