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Health & Exercise Forum

Exercise and Be Happy!

May 16, 2016
Dr. Kafrissen

Dr. Kafrissen

MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH MONTH! Exercise and Be Happy!

TCMC Medical Contributor: Steven Kafrissen, MD, is a psychiatrist at Community Counseling Services and an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.

This column is a special feature the third Monday of every month of Health & Exercise Forum in cooperation with The Commonwealth Medical College.

Living in a region of the country that has a 50-percent chance of sunshine is not for the faint at heart! It can certainly affect one’s mood. However, there is something you can do about it…exercise! Studies show that one of the most understated benefits of exercise is mental health. Specifically, exercise that is aerobic (exercise that increases your heart rate for 30 minutes or more), such as walking, biking, running, swimming, hiking or using an elliptical or stepper machines to name a few, is the secret to the “runner’s high.” This exercise euphoria is not limited to runners alone, but all who engage in aerobic exercise are more likely to experience high energy, positive attitude and mental wellness.

Physical activity, specifically aerobic exercise, is a scientifically proven, useful tool for preventing and easing depression symptoms. Studies in the British Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Exercise and Sports Science found that depression scores were significantly reduced in groups that engaged in aerobic running, jogging or walking programs, 30-45 minutes three to five days per week for 10 to 12 weeks, when compared to a control group and a psychotherapy counseling group.

Depression is the most common mental disorder and is twice as common among women as in men. Symptoms include: fatigue, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, decreased sexual interest, weight change and constipation. Many of these symptoms are likely to bring an individual to his or her family physician. Unfortunately, depression is on the increase in the United States. According to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, in the 1990s, 7 million visits to a primary care physician were for the treatment of depression. Ten years later, the number doubled.

In addition to exercise, patients and their loved ones should remember they can call Helpline (888-829-1341 or 570-829-1341 or text your zip code to 898211) or a crisis service for any suicidal ideas (570-348-6100 in Lackawanna County and 570-552-6000 in Luzerne).  Also, be aware that mental health centers are available (Scranton Counseling Center, Community Counseling Center, Northeast Counseling Services and other community and private mental-health providers).


According to medical literature, exercise reduces depression in two ways, psychologically (mentally) and physiological (physically).

Psychological or Mental Benefits of Exercise on Depression:

  • Helps a person gain control over their lives.
  • Increases self-esteem.
  • Diverts attention from worry, concern or guilt.
  • Improves mood – with visible signs of improvement in physique and body weight.
  • Increases sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
  • Helps with anger management – releases pent-up frustration, anger and hostility.

Physiological or Physical Benefits of Exercise on Depression:

  •  Increases brain serotonin (natural mood elevator chemical in brain).
  • Increases beta-endorphins (natural mood, stress & pain control chemical in brain).
  • Improves natural sleep patterns.


  • First and most importantly, consult your primary care physician to confirm the diagnosis of depression. Be sure that your symptoms are not related to other health problems. Also, if you are using antidepressant or other medications, discuss the impact it may have on your exercise program with your physician.
  • Recognize and fight depression symptoms that are contrary to or prohibit physical activity, such as fatigue, lack of energy and slow motor skills. Work hard to recognize and overcome these symptoms to begin an exercise program. An aerobic exercise routine should eventually lessen these symptoms.
  • Be realistic. Expect that aerobic exercise will take time to have a noticeable benefit. Do not get overly ambitious and set yourself up for failure.
  • Begin with an aerobic exercise program that is practical and destined to succeed. For example, inactive and deconditioned people should begin walking five minutes per day, three to five days per week for one week. Then, add three to five minutes each week until you attain 30 to 45 minutes per walk, three to five times per week. Younger and fitter people can begin to walk for 15 minutes and continue until they attain 45-60 minutes per walk, three to five times per week. Remember: What seems impossible today will be easier and routine in just three or four weeks so JUST DO IT!
  • Find a pleasurable environment: a beautiful park (Kirby Park), a scenic lake (Lake Scranton), a quiet countryside (rural farmlands). Use a shopping mall in inclement weather.
  • Find a friendly, uplifting group of people to enjoy a good walk and talk. This may be more appropriate for people feeling isolated or withdrawn. Others may enjoy the peace and quiet of exercising and meditating alone.
    Be specific and compliant! Make a serious commitment. Keep a journal or exercise log. Mark a calendar for 30 to45 minutes, three to five days per week – NO EXCUSES! Get an exercise buddy you can count on to help keep you compliant!
    Make it fun! Mix it up. Walk three days, swim or bike one or two days. Some days exercise alone, some days exercise with a buddy.
    BE RELIGIOUS! Be religious about exercise BUT don’t get too compulsive!

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Read “Health & Exercise Forum” by Dr. Mackarey every Monday in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College