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Sports and Mental Health: Can Exercise Cure Depression?

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Sports and Mental Health: Can Exercise Cure Depression?

It is now a consolidated concept that the practice of physical exercise brings with it numerous benefits. But what if these adaptations concerned not only the general physical aspect but also the psychic one? Let’s see together what science says about it

Andrea Bulgheroni – Noritura

People who play sports are often told that exercising helps make them feel better, which releases the day’s stress, anger, worries, many even say they just can’t do without it. Are we just talking about fanatics or is there some truth to it? Leafing through the most recent scientific research, it would seem that there really is a positive effect on mental well-being deriving from sporting practice, which could be used in a preventive key or even as an adjuvant “drug” in the fight against debilitating and too often silent pathologies such as depression and anxiety.

Sport and mental health: scientific evidence

According to the most recent literature physical exercise would represent a first-line therapy in the treatment of mild-moderate forms, would help prevent and even directly improve the symptoms of depression in a way comparable to psychotherapeutic interventions, would be compatible with the use, and indeed would improve the tolerance and effectiveness, of the most common antidepressant drugs. There thoughtful practice of exercise would then find a prominent place alongside the other most used therapies and would be recommended and prescribed to improve the symptoms and prognosis of these patients.

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What are the recommendations for choosing physical activity

To date, according to WHO recommendations, the greatest evidence concerns moderate aerobic activity performed at least three times a week, accompanied by two exercise sessions aimed at strengthening the muscles of the body. It is highlighted that even modest levels of activity, which do not reach the previous recommendations, but practiced regularly, can already bring benefits in the management of psychological distress. Going beyond the numerical and prescriptive aspect, outdoor activities are encouraged, in contact with nature (but always in safety!), and practiced in company. The social aspect of sporting practice has an importance that should not be overlooked in the rehabilitation of mental problems that tend to make subjects fall into self-isolation, and the importance of the context is fundamental.

The explanation of the mechanisms

How is it possible that the simple choice of move more can it bring with it such a wide range of positive effects? It seems that physical exercise acts at different levels in our body, both organically and socially. First, moving triggers the secretion in our brain of molecules that are involved in the development of the feeling of well-being, favoring the elevation of mood and simultaneously reducing the secretion of molecules related to stress. Training would also lead to greater self-awareness and self-acceptanceto an improvement in the perceived form of ourselves and consequently in self-esteem and security towards the surrounding environment.

a panacea against isolation

The consequence is that, feeling stronger and fitter, one feels safer to move in the environmental and social context, limiting self-isolation and pushing subjects more to seek help from the outside (hence the importance of collaboration with figures such as psychologist, psychiatrist and psychotherapist). The synergistic and harmonious use of all these elements and the collaboration between the specialists who take care of the person is always to be encouraged and allows the achievement of optimal therapeutic objectives.

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