Optimism from McMaster researchers on studies of physical exercise and mental health

Research from McMaster University studying the impact of physical exercise on the Team Unbreakable physical therapy approach is providing optimistic results.

In an interview November 3, 2015, Dr. Roberto Sassi said that findings conducted thus far show decreased stress and depression scores along with improved mental health scores. Three components of the research are mood, cognition (such as memory) and bio-markers (stress markers in blood samples).

The test candidates are all part of the 12 week run-therapy program at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, which is affiliated with McMaster University.

Preliminary findings in a sample group show that participants were showing reduced amount of stress, and their mental health state generally improved. Additionally, in one cognitive test, concentration and memory improved, Dr. Sassi said.

“We do need more participants for our studies, there isn’t yet enough data available to publish our results,” he added. Larger group sizes (80 – 100 individuals) will allow for more comparative tests (ie. contrasting physical activity with other standard treatments for depression). More clinical answers will help lead to larger grants and more extensive research. Dr. Sassi said there is increased interest in this area of physical activity for youth mental health as well as its links to diet.
Jeff Whattam is a Recreational Therapist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare who has been supporting the Team Unbreakable run-therapy program for the past four years. He said the program has improved by adding more relevant guest speakers and candidates can now be referred from the community directly through their family doctors. There are two groups of 18-24 year-olds participating as well as two 25 years and over team.
Support from hospital management and volunteers has been outstanding and some of the run program therapies are being used by other hospital departments for patient treatments, Jeff said. Team Unbreakable members are measured for anxiety, their stress levels and mood rate – – before and after the runs. They also fill out run logs.

As mentioned earlier in the article, Jeff said the scores are dropping and he sees the positive impact on mood. One of the trends he has noticed is that the end of year culmination races are becoming more social for the participants and families.