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Mental Illness and Exercise

Movement is good for the body, spirit and mind. Activity and exercise are very important for people living with mental illness. Individuals living with mental illness often have a higher risk for heart disease, and exercise can play a key part in a wellness plan. Activity and exercise are great ways to combat factors that are part of heart disease risk, stress, high blood pressure, weight gain and diabetes--all problems commonly found among people living with mental illness. Exercise plays a key part in elevating your mood and regulating sleep patterns.

Currently, there is strong scientific evidence that physical activity can lower the risk of the following conditions in adults and older adults:

  • early death
  • heart disease and stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • cholesterol problems
  • metabolic syndrome
  • colon and breast cancers
  • weight gain
  • symptoms of depression
  • falls

Most studies conducted on mental illness and exercise look at the effects on depression, but an active lifestyle is important for everyone. This is particularly true for those living with schizophrenia and who are on second-generation atypical antipsychotic medication (SGAs) because they are more vulnerable to obesity. In 2004, a joint panel comprised of the American Diabetes Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the North American Association for the Study of Obesity and the Association of Clinical Endocrinologists issued a statement advising patients taking psychiatric medications. Those on SGAs may be at increased risk for obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. Early detection, through blood tests from your doctor, is imperative and communication with your doctor is extremely important.

In 2008, the U.S. government published the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The Guidelines contain useful information for adults and children, including the recommendations that children and adolescents aged 6-17 years should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day and adults should aim for five hours of exercise a week.

There is also evidence to suggest that exercise can help reduce abdominal obesity, a key risk for metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. Finally, there is evidence that exercise can help with weight maintenance after weight loss, help reduce the risk of hip fractures, increase bone density, improve sleep quality and even lower risk of lung an endometrial cancers.

Individuals should always engage with their health care provider before starting an exercise plan.

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