When it comes to inpatient treatment of a range of mental health and mood disorders — from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia, suicidality and acute psychotic episodes — a new study advocates for exercise, rather than psychotropic medications, as the primary prescription and method of intervention. Findings from the study reveal that physical exercise is so effective at alleviating patient symptoms that it could reduce patients’ time admitted to acute facilities and reliance on psychotropic medications.
“The general attitude of medicine is that you treat the primary problem first, and exercise was never considered to be a life or death treatment option. Now that we know it’s so effective, it can become as fundamental as pharmacological intervention,” explains David Tomasi, a lecturer at the University of Vermont, psychotherapist and inpatient psychiatry group therapist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and lead researcher of the study.
Practitioners at inpatient psychiatric facilities — often crowded, acute settings in which patients experience severe distress and discomfort — typically prescribe psychotropic medications first, rather than natural remedies like physical exercise, to alleviate patients’ symptoms such as anger, anxiety and depression. In fact, Tomasi estimates that only a handful of inpatient psychiatric hospitals in the U.S. provide psychotherapist-supported gym facilities exclusively for these patients. Instead, practitioners rely on classical psychotherapeutic and pharmacological frameworks to treat psychiatric symptoms, which they monitor to determine when a patient is ready to be discharged from the facility.