In 2000, a group of researchers from the Finnish National Public Health Institute surveyed a section of the Finnish population, searching for an association between exercise and psychological well-being. Participants answered questions regarding their exercise habits, perceived health, and fitness. In addition, the participants filled out several standardized surveys designed to determine if they suffer from feelings of depression, their degree of cynical distrust, the tendency to suppress or express anger, and feelings of accountability for one’s health and social inclusion in a meaningful life: this study attempted to span the spectrum of psychological health. The researchers hypothesized that infrequent exercise will correspond to negative affect (how a person feels such as depression, anger, and stress levels) while more frequent exercise will correspond to an increased sense of coherence, social integration, and perceived health and fitness.
Results of the surveys conducted on about 2300 Finns suggested a relationship between regular physical exercise and feeling more integrated within your community, more confidence that life is manageable and meaningful, and more positive about one’s own health and fitness. The study also suggests that exercising moderately a few times a week correlates with lower levels of depression, as well as less suppression of anger, less hostility, and less perceived stress than those who exercise rarely or not at all!
While exercise is no “miracle-cure” for psychological problems and brain diseases, scientific research into exercise’s effects on the brain and psyche is crucial! The implications of this study abound. While further research is needed, this study reasons that exercise might be able to enhance one’s ability to control feelings of anger and hostility, and also boost feelings of inclusion in one’s social circle. While these may seem like small psychological payoffs for the all of the effort put in to go for that swim or jog that hill, they’re both hugely important components when it comes to a strong and healthy mind/brain. Exercise might be another useful tool in combating brain diseases and the violent behaviors that sometimes accompany them!
Written by: Emily Kolodka, Intern, The Avielle Foundation
Reference: Hassémen P, Koivula N, and Uutela A. Physical Exercise and Psychological Well-Being: A Population Study in Finland. Preventive Medicine. Published January 2000. doi:10.1006/pmed.1999.0597.