Study shows physical exercise more beneficial to psychiatric patients than medication alone

Exercise is the new primary prescription for those with mental health problems, proving in studies to be more effective than medication or psychotherapy alone.

According to researchers at the University of Vermont, a regular physical regimen among psychiatric inpatients can help reduce symptoms of mental health and mood disorders - from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia, suicidality and acute psychotic episodes. It also helps develop a more balanced and integrated sense of self.

Findings from the new study show that the introduction of regular exercise could reduce a patient's stay in acute facilities, and lessen the need for psychotropic medications.

University of Vermont lecturer and Vermont Medical Center psychotherapist David Tomasi led the study. His team built a gym exclusively for 100 patients in the medical center's inpatient psychiatry unit, and introduced 60-minute structured exercise and nutrition education programs into their treatment plans.

Psychotherapists surveyed patients on their mood, self-esteem and self-image - both before and after the study. An average of 95 percent of patients reported that their moods improved after doing the structured exercises, while 63 percent of the patients reported feeling happy or very happy, as opposed to neutral, sad or very sad. An average of 91.8 of patients also reported that they were pleased with the way their bodies felt after the program.

Most inpatient psychiatric facilities prescribe psychotropic medications first, rather than seek natural remedies such as physical exercise, to alleviate symptoms such as anger, anxiety and depression. Very few of these facilities in the U.S. provide gym facilities.

The study could help change that.

"The priority is to provide more natural strategies for the treatment of mood disorders, depression and anxiety," Tomasi said. "In practice, we hope that every psychiatric facility will include integrative therapies - in our case, exercise in particular - as the primary resource for their patients' psycho-physical wellbeing."

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