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Affordable Care: Exercise as a Supplement to Mental Health Treatment

Affordable Care: Exercise as a Supplement to Mental Health Treatment

When you imagine what mental health treatment looks like, what comes to mind? Is it sitting in an office talking one-on-one with a therapist? Is it being taught techniques to help you cope with your thoughts and moods? Does it include taking a prescription drug?

You wouldn’t be far off. For many people, the above is exactly what most mental health treatment consists of. Yet time and time again, studies have shown vast improvements in a spectrum of mental health conditions when patients include a regular exercise routine in their schedules. And this program doesn’t need to be intrusive, expensive or intensive. Even adding brief periods of walking throughout the day has been shown to improve mood and lessen the effects of conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Despite these benefits, many patients who undergo treatment for a mental health condition never have a conversation with their provider about their physical exercise routines. There’s a few reasons for this, some of which are valid points – behavioral health providers might feel like exercise is out of their expertise area and don’t feel comfortable talking to patients about it; others might believe that physical activity is a physical health concern and not a behavioral health issue. However, if providers aren’t sharing the benefits of exercise with their patients, either through conversation or including it on a patient’s treatment plan, then patients are far less likely to understand how exercise can help them or to do it at all.

As a client, you can still reap the benefits of exercise, even if your therapist hasn’t brought it up. Things like walking for 20 minutes a day, exploring the outdoors, taking up a sport or physical hobby, or enrolling in a fitness class are all ways you can use exercise to your benefit without buying an expensive gym membership. Note: Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, especially if you’ve been inactive for a period of time, to ensure that you aren’t pushing yourself too hard.

When we talk about keeping counseling affordable, a big part has to do with what happens outside of the therapist’s office - both through changes in our thoughts and behaviors and our physical functioning. Try exercise as a supplement to your treatment plan and see what works for you!

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Jennifer Novack
Posted on 01/22/2018 by Jennifer Novack

Jennifer is a writer for OpenCounseling. She has worked at a number of state and non-profit organizations, providing counseling, training, and policy development