Over the past several years, the relationship between exercise and psychological well-being has been an important topic of research. Physical activity or exercise is defined as an activity requiring physical effort, carried out specially to sustain or improve mental health and fitness. There are six dimensions that make up well-being. First, is self-acceptance, which is the positive views of one’s self. Second, there is positive relations with others, which includes trusting, caring, and empathetic relationships. Next, there is autonomy, which is self-determined with intrinsic motivation and self-referenced standards. Fourth, there is environmental mastery, which is the effective mastery of the environment to fulfill personal values. Fifth is personal growth, which is the sense of development and self-fulfillment over time. Finally, there is purpose in life, which is directed toward purposeful goals for living. Exercise seems to have a positive effect on this psychological well-being. It cannot be stated conclusively that exercise causes or produces a change in mood state, rather, exercise only appears to be associated with positive changes in mood states and the reduction in anxiety and depression.
In the United States, the most common disorders are anxiety and depression, with anxiety affecting 17% and depression affecting 11% in people ages 15 to 54. Lifetime prevalence rates are about 25% for anxiety disorders and 20% for depression (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). The World Health Organization (WHO) has projected that depression will be the second leading cause of death and disability by 2020, only behind cardiovascular disease (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Typically, people deal with these mood disturbances with psychological counseling, pharmacotherapy, or both. More individuals are now also looking to exercise in order to improve their psychological well-being. Research has shown that physical activity enhances feelings of well-being by reducing anxiety and depression and increasing vigor (Weinberg & Gould, 2015).
The relationship between exercise and psychological health is both positive and negative. There is a positive correlation between exercise and self-esteem, self-efficacy, psychological well-being, and cognitive functioning (Scully, Kremer, Meade, Graham, & Dudgeon, 1998). The negative correlation exists exercise and anxiety, stress, and depression. These relationships can be used to support the general benefits of exercise; however, it does not help with creating practical guidelines on how exercise may be used to alleviate particular symptoms and which forms of exercise are likely to be most useful in which circumstances (Scully et al.,1998).
Anxiety and depression are the mental health problems that have received the most attention. Millions of Americans have anxiety and depression but not all of them have psychopathological states. For those that only deal with subjective distress, regular exercise appears to have some therapeutic value in reducing feelings of anxiety and depression. The effects of exercise on anxiety and depression can be acute, which refers to immediate and possibly temporary effects arising from a single bout of exercise, or chronic, or long-term effects. (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Research on the chronic effects of exercise has focused on changes over time in both anxiety and depression. Most of this research on the relationship between exercise and psychological well-being has used aerobic exercise (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Research has shown that high-intensity aerobic activity is not absolutely necessary to produce positive effects as once believed; activities such as weight training, yoga, and other nonaerobic exercises have produced positive benefits for psychological well-being (Weinberg & Gould, 2015).
Studies of how exercise influences the reduction of anxiety typically focus on the short-term effects. Chronic effects studies on exercise have programs that usually last 2 to 4 months, with two to four exercises per month. In two studies (Long, 1984; Long & Haney, 1988), anxiety reduction techniques, such as progressive relaxation and stress inoculation, were compared while jogging was used as a stress management intervention. In each study, the jogging and stress management groups showed significant decreases in state anxiety over the course of the period of intervention when compared with the control participants on the wait list. These exhibited decreases in state anxiety were maintained at the 15-week follow-ups (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). The research on the acute effects of exercise has concentrated on reducing state anxiety. State anxiety is a temporary, ever-changing emotional state of subjective, consciously perceived feelings of apprehension and tension associated with activation of the autonomic nervous system (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Studies have shown that aerobic exercise resulted in lowered state anxiety and higher tranquility scores and has shown that moderate-intensity exercise produced the greatest positive effects in affective responses. Exercise at or 5% below lactate threshold produces the maximal affective during the task and lasts for up to 30 minutes after (Markowitz & Arnold, 2010). Meanwhile, exercise that is above the lactate threshold is able to produce affective improvements only 30 minutes after completing the task and worsens the affect during the task (Markowitz & Arnold, 2010). In order to continue exercise adherence, it can be helpful for people to know what psychological changes that can be expected at each intensity so that they can choose appropriate for what works for them.
