The Depression and Anxiety Experts

Should Psychiatrists Make You Exercise?

Psychiatrists are trained to focus on emotions and medications, not physical fitness but, according to the latest research, this approach is problematic.

There are five reasons why psychiatrists should put exercise on their patients’ agenda:

  1. Exercise clearly helps as standalone treatment for depression. It also works an additional treatment on top of medications and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (augmentation therapy). Of course, there are people who are fit but also anxious or depressed so it’s not a one-size fits all solution. Here’s a meta-analysis (the highest level of research data) if you want to dig deeper into the data.
  2. Depression is a cardiovascular risk factor as strong as smoking. In other words, the link between depression and heart attacks/hypertension/strokes/type II diabetes is as great as smoking cigarettes. Psychiatrists need to consider both the short-term goal of reducing depression and the long-term goal of promoting cardiovascular health. As I say to my patients, what good will it do if we help you with the depression, but you have a heart attack or develop diabetes in 5, 10 or 15 years?
  3. Procrastination is often seen in depression and anxiety as people withdraw and disengage from life. Exercise targets procrastination because it promotes motivation, vitality, goal setting and productivity.
  4. Fatigue and exhaustion are part of depression and anxiety but paradoxically exercise, and not resting, improves our energy levels. I first learned about this in my work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Cancer patients who rest are, paradoxically, more fatigued than patients who force themselves to exercise.
  5. Exercise reduces isolation if you can work out with others. This could be in a class, with a friend or partner or with a personal trainer. Why is reducing isolation important for depression? Because isolation makes depression worse but connecting with others eases it.

For these reasons, I recommend that psychiatrists encourage patients to get moving again. My mantra is Move Your Body –  Move Your Mind because it really does make a difference in the trajectory of recovery from depression and anxiety.

In this spirit, sometimes I even do jumping jacks with my patients to prove to them that exercise actually does improve mood.

You don’t need a dramatic improvement in mood to feel significantly better. Just a 10-20% decrease in depression symptoms can make a meaningful difference.

Neither do you need to exercise for hours each day to see the benefit. Seven minutes a day, three times per week, is all that is needed as featured in this video from the New York Times 7 Minute Workout. I challenge you to try it!

You also don’t need to be rich to exercise. SilverSneakers is a subsidized program designed for older people that can be done in-person or virtually.

Personal trainers are another fun way to start exercising without getting injured. They can meet you in the park, come to your home or work with you at a gym. Physical therapy is another safe way to start exercising. Most insurances will cover it and you can transition to a regular exercise program afterwards.

In the spirit of treating body and mind, Tomer T. Levin M.D. Psychiatry Center is offering a new exercise program called Move Your Body – Move Your Mind © for people with depression and anxiety.

It features Marjorie Waller, an AFAA certified group exercise and personal trainer. Marjorie and I designed the program together to specifically improve depression and anxiety and strengthen your body.

It will be held virtually every Wednesday at 3 PM starting on March 10, 2021.

You can book your appointment directly here, call our office at (646) 830-0131, or email us.

All the best in vitality,

tomer signature
Share this article