In this book, authors and psychologists Michael Otto and Jasper Smits present a comprehensive, action-based approach for using exercise as a means to manage mood. They begin by presenting thorough evidence for how regular physical activity can not only serve to decrease anxiety and depression but can also help to prevent these conditions.
The authors give much attention to one’s motivation for exercise. In particular, they focus on the idea that although it will take time to fully address symptoms of depression or anxiety, exercise can provide immediate mood benefits, noting that people tend to universally report feeling better after exercising. Therefore, the authors strive to help their readers make the actual experience of working out more pleasant. Some of their strategies are quite simple, such as thinking about the more positive aspects of exercise (e.g., enjoying the pleasant weather when running outside) or recalling the pleasant portions of your last fitness outing (like remembering that you felt really good afterward). Otto and Smits also address other motivational factors, including preparing for low motivation and directing one’s thoughts for success. Later in the book, they talk further about both increasing one’s enjoyment during exercise via using mindfulness-based strategies and rewarding oneself after exercise.
Another chapter centers around planning one’s exercise routine. Here the authors discuss the benefits and the challenges of exercising at morning, mid-day, and in the evening. In addition, they review some common excuses not to engage in physical activity, including being too stressed, too depressed, or too bored. Otto and Smits also cover the particulars of exactly how to set up an exercise program, including choosing a fitness activity, determining an appropriate level of intensity, and keeping an exercise log. Furthermore, they encourage readers to change up their routines on a regular basis in order to remain interested and engaged in exercise. The final chapter deals with living an overall healthy lifestyle, such as being active in general, eating well, and more.
I am a psychologist (and daily exerciser) myself, and I frequently encourage regular exercise with my own clients. Overall, I found this book to be a useful tool that I would recommend to clients wanting to begin an exercise program. I thought that the motivational information, including the mindfulness techniques, was the most beneficial part of the book, although I also thought that this could have been better organized (i.e., it is broken up into several different chapters, including some earlier in the book and some later). I also liked that the authors included various Resources and an Appendix with helpful web links, logs, and other information (much of this can also be found on their web site, www.exercise4mood.com).
I did have a few issues with this book, however. First, the authors overlooked the most common excuse I hear for not exercising from my college student clients: “not enough time.” Yes, Otto and Smits talk about the ideal time of day to work out, but they do not really address the specific issue of being over-scheduled. Also, there was not much variety in the types of exercise which the authors suggested: running was far and above the dominant activity, and only a few others (e.g., calisthenics, boot camp programs) are even mentioned. The authors would have better served their audience by providing a wider range of options—more diverse alternatives such as Zumba classes, martial arts, and fitness DVDs are only the tip of the iceberg. Finally, the last chapter, as well-meaning as it may have been, began to feel quite preachy to me. Suddenly, instead of talking about exercise to improve mood and decrease anxiety, the authors were discussing obesity preventing and advocating a Mediterranean-type diet! While I agree that these issues are important, they simply did not seem to belong in this book.
As noted above, Otto and Smits have created an informative guide to starting an exercise program as a means to manage mood and anxiety symptoms, and I would recommend it.
© 2011 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.