Objective: The case for exercise and health has primarily been made on its impact on
diseases such coronary heart disease, obesity and diabetes. However, there is a very
high cost attributed tomental disorders and illness and in the last 15 years there has
been increasing research into the role of exercise a) in the treatment of mental health,
and b) in improving mental well-being inthe general population. There are now
several hundred studies and over 30 narrative or meta-analytic reviews of research in
this field. These have summarised the potential for exercise as atherapy for clinical or
subclinical depression or anxiety, and the use of physical activity as a means of
upgrading life quality through enhanced self-esteem, improved mood states, reduced
stateand trait anxiety, resilience to stress, or improved sleep. The purpose of this
paper is to a) provide an updated view of this literature within the context of public
health promotion and b)investigate evidence for physical activity and dietary
interactions affecting mental well-being.
Design: Narrative review and summary.
Conclusions: Sufficient evidence now exists for theeffectiveness of exercise in the
treatment of clinical depression. Additionally, exercise has a moderate reducing effect
on state and trait anxiety and can improve physical self-perceptions and in somecases
global self-esteem. Also there is now good evidence that aerobic and resistance
exercise enhances mood states, and weaker evidence that exercise can improve
cognitive function (primarilyassessed by reaction time) in older adults. Conversely,
there is little evidence to suggest that exercise addiction is identifiable in no more than
a very small percentage of exercisers. Together,this body of research suggests that
moderate regular exercise should be considered as a viable means of treating
depression and anxiety and improving mental well-being in the general public.
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