Mom running 2One of my patients came in this week in full workout gear, having biked from his home to my office. He smiled and relayed a message he got from a friend who is a psychiatrist: Instead of taking an SSRI-antidepressant, he recommended working out three times a week.

The effects, said the specialist, would be the same in cases of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.

The message concurs with a recent New York Times article about how to motivate people to exercise. Most of us know first hand that the threats of weight gain and heart disease don’t do much to get us moving.

But as soon as mental health and happiness is addressed, people seem to pay attention.

Most people are more receptive to the outlook of being rewarded than of being threatened or made to feel bad. If someone tries to lose weight, but doesn’t achieve anything despite a newly implemented exercise routine, movement is being associated with failure and negative emotions.

Having to force yourself onto the treadmill feels like a chore. Dancing around to a highly stimulating song makes you feel good and you want to get more of it.

Another factor is our tendency to look for an immediate reward. If we can palpably feel that moving around makes us feel better today, there is an incentive to repeat that.

The promise of a distant health benefit though doesn’t make an exercise routine very appealing.

Times writer Jane Brody brings the message home, describing her own experience: “It’s how these activities make me feel: more energized, less stressed, more productive, more engaged and, yes, happier β€” better able to smell the roses and cope with the inevitable frustrations of daily life.”


photo credit: hopefuldz9er