Up-to-date physical and mental health: the importance of exercises in psychotherapy - ESHOJE

Up-to-date physical and mental health: the importance of exercises in psychotherapy – ESHOJE

That the practice of physical exercises is beneficial for various physical aspects is not new. But did you know the importance of this activity for mental health? Experts point to the benefits of this alliance.

In 2021 alone, for example, 10.9% of the population of Vitória over 18 years old were diagnosed with depression, according to data from the Surveillance of Risk and Protection Factors for Chronic Diseases by Telephone Survey (Vigitel). Faced with the alarming number, the search for psychological therapies has also increased.

According to psychologist and Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, André Zonta, the importance of performing physical activity together with psychotherapy is that both are direct allies that contribute significantly to people’s well-being and mental health.

“Through physical activity combined with psychotherapy, it appears that the hormones of well-being come into action, providing this sensation and relieving symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress, even leading to an improvement in self-esteem, since the person starts to see itself in a different way. They are important building blocks for mental health.”

Paulo Rohor, majoring in physical education, explains that physical activities are complementary to psychological treatment and should be recommended by professionals in the area.

“Since the performance of therapy by psychology professionals will soften and help the individual to interpret life events, physical activity by physical education professionals will promote the improvement of the body’s reward mechanisms with the release of neurotransmitters that cause feelings of pleasure, relief from stress by performing the practice in pleasant environments, expenditure of energy accumulated by the body and diverting attention from the difficulty faced by the individual, who starts to focus on the new environment that is inserted”.

The psychologist says that he always recommends physical activity to patients, aiming at the beneficial effects that this practice brings. When the person practices, hormones are released in the body, among them, dopamine, serotonin and endorphin.

“These hormones contribute to physical and mental well-being, bringing relief to the body and mind. In addition, practicing physical activity improves sleep quality and relieves stress and anxiety and depression symptoms. It also increases the disposition of the person and improves the mood”, explains the psychologist.

Personal trainer Alexandre Barroso illustrates the importance of physical exercise through an example. “This week, my dad told me that his bike hit the engine because it had been sitting still and unused for a long time. The first thing for you to start exercising is to understand that your life depends on it. The human body was not made to be still and, if it stays for a long time, clear signs, among them, weakness, poor sleep quality, lack of disposition and some body aches, will start to appear”.

What happens to the mind and body when we perform physical activity?

Rohor details that thousands of processes take place in our body during physical activity. “When we are thinking about its relationship with the purpose in aid of therapeutic practices, we can mention: The improvement of the reward system of the nervous system by the release of hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline. Hormones capable of promoting feelings of well-being and relaxation by increasing blood circulation through the brain.”

In addition to those already mentioned, the professional adds that performing physical exercises helps to promote neuroplasticity, that is, the creation of new connections in the brain that help to improve attention, memory, perception. “Thus, they may be able to help create new neural connections to overcome some uncomfortable situations and be a strong ally of therapeutic practices”.

Physical exercise and therapy connect when it comes mainly to the psycho-behavioral improvement of the individual. Along with therapy, physical exercise has a powerful role in reducing symptoms related to anxiety and depression. Improved social interaction, self-esteem, resilience, improved quality of relationships and reduced stress are among the main improvements reported by patients.

I’m not much into exercise, what to do?

Something very common to happen is that people want to start practicing physical activity as if they had been doing it for years, points out Rohor. “That way, they end up entering, on their own or because they don’t have a professional who understands the context, in a very intense pace of activity without need. This ends up greatly affecting the relationship with the exercise practiced and them giving up on it due to the negative affective impact it causes”.

According to the undergraduate, there is even a technical term for the level of affinity to the exercises practiced, the so-called Affective Scale (or, in English, Feeling Scale). “When we start an exercise in a context that we are not used to and we no longer like to practice it, the tendency is that negative affective feelings are surfaced and we are closer to giving up because we find it boring”.

Paulo Rohor recommends making physical activity less boring by performing it more gently and gradually, in a progression and increase in intensity over time.

“With this, we will have an affective response felt by the body in relation to the less unpleasant exercise, which may allow the continuity of the practice in a more lasting way and without so many discomforts”.

What activity to do?

A big question remains when deciding which physical activity to do, after all, not everyone has the physical preparation or affinity to face a gym or crossfit. According to Zonta, the recommended physical activity is always one that you feel good doing.

“The most important thing is to find a physical activity that suits the person. There are numerous activities available and possible and the ideal is to take a test to find out what you feel good doing and of course regularity and frequency will also be important, in the same way as in psychotherapy”.

Once you understand that, says Barroso, the next step is to make something that you identify with. “It’s no use recommending you a run or Pilates if you don’t like it. So, test and choose something, as long as it’s an aerobic and a strength sport, that you can get some pleasure from doing”, he explains.

For the personal trainer, the physical exercises that most contribute to the psychobehavioral improvement are aerobic exercises (walking, running, cycling, among others) and strength exercises (weight training).

Among the main examples, Zonta listed walking or short runs, going to the gym where there are several machines and practicing team sports, including soccer and volleyball.

“It is worth mentioning that a medical evaluation is very important to check if the person is able to practice certain physical activities, especially for those who have never practiced anything or are in a sedentary life”.

A point highlighted by Alexandre Barroso is the consistency in the practice of these exercises. “Often, it’s easier for you to adhere (keep practicing) to some physical exercise, when performed five times a week. It brings you into a routine habit, just like showering and brushing your teeth, which you do every day. Exercising two to three times a week can make you procrastinate and sabotage your psychological success with that modality.”

According to Rohor, the most recommended physical activity is the one that brings you some kind of benefit and that you can maintain yourself for the longest time in your life. “It doesn’t do much good to perform the best physical activity for just three days. It is worth much more just something considered the tenth best physical activity, but that the individual can maintain for years”, he points out.

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