Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise

Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise


Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise are numerous! I must admit, I’ve never been the typical “gym rat.” Luckily I grew up in the mountains of Slovenia where there are plenty of hiking opportunities. Frankly I’ve always loved the outdoors. Even when I was in college, I still found time on weekends to go hiking with my friends. It was fun and it helped me to stay fit. At the same time I also enjoyed the company of my friends.


In addition to hiking, dancing has also been my passion. Initially, that meant going to clubs. It wasn’t really until I turned 26 and broke up with my ex that I found solace in dancing. This was while healing a broken heart after he cheated with one of my childhood friends. My dysfunctional family, the hurt and pain related to my childhood and adolescent abuse, as well as a broken heart, led me to move to the US in October of 1997. This is where I joined my now ex-husband an American.


Importance of exercise


I never truly understood the importance of exercise until years later. One of my boyfriends who was an athlete and a runner encouraged me to join the gym. At this point I didn’t enjoy going to clubs anymore. At that time as well I didn’t enjoy listening to hip-hop, dance, or techno. But I did take some belly dancing classes and I danced at drumming circles.



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Medication & their Side Effects 


My healing journey took me to work with traditional psychotherapists, coaches, healers, and psychics. I was on and off medication for clinical depression and anxiety for the last 20 years. It had bad side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, gastrointestinal issues, and even suicidal thoughts when life pressure and stress got to me.


Researching Alternative and Holistic approaches



Over time I kept researching alternative and holistic approaches to healing from abuse, trauma, chronic anxiety and depression. I learned about Buddhism and Hinduism and started meditating. This is something I have been doing for 20 years now. Still, I have not been able to find lasting solutions to stay off medication for any extended periods of time. Stress didn’t help me! You see I had worked at many toxic workplaces while building my private counseling and coaching practice.


Learning about functional medicine



Finally, a few years ago I learned about functional medicine. Now I began to understand the connection between my mental health and nutrition, as well as my gastrointestinal issues and lack of exercise due to working long hours. So I adopted a healthier, low carb diet. Quickly I lost over 15 lbs and I was able to get off medication and started taking B12 and CQ10 supplement.


I also stopped binge-watching Netflix and avoided drama and violence. Functional medicine, as opposed to traditional Western medicine, is more concerned with root causes, not symptom reduction, quick fixes, and taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.



According to functional medicine, the key steps to health include:




 1. Proper nutrition (rich in healthy fats, veggies, protein, nuts, seeds, and fruit)

 2. Exercise (daily as much as possible)

 3. Adequate sleep (minimum 7-8 hrs.)

 4. Nurturing relationships and socializing

 5. Stress management and spiritual practices



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James M Greenblatt, MD, Breakthrough Depression Solution



According to James M Greenblatt, MD, in his book Breakthrough Depression Solution, exercise is important and plays a key role in fighting depression. Several studies have proven the efficacy of exercise in significantly decreasing depression symptoms. For example, in a study conducted in 2013, researchers assigned 48, alcohol-dependent, inactive patients to a twelve-week, moderate exercise program.


The other group of participants was simply told to exercise. The participants reported far less drinking as compared to those who had been simply told to exercise. Similarly, in another study conducted by a Columbia University of Epidemiology survey, over 60% of participants who exercised were much less likely to suffer a major depression (p. 152).



According to Dr. Greenblatt, exercise has several benefits in fighting depression (p. 154):


  1. Reverses Harmful Effects of Stress
  2.  Lifts Depression
  3.  Improves Learning
  4.  Builds Self-esteem and Improves Body Image
  5.  Leaves You Feeling Euphoric or Joyful


He also recommends taking supplements such as B12 and Carnitine, as many clients have very low energy and lack the motivation to exercise. The best type of exercise is probably interval training, because it helps to get the heart rate up quickly. However, any type of exercise can help including walking, yoga, Tai chi, strength training, biking, swimming or dancing.


It’s important that you set realistic goals and start slowly.For example, 15 minutes three times a week gradually increasing your exercise time. Do what you love and don’t force yourself to go to the gym if it’s not your cup of tea.
Have fun!


Don’t wait to get help when you feel stuck, stressed-out or depressed.

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Mateja Petje Holistic Coaching International Natural Stress Management
Office: 5301 N Federal Hwy, #370,  ​Boca Raton, FL 33487 

(Boca Greenhouse building off Yamato & US1)



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