There have been several of reviews and studies conducted that have come to the general consensus about the positive effects of exercise in reducing both acute and chronic anxiety. Some of the findings are as follows. The longer training programs (weeks rather than hours or days) are more effective than the shorter ones in producing positive effective changes in well-being. Exercise intensities between 30% and 70% of maximal heart for aerobic exercise have shown the best reductions in state anxiety and depression (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). A lower range of 30%-50% of maximal heart rate is necessary for mood-enhancing effects for anaerobic exercise (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Exercise training reduces anxiety for people with low anxiety, but is more effective for people with elevated levels of anxiety (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Exercise has shown effects on reduced anxiety, regardless of intensity, duration, or type and occurs for all types of participants, but the largest effects were found with 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). State anxiety returns to pre-exercise levels within 24 hours, even as quickly as 4-6 hours (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). While most studies have shown that aerobic activity is more beneficial, a few studies have shown that non-aerobic activities, such as strength and flexibility training, have actually shown slight increases in anxiety (Scully, et al.,1998).
Depression is commonly treated with prescription drugs or therapy, but recently it has been found that exercise is an effective alternative means for relieving depression. Typically, patients with clinical depression tend to be physically sedentary and are characterized by a reduced physical work capacity when compared to the general population (Scully, et al.,1998). Studies have shown that the frequency of exercise might be important in relieving depressive symptoms, such as exercising three to five times per week instead of once a week (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). It was also found that physical activity interventions were successful in reducing depression in adolescents (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). From these results, it can be shown that exercise precedes changes in depression. Exercise is associated with, but may not cause, changes in depression. Studies have found that the positive effects of exercise are seen across age groups, health status, race, socioeconomic status, and sex (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Exercise is as effective as psychotherapy and produces larger antidepressant effects when the training program lasts at least 9 weeks (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Fitness levels do not matter, results can still be found with exercise and both aerobic and anaerobic exercise are associated with reductions in depression (Weinberg & Gould, 2015).
Mood changes have been studied to show that exercise is related to positive changes in mood state. Psychologists rate exercise as the most effective technique for changing a bad mood and individuals are more likely to utilize exercise to energize themselves over another technique (Thayer, Newman, & McClain, 1994). It has also been concluded by several studies that physical activity is positively related to positive mood, general well-being, and only occasional symptoms of depression and anxiety; it has also been found that exercise is related to decreased fatigue and anger and increased energy, alertness, clear thinking, vigor, and increased sense of well-being (Thayer, Newman, & McClain, 1994). With just as little as 10 minutes of moderate exercises, mood has been shown to increase positivity and different varieties of exercise such as weight training or tai chi have helped to improve anger, resentment, tension, and anxiety (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Most importantly, mood was improved with exercise regardless of the amount of negative and positive events in a given day and increasing the choice of exercise seemed to be related to exercisers scoring lower on negative affect (Weinberg & Gould, 2015).
Certain types of exercise with certain levels of intensity, duration, and frequency are recommended for positive mood changes. Although most research supports aerobic exercise over anaerobic, the most recent research supports that either aerobic or anaerobic can be effective. Rhythmic abdominal breathing is important and needs to be generated by doing exercises such as tai chi, yoga, walking, running, cycling, or swimming (Berger & Tobar, 2007). Research has also found that the absence of competition enhances psychological well-being; competition can produce overtraining, increase pressure to win, and social evaluation (Berger & Tobar, 2007). When there is no competition, individuals can focus on enjoying an activity instead. Predictable activities, such as golf or swimming are self-paced activities that allow individuals to tune out the environment and enjoy the activity without the likelihood of unexpected events occurring. Running or walking provide repetitive movements that can be rhythmic to individuals and can encourage creative thinking or introspect during the event and can also free the mind and allow it to focus on other issues (Berger & Tobar, 2007). The most critical component of exercise is that it is enjoyable because research has shown that enjoyment is related to increases in positive affect, so if the activity is enjoyable, individuals are more likely to keep exercising over a long period of time (Berger & Tobar, 2007).
There have been several hypotheses as to why and how exercise enhances well-being, both psychological and physiological. There is no primary hypothesis to support why these positive changes. Most likely, the positive changes in psychological well-being can be attributed to a combination of psychological and physiological mechanism. There are several physiological and psychological mechanisms that may account for the positive effects that exercise has on psychological well-being. Some psychological explanations include that it enhances feelings of control and feelings of competency and self-efficacy (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). It also allows for positive social interactions, improves self-concept and self-esteem, and it gives individuals opportunities to have fun and enjoy themselves (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Some physiological mechanisms that may account for these positive changes include an increase in cerebral blood flow, changes in brain neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine or endorphins, and reductions in muscle changes (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). Increases in maximal oxygen consumption and delivery of oxygen to cerebral tissues, structural changes in the brain, and increase in serum concentrations of endocannabinoid receptors may also be some physiological explanations for the positive effects of exercise on an individual’s psychological well-being (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). There are also several psychological benefits of exercise for individuals. Exercise increases academic performance, assertiveness, confidence, emotional stability, and intellectual functioning (Taylor, Sallis, & Needle, 1985). Exercise also increases internal locus of control, perception, memory, positive body image, self-control, sexual satisfaction, and work efficiency (Taylor, Sallis, & Needle, 1985). Exercise decreases absenteeism from work, alcohol abuse, anger, anxiety, confusion and depression (Taylor, Sallis, & Needle, 1985). Exercise also decreases headaches, hostility, phobias, psychotic behavior, tension, Type A behavior, and work errors(Taylor, Sallis, & Needle, 1985).
