Article Title

The Role of Physical Activity and Fitness in Prevention and Treatment of Mental Health


Introduction; We have previously shown that self-reported physical activity is inversely related to symptoms of depression, anxiety and burnout and that participation in physical activity dose-dependently lowers the risk of developing mental health problems two years later. We have now extended our findings regarding the relationship between mental health and physical activity by examine if cardiorespiratory fitness and perceived stress are associated with symptoms of occupational burnout and depression, and whether participants’ fitness levels moderate the assumed positive relationships between perceived stress and symptoms of burnout and depression. Methods: The study includes 197 participants (49 % women). The Åstrand bicycle test was used to assess cardorespiratory fitness. Burnout was measured with the Shirom-Melamed Burnout Questionnaire (SMBQ), depressive symptoms with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HAD-D). Results: Overall, participants with moderate and high fitness reported fewer symptoms of burnout and depression than participants with low fitness. However, when the participants were divided into high and low stress groups the expected inverse relationship between fitness and symptoms of burnout and depression was only seen in the high stress group, indicating a protective role of fitness in developing mental symptoms among highly stress individuals. Our research program also includes clinical populations with stress-related exhaustion and preliminary data from one of these studies will be presented. Initially inactive patients (n=69) were offered to take part in an 18 months multimodal treatment program (MMT) with a strong exercise component. Changes in mental health symptoms were stronger in those patients who increased their activity levels during the MMT program period compared with patients who did not respond to the exercise component. Thus, patients who managed to integrate weekly episodes of exercise in their ordinary behaviour patterns reported the largest improvements in mental health. This clinical group of patients often report substantial problems with infections such as upper respiratory infections and further studies are needed to explore it increased activity level can influence the burden of infections in this group.

Conclusion; Better cardiovascular fitness seems to be associated with decreased symptoms of burnout and depression in highly stressed individuals, thus improving the capacity to cope with stress. Furthermore, regular exercise seems to be an important part in the treatment of patients with stress-related mental health symptoms. Promoting physically active lifestyle to prevent as well as treat stress-related mental health is a worthwhile endeavour.

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