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Mental health and sport: the winning duo

Health topics

Mental health and sport: the winning duo

Written by: Dr Simon Gonzalez, sports doctor at the Centre Médico-Sportif

The growing challenges of mental health in young adults

With an estimated 6.2% global prevalence, mental health is currently a major public health concern, particularly among children and adolescents, of which only a small percentage seek and then benefit from appropriate treatment. Over the last few decades, there has been an alarming rise in the suicide rate in western countries to the point where it is now the leading cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 25.

Physical activity: a natural remedy for depression

It's important to remember that physical activity reduces suicidal ideation and alleviates depression. By boosting mood and self-esteem, physical exercise is a preventive measure against the development of anxiety and depression; it can be an integral part of any doctor's treatment plan. The symptoms of depression in adolescents, as in adults, include a low mood (sadness, hopelessness, feelings of emptiness and loss of interest in activities), social isolation, outbursts of anger, anxiety, sleep problems, changes in eating habits, and even self-harm in some cases. Depression is usually treated with medication and psychotherapy, either separately or in combination. In this respect, sports activities are a complementary method to clinical treatment.

The effects of sport on the brain

Regular physical activity increases the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, which regulate mood and emotions. Even moderate physical exercise releases endorphins, chemicals produced by the brain that act as natural painkillers and leave you feeling good after sports activities. All this helps to reduce signs of stress and anxiety and, as a result, improves the qualité du sommeil quality of sleep, with fewer cases of insomnia. Exercise also helps to create nerve connections and improve the blood flow to the brain, helping to preserve neurons and facilitate decision-making and problem-solving.

Developing a social life through physical activity

Another positive aspect of sport is that it encourages social interaction, particularly when it comes to team sports. When adults return to physical activity, it is advisable to start at a gentle pace, for example with walking sessions. Ideally, you should start with three exercise sessions a week, gradually increasing the pace, duration, and intensity. In medical facilities, initial studies of in-patients suffering from mental illness tend to show an improvement in quality of life, which is why it is so important to consider introducing physical activity programmes as part of in-patient treatment. It should be stressed, however, that sport is not a cure-all for every mental health condition, but it is an effective tool that can be used in addition to medical treatment. It's also worth remembering that the results may vary from one person to another and from one practice to another. It's always advisable to consult a qualified professional for any medical advice.