Operant Conditioning

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Abstract

There is a universal belief that physical activity and exercise have positive effects on mood and anxiety. In addition, a countless amount of studies have found an association of physical exercise and overall well-being, mood, anxiety and depression. The aim of this paper is to describe how physical activity and exercise influence mental health disorders. More specifically, the focus of this paper includes the exercise’s influence on anxiety and depression. However, a majority of the studies reviewed have methodological shortcomings that hinder the generalizability of results. While there exists numerous studies about the effects of physical activity on depression, there lacks a significant number of studies conducted to find the effects of exercise on anxiety.

Influence of Exercise on Mental Health Disorders: Depression and Anxiety

Exercise is an important part of maintaining not only physical, but also mental health. Science Daily defines physical exercise as the performance of some activity in order to develop or maintain physical fitness and overall health. Many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive improvement in mood and lower rates of depression (Exercise, 2011). Researchers have examined the effect of exercise on psychological states such as mood, anxiety, depression, and tension, and have discovered that it benefits both mental and physical health (Taylor, 2009).

In terms of clinical or non-clinical conditions, exercise may offer considerable potential in improving one’s mental well-being. According to Kenneth Fox et al, there are five significant benefits associated with the potential use of exercise in improving mental well-being. First, exercise is cheap. Second, exercise has small harmful side-effects. Third, exercise can be self-sustaining because it can be maintained by the individual once the basic skills have been learned. Fourth, many other non-drug treatments can be expensive and in short supply. For instance, the promotion of exercise has better potential in reaching a wider audience who do not have access to therapy or prefer not to use medication. Lastly, given the obvious physical benefits, exercise should be encouraged regardless of any impact on mental health (Fox et al, 2000).

Depression is refers to a wide range of mental health problems characterized by the absence of a positive affect (loss of interest and enjoyment in ordinary things and experiences), low mood and a range of associated emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioral symptoms (Mead et al, 2010). Clinical depression is a major public health issue that affects 5 to 10 percent of the American population. Although the antidepressant effects of physical activity are widely accepted, only a handful of studies have shown a beneficial effect on depression. In non-clinical depression, a few studies have found that decreased depressed mood or improved mood was associated with exercise (Taylor et al, 1985). Depression is usually treated with antidepressants or psychological therapies, or both. However, antidepressants may have adverse side effects, adherence can be poor, and there is a lag time between starting the medication and improvements in mood (Mead et al). For this reason, there has been an increased interest in the potential role of alternative therapies, like exercise. There is evidence from studies that depression is related to low levels of physical activity (Biddle, 2000). Although those diagnosed with depression are less physically active than non-depressed individuals, a positive correlation exists between physical activity levels and improved mental health (Taylor, 2009).

Exercise provides a number of psychological benefits with depression. One of the most important of these benefits is improved self-esteem. When one participates in exercise, the body released endorphins that interact with brain receptors to reduce perception of pain...
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