- Ali, K. Z. (2014). Effect Of Exercise On Psychological Well Being. i-Manager’s Journal on Nursing, 4(3), 1.
- Berger, B. G., & Tobar, D. A. (2007). Physical activity and quality of life: Key considerations. Handbook of sport psychology, 598-620.
- Graham, R., Kremer, J., & Wheeler, G. (2008). Physical exercise and psychological well-being among people with chronic illness and disability: a grounded approach. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(4), 447-458.
- Lapa, T. Y. (2015). Physical activity levels and psychological well-being: A case study of university students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 186, 739-743.
- Long, B. C. (1984). Aerobic conditioning and stress inoculation: A comparison of stress-management interventions. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 8(5), 517-541.
- Long, B. C., & Haney, C. J. (1988). Coping strategies for working women: Aerobic exercise and relaxation interventions. Behavior Therapy, 19(1), 75-83.
- Markowitz, S. M., & Arent, S. M. (2010). The exercise and affect relationship: evidence for the dual-mode model and a modified opponent process theory. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 32(5), 711-730.
- Scully, D., Kremer, J., Meade, M. M., Graham, R., & Dudgeon, K. (1998). Physical exercise and psychological well being: a critical review. British journal of sports medicine, 32(2), 111-120.
- Taylor, C. B., Sallis, J. F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public health reports, 100(2), 195.
- Thayer, R. E., Newman, J. R., & McClain, T. M. (1994). Self-regulation of mood: Strategies for changing a bad mood, raising energy, and reducing tension. Journal of personality and social psychology, 67(5), 910.
- Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Benefits Of Exercise For People With Dementia
Imagine waking up not remembering where you are or how you got there. Imagine not recognizing your own family. This frustration is not just a hypothetical, but a reality for many patients with Dementia. According to a recent study, 3Dementia is “characterized by a progressive decline in cognitive and physical functions, and patients often present behavioral problems. Cognitive functions affected by dementia typically include memory, global cognition, attention, and executive functions.”2 Many types of Dementia, including, Lewy Body’s Dementia and Vascular Dementia, along with general frontotemporal degeneration, are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.1 Alzheimer’s disease occurs when there is a presence of an abnormal protein in the brain, known as plaque. Alzheimer’s disease causes the brain to atrophy, which directly effects cognitive and motor function.1 Dementia is both a chemical and physical change in the brain. Along with direct consequences that effect the individual with Dementia, family and loved ones are often affected by the effects of this devastating syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, Dementia “affects immediate family, turning spouses or children into caregivers and often straining family finances.”1 Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for this degenerative syndrome. Although this is the case, science has proven that exercise can help reduce the symptoms of dementia.4 With this foundation, what specific types of exercise help reduce symptoms physically and neurologically? Another question to explore is, what types of exercise help reduce the degeneration of symptoms without agitating the individuals with Dementia?
Exercise has been shown to influence the physical function of individuals with Dementia. According to a recent study conducted to observe the experiences of elderly people with Dementia in a high intensity functional exercise program, exercise has notably shown a significant positive impact on walking performance, balance and activities of daily living in those individuals with Dementia.4 If an individual who is declining, both cognitively and physically, is able to increase their physical well-being, they will be able to become more active and independent. This independence may cause them to have a better sense of purpose and confidence within their personal lives. With the knowledge of exercise’s benefits on physical function, can people without Dementia use exercise to prevent the syndrome? According to a recent research study, the incident of dementia was 13 per every 1000 people per year for individuals who exercised three or more times per week. For individuals who exercised less than three times per week, the rate of dementia was 19.7 per every 1000 people.3 With this information, it is clear to see that exercise is important for individuals who want to prevent Dementia and individuals with Dementia who want to improve their quality of life.
