Physical Activity Tentatively Linked to Positive Mental Health in New Study

Exercise’s notable effect on reducing negative mental health problems should be more widely known, but this new study tries to examine whether there’s a similarity between exercise’s effects on negative and positive mental health. Scientifically, even walking produces endorphins, which lends credence to the phrase “Walk it off” after experiencing a painful physical sensation.

Physical activity has long been known to reduce depression and anxiety, and is commonly prescribed to prevent or cure negative mental health conditions.

However, less is known about the impact of physical activity on positive mental health conditions, such as happiness and contentment.

Weiyun Chen, University of Michigan associate professor in kinesiology, wanted to know if exercise increased positive mental health in the same way it reduced negative mental health. Specifically, researchers examined which aspects of physical activity were associated with happiness, and which populations were likely to benefit from the effects.

To that end, Chen and co-author Zhanjia Zhang, a doctoral student, reviewed 23 studies on happiness and physical activity. The 15 observational studies all showed a positive direct or indirect association between happiness and exercise. The eight interventional studies showed inconsistent results.

The studies included health information from thousands of adults, seniors, adolescents, children, and cancer survivors from several countries. A couple themes emerged.

“Our findings suggest the physical activity frequency and volume are essential factors in the relationship between physical activity and happiness,” Chen said. “More importantly, even a small change of physical activity makes a difference in happiness.”

Findings suggest a threshold effect for the relationship of happiness and physical activity — several studies found that happiness levels were the same whether people exercised 150-300 minutes a week, or more than 300 minutes a week.

Specifics: Active and happy?

The review of observational studies found that compared to inactive people, the odds ratio of being happy was 20, 29 and 52 percent higher for people who were insufficiently active, sufficiently active, or very active, respectively.

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More details can be found in the study, “A systematic review of the relationship between physical activity and happiness,” which was published online March 24 by the Journal of Happiness Studies.

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Research Into Certain Psychedelics Alleviating Mental Health Difficulties

Psilocybin mushrooms, ketamine and LSD all show interesting results at alleviating mental difficulties such as depression. The pharmaceutical industry is of course largely against this positive evidence on those drugs, but this is as their synthetic antidepressants don’t work well enough and can even have their own downsides. New approaches are needed (with microdosing perhaps) for these widespread problems of mental suffering, including different policy decisions than what’s mostly been done in the last four decades of upwards redistribution to the richest class.

In recent years, scientists have been uncovering potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances like psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) – it looks like they can ‘reset’ the brain in people with mental health conditions.

Now a new study has revealed exactly what’s going on inside our brains when we take LSD, uncovering a connection that might explain why it relieves the symptoms of disorders such as PTSD and chronic depression.

Research led by the Center for Brain and Cognition at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona has discovered a process of ‘harmonising’ across areas of the brain that don’t usually work together.

Referred to by the team as ‘repertoire expansion’, it suggests psychedelic substances like LSD could be encouraging the brain to develop certain patterns of activity.

The team thinks these patterns could help compensate the disordered connections that can cause mental suffering.

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For one thing, after half a century of being stigmatised as dangerous recreational drugs, it’s still slow going to build up the evidence base supporting the healing potential psychedelic pharmaceuticals.

The studies are piling up, though. Which is good news for those dealing with ill mental health.