"If Exercise were a Pill, everyone would be taking it."
Gif credit: Jamie Farrell
My husband and I brought our son on his first wilderness canoeing trip this week (he fell asleep -- until I accidentally splashed him!) I am instructing a few day kayaking programs this summer, as well as updating the MHWFA curriculum for the fall, and reflecting how meaningful it is to make time for movement in supporting good mental health. As a seasonal kayak guide for 15 years, working physically every day outdoors did a world of good for my mood and anxiety levels as well (October was always a different story!). So, this newsletter is dedicated to the mental health benefits of exercise.
There is no shortage of scientific research on the mental health benefits of regular exercise. Regular aerobic exercise is one of the most effective treatments (with few side effects) available for mild to moderate depression, and it also has been found to improve the effectiveness of other interventions such as antidepressant medications and cognitive behaviour therapy. And not just mood disorders: exercise has been found effective for treating those with post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia as well as anxiety disorders. In a particularly memorable study, assigning individuals to a routine of just three 20-minute treadmill sessions per week for two weeks was sufficient to result in clinically decreased levels of anxiety.
Many of our MHWFA students are folks who work outside or physically in some way: treeplanters, SAR volunteers, outdoor educators, traditional medicine gatherers. For some people, 20 minutes of exercise three times per week feels like a lot! At the same time, remote area living/working/playing frequently involves more than 20 minutes per day of physical activity. So, two things for our students:
Daye Cooper Hagel is a clinical counsellor, veteran wilderness guide, and director of the Mental Health Wilderness First Aid program on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. Read more about her and the MHWFA on the About Us page!