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About half of the population will develop a mental illness in need of treatment during their lifetime, and the support system does not have the capacity to cover the entire need for treatment. Doctor Egil W. Martinsen demands greater focus on physical activity as help against mental problems.

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 Egil W. Martinsen writes in an article in The Norwegian medical journal:

About half of the population will develop a mental illness in need of treatment during their lifetime, most often in the form of depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse or dependence. The most commonly used forms of treatment are various forms of talk therapy and medication.

The costs of treatment are increasing, and the extent of the disorders means that the health service can never cover the need for treatment in the population. Effective self-help strategies will therefore be important.

He emphasizes that physical activity can be just such a method. Martinsen has recently written the book "Body and mind" (Norwegian), which puts the spotlight on the connection between body and mind - and between physical activity and mental health.


Physical activity helps with many mental problems

Martinsen presents research that shows that Physical activity is helpful in relation to a number of mental problems:

The effect of physical activity is well documented in mild to moderate forms of depression and in chronic fatigue syndrome. Here, physical activity is an alternative to the traditional forms of treatment. It can also be helpful in panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, conversion disorders, chronic pain conditions, and alcoholism.

In July 2012, a review of studies was published in the renowned Cochrane database, which looked at the relationship between physical activity and depression, and which shows that there is scientific evidence to say that physical exercise relieves depressive symptoms


Trained out of depression tells about the actor Jakob Margido Esp's fight against depression, and how physical exercise has played a key role in his journey back to everyday life. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1991 for his difficulties, and has recently written a book about his experiences. He tells

I follow my own exercise program and swim a lot. Swimming is a gentle form of exercise that strengthens you, provides well-being and lubricates muscles and joints. I systematized the training after I went on the rampage in 1990-91.

Atle Roness (71) from Bergen has worked as a psychiatrist and owner for 45 years. He praises their experiences with physical exercise for patients with mental illness. 

Physical activity can help prevent the development of depression, he told


Good and bad circles

There can be many reasons why physical activity improves mental health.

When mental problems hit us, we often get into negative circles: The worse you feel - the less you move - the more tired you become - and the worse you feel. Conversely, in periods of good mental health, you will enter good circles: You feel great - you have energy to do nice things and to exercise - you get more energized - and you feel even greater!

Starting with physical exercise - after a long period of inactivity - will for many be just one way to get into a good circle: You get in better physical shape - it gives increased self-confidence and a feeling of mastery - and you feel more profit . For many, physical activity also means meeting other people and having a positive social contact.

The government has recommended that all municipalities in the country must establish a wellness center. There you will get help to change living habits, and to participate in a social community. For many users with mental health problems, an offer at the wellness center can be an excellent way to get into good circles - which promotes mental health!


- Do not lose the desire to walk!

The famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1847) wrote:

But above all, do not lose the desire to walk. Every day I walk to my daily well-being and from any illness. I have walked myself to my best thoughts, and feel no thought so heavy, that one can not walk it off.

It is such realizations that make Egil W. Martinsens write:

Beneficial effects of physical activity are well documented. When such a simple, inexpensive and easily accessible measure is effective in the treatment and prevention of mental disorders, this can be important for public health.



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