Research Paper on Mental Health and Physical Activity

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1711 Words
Date:  2022-07-04


In the course of history, the relationship between physical and mental health has been a magnet for medical studies. At the center of this symbiotic relationship is the critical role that physical activity plays in health outcomes. The World Health Organization describes mental health as a state of wellbeing in which one can cope with life stress and assert himself or herself as a productive member of the community (Abdelgadir 1). Managing mental illness can be challenging due to the multiplicity of causes and the marginalization of people living with the disorders. Besides, victims suffer from the stigma that affects their willingness to seek external support in health care (Arboleda-Florez and Norman 10). Physical activity is effective in lowering the level of stress, anxiety, and depression associated with mental illness.

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!


Globally, mental illness is a severe health phenomenon. It is estimated that mental ailment constitutes about 13% of all diseases incidence in the world (Barrow 11). Projections show that one in every four people are likely to suffer from a mental condition in their lifetime and that up to 600 million people live with a form of psychological disability globally (Barrow 11). Among those who have a mental illness, 59 million of them have bipolar disorder, while 24 million are schizophrenia patients (Barrow 11). In the United States, mental health is equally a problem. The National Alliance of Mental Alliance indicates that approximately 61% of Americans experience a form of mental disorder every year of which 14.8 million have depression and 42 million live with anxiety disorders (NAMI 1). Therefore, mental diseases are a current public health challenge.

Mental health poses a financial, health, and social burden. Financially, chronic mental illness costs American about $193.2 billion in treatment expenses (NAMI 1). These costs are associated with the cost of medication, clinical therapy, and hospitalization (Heekin and Polivka 3). A third of all reported hospitalization cases in the U.S. are related to mood disorders (NAMI 1). While individuals suffering from chronic mental ailments are susceptible to other diseases, evidence shows that on an average they are likely to die 25 years earlier (NAMI 1). More than a third of the students with mental conditions drop out of schools and depression-related suicides constitute the leading cause of death in America (NAMI 1). It is evident that without proper management, mental diseases can be costly to individuals and the society.

Globally, managing mental illness has not been a priority. Statistics show that on average, the global expenditure on mental health services falls below $3 per person annually (Abdelgadir 1). In developing countries, the spending can be as low as $0.25 per year (Abdelgadir 1). Arboleda-Florez and Norman (9) observes that it is only in the new millennium that States in U.S. are beginning to understand the depth of mental illness leading to legal reforms. This low level of spending reflects the global worldview that mental health is not as severe as other pandemics. With limited funding for preventive and curative interventions, personal low-cost intervention measures such as physical exercise present a viable alternative.

Causes of Mental Illness

The causative and contributive factors of mental illness are multiple and highly misconstrued. Studies on mental health indicate that there are different explanatory models for mental illness, some of which relate to supernatural explanations. Firstly, mental illness is linked to genetic and biological variables as supported by evidence from genetic and familial studies (Heekin and Larry 2). Genetic risk factors such as the abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits and imbalance of neurotransmitters are shown to cause disorders such as bipolar, depression, and schizophrenia (Heekin and Larry 2). Secondly, psychological factors that result from emotional, physical, sexual abuse have been found to cause disorders such as trauma and psychosis (Heekin and Larry 2). Thirdly, environmental factors act as life stressors that trigger mental illness. These stressors include the death of loved ones, divorce, unemployment, or financial problem (Heekin and Larry 3). Cultural and social variables such as drug abuse, the presence of pollutants, nutrition, and temperatures increase exposure to mental disorders (Heekin and Larry 3). All the causative and contributing factors are often complicated due to their overlap. However, it is possible to modify some of these factors since they relate to individuals well-being.

Impact of Physical Exercise on Mental Illness

There is growing evidence to support the position that lifestyle modification can improve the health and quality of life for people suffering from mental disorders. Physical exercise is an essential component of lifestyle modification. Though patients and professionals dealing with mental health do not appreciate physical activities, the intervention has positive health outcomes.

Aerobic exercises have demonstrated a capacity to reduce depression and anxiety. These activities include jogging, swimming, cycling, gardening, dancing, and walking (Sharma, Vishal, and Frederick 106). Scientifically, the exercises induce an increase in blood circulation to the brain and influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which controls the physiological reactivity to stress (Sharma et al. 106). The physiological influence is created by the communication between the HPA axis and parts of the brain such as the limbic system responsible for controlling mood, the amygdala that generates fear, and finally, hippocampus that creates a memory for mood, and motivation (Sharma et al. 106). An experiment carried out by Blumenthal in 2007 tested this theory by dividing a group of adults with depressive disorders into four-treatment groups namely supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant therapy, and a control group (Weir 49). Having treated them for four months, Blumenthal found that patients in the exercise and antidepressant group were less depressed than the control group (Weir 49). Consequently, an individual who participates in physical activities like aerobic activities is likely to reduce depression by positively controlling the mood and motivation.

