By Megan Callahan Sherman
As a clinician, it always astonishes me how little my clients know about the importance of exercise in maintaining mental health. I often work with clients who speak of their sadness, anxiety, stress levels, poor self-esteem and inability to concentrate. Numerous times they have sought my counsel about medication management for their symptoms. While I support medication interventions for a myriad of mental health conditions, I also believe non-pharmacological alternatives to intervention are sadly often overlooked. In treatment, I always strive to work with each client holistically often addressing diet, sleep patterns, spirituality, support systems and exercise. I have found most clients to generally be on board with my recommendations- except for exercise!
Running is perhaps the most utilized form of exercise I recommend to my clients. It is cheaper than a gym membership and gets you outdoors with the fresh air! Of course if previously inactive, I encourage they start slow- perhaps a gingerly walk leads to a brisk hike which
leads to a mellow jog. The intensity of level of the run is not as important as the physical activity itself. Running releases endorphins- the feel good chemicals of the brain. These good mood juices travel through the wiring of the brain increasing oxygen levels and blood flow and enhancing all of the feel good stuff in our bodies- mood, sleep, energy, sex drive, stress management etc. These chemicals are recreated in common mental health medicines like Zoloft. However, the best part of trying out running before medication is that it doesn’t come with all of those not so fun side effects that can occur with medication-like difficulty sleeping, low energy, dizziness, fatigue and sexual dysfunction.
So while I wholeheartedly support the use of medication as part of a holistic approach to the treatment of chronic and severe mental health obstacles, I would also recommend taking a moment to think about the importance of exercise in coping with depression, anxiety and high stress levels. In treatment of these challenges, I would encourage you to consider holding off on the meds until after a nice long jog!
Disclaimer: The information provided by the Author is meant to provide insight and general knowledge and is not meant to replace mental health treatment. If you are encountering mental health issues you should consult a private practitioner in a therapeutic setting. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis you should seek emergency services. Be well and be happy!
About The Author Megan Callahan Sherman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and School Administrator. She operates a private mental health practice in Monmouth County and serves as the Director of Special Services at a Academy Charter High School in Belmar, NJ. Most importantly, Megan is the mother of five children. When she finds lulls in her hectic schedule, Megan fills them with miles, thousands of miles, that include two marathons (Philadelphia and New York)