Exercise has been shown to positively influence the neurological symptoms of Dementia. As Dementia develops in a person, and neurodegeneration occurs, specific proteins begin to build up in the brain, causing a plaque cumulation.1 As previously stated, research has shown no direct medication to be effective in the breakdown of these proteins.1 Although this is the case, research has shown that long-term exercise plans have proven to benefit cognition, dementia risk, and progression.1 Recent studies have shown that this cognitive change can be backed up through analysis of brain function. It has been found that a long-term aerobic exercise plan showed to significantly improve hippocampal, or memory, function in elderly adults.4 Unfortunately, exercise did not show to have an improvement on cerebral blood flow in individuals who exercised regularly,5 although studies have found that individuals with Dementia, who stuck to an exercise routine, had an improved preservation in grey matter compared to individuals who did not exercise regularly.1 The preservation of grey matter is important because without it, the brain would not be able to properly function. This information also suggests that exercise can help slow down atrophy of the brain. If simple aerobic exercise, such as walking can help elderly individuals significantly improve memory function and brain volume preservation, exercise can be seen as an extremely important tool to be utilized in fighting the symptoms of Dementia.
Types of exercise are important, as to not solicit anger or frustration in patients with Dementia. Many Dementia patients show true frustration when performing a task that is difficult. It is easy to empathize with these individuals, knowing that they used to be able to complete simple tasks with greater ease. If clinicians are to prescribe exercise as a way to reduce Dementia symptoms, the type of exercises suggested must be chosen carefully, as to not solicit frustration in the patient. The characteristics for exercises that do not solicit frustration are ones that are task specific and progress to a high intensity.4 It would not seem as though high intensity exercises would solicit a more positive behavior, but research suggests otherwise. A recent study observed individuals over the age of 65 who had Dementia. These individuals were asked to attend a long-term exercise program that focused on activities of daily living, such as squatting, stair climbing and maneuvering around different obstacles. These activities were performed at a high intensity and focused on pushing the individuals who participated. The research team reported that many of the participants described their regiment as “nice” and “fun,” among other joyful terms.4 One participant described how well they felt because of all of the blood flow activity that had become unfamiliar to them.4 Since the exercises were specific and progressed to a high intensity, the participants did not mind the activity. Another study wanted to determine whether the exercises performed by individuals with Dementia had to be more aerobic or anaerobic in nature to cause cognitive benefit. The study observed two groups; one group performed aerobic exercise for a year and the other group performed anaerobic exercise for a year. The study concluded by stating that the individuals who performed the aerobic activity had a significant increase in hippocampal activity, compared to those who performed the anaerobic activity.1 Through this, science has shown the world that in order for an individual with Dementia to conform to an exercise pattern, and have it benefit them, the exercise must be aerobic in nature, specific in task, and increase to a high intensity.
In the world of Physical Therapy, exercise is the main success tool used to help a patient achieve positive results. A good clinician will not only treat the symptoms of an individual but use clinical judgement and reasoning to treat the whole person. In the case of individuals with Dementia, it is important that the Physical Therapist or Physical Therapist Assistant knows how to best treat the individual. If the patient presents as angry or frustrated, the clinician must try to understand where the patient is coming from and make the best clinical judgment as to the type of exercises performed that treatment session. With the knowledge provided on the correlation between types of exercise and Dementia, clinicians can utilize this and better treat their patients. If a patient with Dementia presents with lower extremity weakness, the clinician may be inclined to take a walk with the individual before utilizing strength training and basic movements. Although strength training may seem to be the quickest way to restore weak muscles, the clinician must remember to treat the whole person and not just the symptoms present.
Dementia is a neurologically degenerative disease that not only effects the physical and psychological aspects of a person, but the social and economic aspects, as well. It creates tension in families and puts unwanted stress and frustration on loved ones. Although there is no cure for this horrific syndrome, there are ways we can prevent the onset of symptoms, as well as reduce existing symptoms. Through research, physical activity has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of dementia. Exercise has also been shown to help with the prevention of dementia. Research suggests that the exercises that provide the greatest effects are ones that are physically challenging, aerobic in nature, task oriented, and long in duration. This type of exercise helps individuals with Dementia to improve within their activities of daily living by increasing coordination and strength. This type of exercise also helps these individuals improve their memory function, as well as preserve their grey matter volume. Exercise has shown itself to be extremely crucial for the global health of an individual. Encouraging an individual to exercise, as well as pushing yourself to exercise, may be the difference between good health and poor health. If clinicians are able to educate their patients on the benefits of exercise, a patient’s future health will be improved.
