Exercise as it relates to Disease/Mind over matter; how physical training affects mental health in chemical dependent patients

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Depressive and anxiety disorders are commonly connected to chemical dependence and/or substance abuse.[1] Due to the high numbers of linked cases, the need for physical activity intervention in these individuals seems like a practical and effective answer.

This has been created by; Student U3144808 of Canberra university

What is the background to this research? Studies of the relationship between mental health and physical activity have been abundant in recent years, and the need for further studies have been evident. In 2008, a Swedish study found that every third patient seeking treatment in regional hospitals showed symptoms of depression or anxiety,as well as alcohol or substance abuse,[2] with more than thirty-three people hospitalized for treatment of alcoholic intoxication, per day in Norway, the need for further research is undeniable.

Research from 2008, by Martinsen, hinted at the positive benefits that exercise and physical activity have on mental health and it was suggested by Brown et al (2009) that it could have the same influence on people who experience addictive personalities, especially those suffered from substance (alcohol) abuse[3] This study, published in the European journal of sport science, and was conducted in accordance with the ethical principles Helsinki.[1] ideally research similar to this will help to improve health systems worldwide, as it aids the idea of preventative health promotion. By determining the relationship between improvements in physical fitness and mental health governments and agencies will be able to make informed decisions on how to intervein with the problem.

Information to note

A VO2 max is a measure of oxygen uptake and is used to measure an individual's aerobic capacity in conjunction with cardiovascular fitness. in the research done by Mamen et al, an indirect measure of VO2 max has been used, while this is an accredited way, it is by no means the most reliable method, and therefore the results should be interpreted with this in mind.

A beck anxiety/depression inventory, is a questionnaire that consists of 21 items that are scored on a scale of 0-3, if the total collection of scores is above 25 (for anxiety) or above 9 (for depression) these are considered server cases.


- there were 7 female and 26 males that participated in this study - all participates had a diagnosis of substance abuse/dependence and co-morbid psychiatric disorders

What kind of study was it?

- observational study, with the use of surveys and self report - Mamen, Pallesen, and Martinsen, came to similar conclusions as those who have researched this area before, and Martinsen was able to expand on her earlier research from 2008, that found that exercise did in fact have a positive effect on mental health.

What did the research involve?

  • Participants volunteered to participate in the study, and were asked to sign a consent form, which outlined the study, and the aims of the study, the consent form also gave the participants the knowledge they needed for if they decided they wanted to leave the study at any time, alerting them that this would not affect any of their future treatment.
  • Participates then underwent "pre" tests, which included creating a lactate profile, stress tests as well as mental health examinations such as the Beck depression inventory, and alcoholism screening tests.
  • For 11 months participants participated in physical activity, under the supervision of volunteers. The volunteers gave guidance on how to exercise, and what sort of exercise they needed to participate in, as well as monitoring heart rate and physical vitals such as heart rate.
  • some limitations that are associated with this methodology is that, over such a long period of time (11 months) the participants would have gotten sick, had days they couldn't exercise etc, and this number would have been different in each participant, so the results might show this variance.

Basic Results

The VO2 max health, relative to mass was increased in all cases, although body mass (BMI) has no significant change, this could be because participants increased their caloric intake to substitute alcohol.

Overall, mental health improved significantly, although there were 11 participants who did not experience a noticeable change in their mental health and physical health. There was a noticeable change in the participants who experience depression. After the study, there were 8 fewer participants suffering from high levels of anxiety.

Participants, also self-reported on their social life, and relationships with family and friends, all participants who experienced a positive change, also positively self-reported on these relationships.


From this, it is obvious that physical activity does have a positive effect on severe mental health issues, namely, depression and anxiety. The results of this study do not clearly indicate a positive decline in the use of drugs and alcohol, and therefore it may be assumed that physical activity does not drastically influence these directly.

This study provides a sound insight into the positive effects of physical activity on the mental health of individuals, more research is needed in this area to find what the best type of exercise is to improve mentality, although the idea that mental health is affected by physical activity is widely studied, resulting in very similar outcomes as this study. Physical activity could help all individuals that suffer from mental health illnesses.

research similar to this is important as mental health is becoming more and more prominent in modern society. It is beneficial particularly to help men who struggled with alcohol abuse which usually stems from a deeper misunderstanding of mental illness.

note this has not been written by a health professional, and therefore, for any personal health advice please seek help from your healthcare professional. please visit the links below to find a professional in your local area.



  1. a b Mamen, A., Pallesen, S., & Martinsen, E. W. (2011, July). Changes in mental distress following individualized physical training in patients suffering from chemical dependence. European Journal of Sport Science, 11(4), 269-276, 269-276.
  2. Nordström, Annika and Owe Bodlund. "Every Third Patient In Primary Care Suffers From Depression, Anxiety Or Alcohol Problems". Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 62.3 (2008): 250-255. Web.
  3. Martinsen, Egil W. "Physical Activity In The Prevention And Treatment Of Anxiety And Depression". Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 62.sup47 (2008): 25-29. Web.