Nearly half of all Australians will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime as the global mental health crisis continues to snowball with no sign of slowing down.
Millions report experiences of depression, anxiety and a host of other mental illnesses. This situation was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many suddenly finding themselves isolated, out of work and facing an uncertain future.
Traditionally prescribed treatments such as medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can of course be extremely effective in some cases, but a new study from the University of South Australia suggests that exercising could be significantly more effective in managing a huge range of mental problems. health conditions.
This new paper collects more than 1,000 research trials with a total of nearly 130,000 participants. It was found that doing 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity per week significantly reduces depression, anxiety and anxiety compared to standard treatment options.
An important thing to note is that the study also found that the higher the intensity of exercise, the better it is for your mental health; power walking is better than walking, running is better than power walking, and so on.
As always when it comes to your health, consistency is also key: Regular exercise for six to 12 weeks has been found to have a much greater benefit for long-term mental health than shorter bursts. So don’t just hit the gym when you’re feeling down, keep going to avoid a return of the blues.
Exercise also has significant benefits over prescription drugs, including greatly reduced costs, no unreliable side effects, and long-term physical health benefits.
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But why is this the case? How does more exercise lead to better mental health on a chemical level? In the short term, dopamine and endorphins are released immediately after exercise, boosting your mood and keeping stress at bay: this is where that exuberant feeling you get after your workout, the so-called “runner’s high”, comes from.
In the longer term, exercise promotes changes in brain responses that help with mood stability, cognition and increased immune functions. Regular exercise also leads to better sleep (which is critical for treating depression and anxiety) and boosts self-esteem through consistent performance.
Here’s the thing: while the new data is of course welcome news for all Australians, we wondered if some Aussies, especially the dudes, might have grasped this fact intuitively long before the data was released…
Although Australian men and women are almost equally affected by mental health problems, men are 30% less likely to seek help when they need it and three times more likely to die by suicide. In addition, nearly half of men who entered therapy later dropped out, with many reporting they found the process daunting.
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However, online trends combined with some separate data might lead us to believe that men are not leaving therapy to give up on their self-care goals altogether. Rather, they may just switch the lounge chair for the locker room.
Only 2 in 5 Aussie women are considered to be “adequately active” compared to 1 in 2 of their male counterparts, with 28% of women reporting at least 30 minutes of physical activity per week versus 34% of men . This may be less than the 150 minutes recommended by the latest research, but it can give us a glimpse of a broader trend…
Also revealing social media trends: videos featuring male figures with the hashtag #gym like #sad or #depressed multiply on TikTok, some of which garner millions of views and hundreds of thousands of likes.
In addition, many such videos also seem to fit depression treated through exercise as inherently more masculine than other treatment options. Or at least more masculine than the traditional view that mental health is best treated by addressing and talking about one’s feelings.
Memes on the subject are also proliferating. The darkly funny but relatable “Guys only have four ways to get out of depression” meme exploded onto the internet in 2021 and has never really gone away. While much of the joke here rests on swapping at least one of the four options with increasingly absurd treatment suggestions, the figure of an incredibly ripped, athletic dude is by far the most consistent.
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So it seems that this is a trend that has been years in the making and, we would assume, was a trend that was “IRL” long before the social media era. Men have always found exercise a more attractive and effective method of treatment than traditional routes, for better or for worse.
While men getting more exercise and—if this new data is accurate—improving their mental health is a good thing, the way masculinity and solipsistic self-treatment become intertwined with notions of masculinity is problematic.
Men should continue to hit the gym by all means, but they should do so alongside medically prescribed treatment and with an open mind: exercise is a great option for improving your mental health, but therapy and medication may be better suited for some or even great allies in addition to intense workouts.
Whichever way you go, the most important thing is never to go it alone. If you have mental health problems, tell your partner, your friends or your doctor before you pick up the dumbbell. A problem shared is a problem halved and before you know it you’ll even have a brand new gym buddy.