In Brief

The myriad mental and physical benefits of exercise make it an important part of any therapist's self-care routine, psychologist Kate F. Hays, PhD, told practitioners at APA's 2005 Annual Convention. She noted, for example, that research results suggest that exercise alone can combat depression more effectively than either antidepressants taken alone or combined with exercise.

Hays, who owns a consulting practice devoted to sport and performance psychology, offered the following tips for psychologists to get the most mental benefit out of their activity:

  • Select aerobic activities, such as running, biking or swimming, that trigger the release of "feel good" neurochemicals. Concentrate on diaphragmatic breathing during exercise to calm the nervous system and deliver the maximum amount of oxygen to your body. Aim to exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week for maximum psychological benefits.

  • Take your "emotional temperature" on a scale of one to 10 before and after exercising. "Write it down, look at it and internally understand how powerful exercise is," Hays suggested. "Pay attention to the changes that occur in your mind as you exercise."

  • Use your exercise as a distraction from something that might be weighing on your mind. It can be a way to avoid rumination and find mindfulness and openness, she said.

"Exercise has the same benefits for our clients as it does for us," Hays said. "Health-care professionals who exercise are more likely to encourage their patients to exercise."