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How a myth about exercise can diminish a person's journey to a better mental health

Updated: Jul 29, 2021


I think we've heard enough of the overused adage that exercising can "help us feel better", and that if we feel "down" or "depressed", we should go outside and exercise.


The problem is that people often take the conclusions from research papers and make it gospel, without considering the nuances of the study.


Here's what we do know as correct: when a person exercises, dopamine (hormones that induce the feeling of happiness) levels are found to be higher after exercising. That's a direct cause-and-effect of physical activity.


So if you're sad, depressed, or moody, naturally, it makes sense to advise people that exercise is the solution to a person's less-than-happy state. However, this is quite far from the truth and feeds into some of the common exercise myths and misconceptions on the Internet.


How is exercising harmful, then?


If a regular Joe briefly reads the conclusion of the paper that exercising = better mood, and Joe tries to exercise but fails to see his mood improving, this can be detrimental to his health as he starts to question not just the study, but his own effort and it may affect his psyche.


Moreover, the unfortunate ramification of this fallacy spreads wider; after listening to clients and reports from people who tried the same solutions over and over, we often hear that the supposed "remedy" to feeling down and out and anxious is to, simply, go out and exercise.


While it addresses the superficial aspects of the problem, it reduces a person's feelings and leaves root cause of their emotions are unresolved.


As defined by DSM 5, the taxonomy and diagnostic tool for mental disorders, symptoms of depression includes markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day. and a slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).


We're not saying the research is incorrect, and that exercise isn't helpful. But it's not necessarily the correct advice to offer a friend or family that may need more than just outdoor and sweat. Sometimes, they need is your presence, and a non-judgmental, listening ear.


If you know that's someone depressed and needs help, below are a number of places that can offer the help that they need.

Getting help

National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)

Mental well-being

Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg website (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm) Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours) Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours) Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm) Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928/6509-0271 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm) Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)/ Tinkle Friend website (Mon to Thu, 2.30pm to 7pm and Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)

Counselling

TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm) Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)



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