How Cultural Norms Shape The Experiences Of Students In American Schools
The United States’ population is densely white, the majority of policy makers are straight white males, and American educators are heavily straight white women; this results in people of color being disproportionately underrepresented in American schools. Consequently, kids in schools are not given the chance to succeed in the way they would if there were relatable folks guiding them as positive influencers in their experiences. While American school systems should be trying to understand students’ varying identities to support better learning environments for everyone, they are instead stuck in an immensely neo-liberal competitive cycle that makes for an unleveled playing field filled with depressed students.
Educational institutions may structure their learning environments in diverging ways, yet the common denominator amongst American schools is that they reinforce cultural norms that steadily reproduce an inherently adverse society. Creating a more compassionate culture in society starts at the level of educators in American schools. C.J. Pascoe finished conducting an ethnographic study examining masculinity and sexuality in a California high school, which she calls River High, in the spring of 2003. In her book Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, she shares her findings and concludes that boys in high school are more concerned with being perceived as effeminate than they are about being seen as homosexual. This is as a result of the hierarchy of masculinity within American society that is reinforced within schools.
Pascoe opens her book by presenting River High’s Mr. Cougar competition, where six senior boys compete to be crowned the most popular boy in school. Pascoe describes two good-looking, white water polo players’, Brent and Craig’s skit which represents the harrowing truth of American culture. Because these boys achieve hegemonic masculinity in real life, which is the highest esteemed type of masculinity; they are cheered on when they pretend to be effeminate wearing miniskirts and uncool as nerds. Teachers and administrators at River High do not seem to think that this tradition reinforces favoring of white cisgender heteronormative males. Because no one is standing up for them, the nerds are looked down upon and emasculated for liking school, and boys who might feel more comfortable in effeminate clothing cannot because it is not considered as normal and would thus get bullied if they tried. This teaches kids from all backgrounds at River High that white males can get away with anything simply because “boys will be boys”. This reinforces a culture in which white men are put on a pedestal, meanwhile everyone else gets the short end of the stick. If this precedent is already being set in high school, young white men grow up expecting this special treatment and act like fools when someone is not giving them that satisfaction for doing something mediocre or even totally inappropriate. A similar result is found in Peter Demerath’s study in Producing Success. Demerath’s study was situated in a wealthy suburban high school outside of a large Midwestern city. His ethnographic study was to analyze how advantage is constructed within this American school.
Demerath and his team followed eight students from their freshmen to senior year using observations, surveys, and interviews to collect their data on the students. What the team found, was that these students were being pushed to exhibit the neo-liberal American values including competitiveness, individualism, and personal gain. Demerath discusses “The Wilton Way” as a demonstration of the supported cultural values within the community, including parents pushing their students to succeed in school, but also intervening and manipulating school policy for their child’s gain. The school supported students’ individualism and freedom, but also had high expectations, and valued competition amongst the peers. The school wanted the students to perform well academically, while reaching their personal goals. All of this might sound quite standard within a school, but Demerath discusses the “costs of personal advancement”, which is the extreme anxiety and exhaustion that all the students faced, having a concentrated effect on girls, resulting in depression, estrangement, and misbehavior from some students, as well as the African American students being outcasts in the school.
Because the helicopter parents who push this American market-driven ideology on their kids are majority white, more affluent folks, minority students do not have the same chances to succeed. This breeds for a culture of disunity, giving unfair advantages to white students (especially boys), and this expectation is thus erected onto the students’ principles once they are in society. In Valdes’ book Con Respeto, she studies ten families in which the parents were Mexican-born, making them majority first-generation, and living in mostly rural areas near the Mexico-U.S. border. She found that the parents generally had low levels of education, and had a mistrust of schools, administrators, and teachers. The parents believed that family came first, and education was a secondary issue. For example, if a student’s grandparent was dying in Mexico, the parents would take them out of school for long periods of time and they believed if the teacher wanted the kids to be doing schoolwork, they would provide the students with enough work to do while away.
The white teachers did not have a good understanding of the Mexican culture, and vice versa, which made it extremely difficult for the students to succeed. Cultural norms of educational institutions shape experiences and opportunities for different students. As seen in all three of these ethnographic studies, the basis of understanding for teachers, administrators and schools, is of a middle- upper class, white culture. This made it difficult for any child outside of this group to be able to succeed, and often times the schools were just blind to it, or even supported and reproduced such norms. Because of such ethnographic studies being conducted, I have hope for the future of American schools.
- Demerath, Peter. Producing Success: The culture of personal advancement in an American high school. University of Chicago Press, 2009.
- Pascoe, C. J. Dude you’re a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. University of California Press, 2011.
- Valdes, Gaudalupe. Con Respeto: Bridging the Distances Between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools – An Ethnographic Portrait. New York: Teachers College Press, 1996.