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Exercise and mental health

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Each year thousands of pounds are spent on medications to treat conditions such as anxiety and depression. These medications often have negative side effects. Exercise is an alternative treatment that is low cost and has few side effects. In this free course, Exercise and mental health, we will look at the links between exercise and improved mental health and psychological well-being. This will include consideration of the role of exercise in combating stress, anxiety and depression, and in enhancing mood.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • demonstrate an awareness of the links between physical activity and mental health
  • understand some of the proposed theories of why exercise benefits mental health.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 2 hours
  • Updated Tuesday 16th February 2016
  • Intermediate level
  • Posted under Sport and Fitness
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Exercise and mental health


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Physical activity can have a positive effect on aspects of mental health and psychological well-being, such as depression, mood and cognitive function. In this course we will examine the effects that exercise can have on different aspects of our mental health. We will use the case study of Malcolm.

We will begin by defining what is meant by the term ‘mental health’. Corbin et al. (2008, p.5) define mental health and wellness as the absence of mental illness, such as depression, and the ability to cope with daily challenges in a positive, optimistic and constructive manner. Using this definition there are potentially two ways in which exercise can benefit mental health. First, exercise can prevent or reduce the extent of mental illnesses such as depression. Second, exercise can enhance mood and reduce stress levels, thus allowing us to tackle daily challenges in a more positive, optimistic and constructive way.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course E233 Sport and exercise psychology: a case study approach [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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