Research also indicates that bodily exercises can be used to treat or prevent anxiety. When the body experiences a threat, the nervous systems get into action, and this triggers bodily reactions such as sweating, dizziness and fast beats (Weir 50). It emerges that people who are more reactive to anxiety respond to the bodily sensations with fear and become vulnerable to panic disorders. Regular physical exercises assist people prone to anxiety attacks to deal with the stimulus in a different manner than fleeing (Weir 50). This adjustment occurs because the body produces the same sensations while exercising such as heavy breathing and faster heartbeats. Though the positive relationship between exercise and anxiety reduction is established, there is a gap in determining how long, and which type of activities are ideal for varying people with a mental health condition.

Physical activity also benefits mental health through distraction, self-efficacy, and social interaction. Ordinarily, individuals who have mental conditions are advised to take part in group activities such as therapy and social support groups (Sharma et al. 106). However, lifestyle changes focusing on accumulating moderate intense events in the day may have the same effect for patients (Sharma et al. 106). One of the most studied mental disorder in relation to stress is depression. Walsh (581) observes that physical exercise helps to trigger psychological mediators that act as anti-depressants by increasing self-esteem, self-efficacy, and intruding negative thoughts. Ideally, the mediators release the mental pressure created by stress triggers by providing a distraction to the patients.

Physical exercises can enhance the cognitive ability of people. Neurologists argue that exercise has the function of increasing blood volume in the brain, vascularization and improving blood flow (Walsh 581). Such neural activity can improve the cognitive capacity of a patient recovering from stroke-related memory loss, and age-related memory loss (Walsh 581). According to Suzuki, exercising changes the anatomy, physiology, and function of the brain. Consequently, the Hippocampus can generate new brain cells, and the pre-frontal corpus enlarges effects that decrease susceptibility to the age-degenerative impacts such as dementia (Suzuki). Multiple studies indicate that exercise is a beneficial therapy intervention for individuals who have Alzheimer as it improves their thinking capacity, social interaction, and emotional frame (Walsh 581). Suzuki argues that a single exercise can shift brain focus and to maintain attention for two hours as well as increasing reaction time. Therefore, the benefits of physical activities extend to the brain as a body organ.

Exercise helps to ease symptoms of low self-esteem, and social withdraw associated with depressive stigma. Particular, research shows that activities can play a significant role in managing schizophrenia. Sharma et al. (106) note that the majority of the patients are obese due to their vulnerability to weight gain associated with antipsychotics treatment. In an experimental study, schizophrenia patients participated in a three-month physical strength program and results showed that they were able to improve their fitness, lose weight, reduce blood pressure, and display tolerance (Sharma et al. 106). Such programs demonstrate that in addition to prevention, physical exercise can have an impact in managing existing cases of mental disorders. A similar study conducted by Mary de Groot in 2009 involved groups of depressed patients who have diabetes who have gone through a physical exercise program showed considerable improvement in depression levels and blood-sugar controls (Weir 48). The suggestion is that physical exercises can treat both obesity and depression at the same time.

Recreational physical activities can also play a crucial role in improving mental health. In behavioral studies, it emerges that many people who suffer from psychological distress often experience low reinforcements, and recreation activities can enhance reinforcements (Walsh 585). Through recreation, an individual can engage in playfulness, which reduces defensiveness and increase social interaction. Walsh (585) points out that many physical activities involve humor that is a mood enhancer and a mitigation factor for stress. Further, recreation activities such as performance arts have historically helped in self-healing processes (Walsh 581). Therefore, it is advisable for people to engage in recreation activities as a measure of mitigating stress, depression, and anxiety.


In considering the benefits of physical activity on mental health outcomes, effective public health programs must address patients, therapist, scholars, and the society. Patients should understand that physical activity interventions require a plan and commitment in energy and time and hence they should be willing to make sustainable life adjustments. The healthcare providers should develop and provide practical and evidence-based physical activity programs for individuals suffering from chronic mental illness. Caregivers must commit to continuous learning on physical therapy, and change their attitudes toward non-conventional health management approaches. There is a need for scholars to carry out more research on the impact of physical activity intervention on mental illness. The specific studies can help identify activities that are best suited for dealing with particular mental disord...

Cite this page

Research Paper on Mental Health and Physical Activity. (2022, Jul 04). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism