How Exercise is the New Natural Prescription for Psych Patients

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Patients who have mood and mental health disorders often undergo inpatient treatment to help reduce the symptoms that they are feeling with the aid of medications. But recent studies show that there may be a different way to alleviating a patient’s symptoms without relying on medication alone and that is by doing physical exercise.

According to David Tomasi, a psychotherapist as well as inpatient psychiatry group therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, lecturer at the University of Vermont, and lead researcher in the study, the common attitude in the field of medicine is to treat the primary issue first, and that exercise has never been considered as an option to treat disorders. He further stated that now that the positive effects of exercise in patients has been studied, it can be used in conjunction with pharmacological intervention to help with inpatient therapy. Simply put, it can help shorten the time a patient stays in these facilities because of the fast response to the effects of physical activities.

Most inpatient psychiatric facilities are often crowded which can cause distress and discomfort to the patients there. Practitioners who run and operate these facilities often rely on psychotropic medications all the time, rather than take advantage of natural remedies, such as exercising, to help reduce their patient’s symptoms such as anger, depression, and anxiety even. Tomasi believes that there is only a handful of inpatient psychiatric facilities actually have a psychotherapist-supported gym in their facilities to be used by their patients. A common practice in these facilities is to use pharmacological as well as psychotherapeutic frameworks to handle the symptoms of the patients, where they are monitored regularly to determine whether they can be discharged from their facility or not.

In this study, Tomasi joined forces with UVMMC’s Emily Reyns and Sheri Gates to build a gym that is designed exclusively for the patients in their inpatient psychiatry unit where they taught their patients an hour-long structured workout as well as diet programs based on their condition. The psychotherapists, on the other hand, studied the patients in terms of their self-esteem, mood, as well as self-image, both before their work out and after, to determine if there were any effects to their symptoms after an hour of exercising.

Those who participated in the exercise reported that they became less angry, depressed, and anxious during their exercise and after, with higher self-esteem and better mood after. The researchers found that around 95% of the patients experienced an improvement to their mood while doing the structured exercises that they created, with 63% of the patients felt happier during their exercise as opposed to those who felt neutral, sad, or even very sad afterwards. What’s more, around 91.8% of the patients were quite pleased with the way their body felt after their workout.

Tomasi stated that the results of their studies showed that if patients were in a psychotic state, performing psychotherapy or talk therapy will not do much, because the patient is not at the right state where they are able to comprehend the message that is being said to them. However, during exercise, the patients will be able to show their emotional state which is something that hasn’t been seen in the use of medications alone.

For Tomasi, the main goal in their study is to provide health practitioners with more natural strategies in treating different kinds of mood disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression even. He further stated that he wished that more psychiatric facilities will be open to the idea of using integrative therapies, such as adding exercise in their way of treating their patients, as one of the key elements for their patients’ psycho-physical wellbeing.

Should Exercise be Prescribed?

Can doctors prescribe exercise in inpatient psychiatry facilities in the future? For Professor Tomasi, he hopes that it would be true in the future because the risks as well as the costs linked to creating a gym are minimal at best plus it can be a good intervention too.

However, the study that they conducted was relatively small which is one of its limitations. They weren’t able to follow the patients over the following days and weeks which could have given them additional information. Another point that they considered was that the windows that were present in the new gym facility allowed more natural light to enter which is something that is not available in the rest of their facility. Take note that exposure to natural light does have an effect in a person’s mood. That said, Tomasi’s study focuses on the holistic experience of doing a structured exercise program in a welcoming environment which has yielded results.

The main takeaway in their study was that this type of intervention boosted their patients’ happiness and their overall well-being without even taking any medications.

We all know that exercising does have numerous health benefits to it, and although we see it as a means of staying physically fit, Professor Tomasi and his team has given it another use in the aid of patients who have mental and mood disorders which may be used in the long run.

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