Therapeutic lifestyle changes as useful as drugs in improving mental health

February 22, 2011

Irvine, Calif., Feb. 22, 2011 -- Getting more exercise, spending time outdoors and helping others are among the activities that can be as effective as drugs or counseling in treating an array of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, according to a UC Irvine study.

In determining this, Dr. Roger Walsh, professor of psychiatry & human behavior, philosophy and anthropology, as well as adjunct professor of religious studies, reviewed research on the effects of what he calls "therapeutic lifestyle changes." Other TLCs might relate to nutrition, relationships, recreation, relaxation, and religious or spiritual involvement.

"I found that lifestyle changes can offer significant advantages for patients, therapists and societies, yet they're insufficiently appreciated, taught or utilized," Walsh said. "TLCs can be effective, inexpensive and enjoyable, with fewer side effects and complications than medications. In the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical and public health."

Study results appear online in American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. Among Walsh's findings: Obstacles to TLCs, he said, are the sustained effort they require and "a passive expectation that healing comes from an outside authority or a pill." Walsh also observed that people contend with a daily barrage of psychologically sophisticated advertisements that promote unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating fast food.

"You can never get enough of what you don't really need, but you can certainly ruin your life and health trying," he added.
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About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County's largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4.2 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

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University of California - Irvine

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