Mental Health Awareness Month: How exercise goes the extra mile

The health benefits of exercise are well-known, but one UF project aims to support health care providers in relaying the information to patients who suffer from physical or psychological ailments.

Dr. Jay Clugston, who serves as the team physician for the UF Athletic Association, is working with the UF Student Health Care Center on a project encouraging providers to discuss the value of exercise with patients, reinforcing the role physical activity can play in maintaining good health. The project takes special meaning during the month of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Exercise directly helps with anxiety and can lessen depression, said Clugston, an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Family Medicine.  “Less direct benefits include better sleep, better self-image.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend two days of muscle strengthening and 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-activity per week. 

“All types of exercise: aerobic, strength training, balance, and flexibility are beneficial, so all seem to be helpful for mental health,” Clugston said.

Moderate exercise is differentiated by its ability to allow talking while vigorous intensity will require pausing for breaths after every few words. 

Exercise improves your cardiovascular system and reduces risk of strokes and diabetes while balancing blood glucose and blood sugar levels to give your body high energy throughout the day, Clugston said. 

This summer, he encourages exercising creatively by using an outdoor environment while being careful about the Florida heat.

“Exercise earlier in the day or late in the evening,” he said. “Enjoy the sunlight but not too much to get sunburned.” 

As a former collegiate runner, Clugston now runs or walks his dog for therapeutic fun, yet his favorite form of exercise outside is arguably yard work and pulling weeds. 

 Additionally, getting good sleep, socializing with others, learning new things, unplugging, getting outside, volunteering, and asking for help can contribute to improved mental health. 

“We are all affected by mental health every month, so every month this is an issue, but to have a month dedicated to it gets us talking about it.” 

Clugston's current research focuses on concussions and concussion protocol for contact sport athletes. 

Concussions affect each athlete differently. Those with previous mental health conditions recover differently than those without, and athletes with multiple concussions increase their risk for mental health conditions in the future. 

“We don’t want to minimize mental health. We have mental health issues with all types of student patients,” Clugston said.

Halle Burton May 25, 2023