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Front. Psychiatry, 30 March 2023
Sec. Public Mental Health
Volume 14 - 2023 |

Editorial: Physical activity in people with mental disorders: Benefits, risks and prescription

  • 1Department of Physical Fitness and Health, School of Sport Science, Beijing Sport University, Beijing, China
  • 2Key Laboratory of Exercise and Physical Fitness, Ministry of Education, Beijing Sport University, Beijing, China
  • 3Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China
  • 4School of Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
  • 5Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 6Mental Health Service Line, Atlanta Veterans Administration Medical Center, Decatur, GA, United States

Physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and it has benefits for the prevention and treatment of various physical and mental health conditions (1). However, people with mental disorders often encounter barriers and challenges to participating in regular physical activity. Furthermore, people with the risk of mental disorders are often less properly advised on this matter, together with concerns regarding the potential risks and difficulties of uptake and adherence to physical activity (2). For instance, depressive symptoms have been found to be associated with less participation in physical activity and lower adherence to physical activity regimens recommended by physicians, owing to feelings of insufficient energy and lack of interest and motivation (3). The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many fundamental ways, it has increased stress and uncertainty, and social distancing, quarantine, and lockdown measures have led to reduced physical activity. These factors have also negatively affected mental health outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment (4, 5). The relationship between physical activity and mental health during the pandemic era is of great relevance.

In this Research Topic, we investigated the benefits of physical activity for people with mental disorders, and the risks or barriers they encounter when participating in exercises; and exercise or physical activity prescriptions for preventive or therapeutic purposes of mental disorders, especially for people who are restricted in indoor living space (e.g., people in quarantine or telecommuting, people receiving medical treatment or nursery care at home due to limited healthcare resources).

There are three systematic reviews, four intervention studies, and five cross-sectional studies published on this Research Topic (see Table 1).


Table 1. List of articles.

The systematic reviews and meta-analyses from Tang et al. and Wang et al. indicated that aquatic exercise played a positive role in mental health, and exercise could improve global cognitive function and several specific cognitive functions in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, respectively. Different from their reviews focusing on the benefits of exercises on mental health, Hirschbeck et al. reviewed the effects of psychiatric medications on physical performance and showed that stimulants had consistent performance-enhancing effects on patients with psychiatric disorders and well-trained subjects, while other psychotropic drugs showed different effects in various studies.

Three intervention studies showed the positive effects of exercise prescriptions on mental health. Zhao et al. indicated that personalized exercise prescriptions could improve adherence to interventions and reduce serious adverse events for college students with depressive symptoms. Li R. et al. showed that the 8-week resistance training could increase the heart rate variability in anxious female college students and improve their autonomic nervous disorder, and Lei et al. showed that the 8-week exercise prescription of Baduanjin was an effective supportive treatment for lung cancer patients with depression and anxiety. The other intervention study from Robertson et al. aimed to understand the potential mechanism of positive effects of physical activity on depression symptoms, which showed that increased prefrontal cortex gamma during exercises could differentiate between people with and without mental disorders.

Cross-sectional studies in this Research Topic explored the correlation between physical activity or sedentary behavior and mental health outcomes. Liu Y. et al. found that older adults could delay the decline in cognitive reaction time, if they maintained a moderate level of physical activity in both leisure and work time physical activity. Li C. et al. showed that physical activity decreased the severity of depression by improving life satisfaction and making a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Yuan et al. found that children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities spent a long time on after-school sedentary behavior, which is concerning. Liu Z. et al. found that low physical activity levels may be a risk factor for comorbid insomnia and depressive symptoms in patients with chronic schizophrenia. Chen et al. found that the social adaptability of autistic children may be improved by the development of fine motor, which could be an early focus in the interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder.

In summary, studies included in this Research Topic showed a positive association between exercise and mental health outcomes, and the benefits of some exercise prescriptions on patients with mental disorders. Meanwhile, sedentary behavior or lack of physical activity may negatively impact the mental health of some populations. Physical activity is suggested to be added as a routine practice to clinical care or intervention for patients with mental disorders. Given the lack of evidence of some exercise interventions, longitudinal studies are further needed to verify the effects of various exercises. In addition to clinical trials examining the efficacy of exercises, mental health promotion programs including exercise should be conducted, and the effectiveness of exercise prescriptions in the real-world needs to be studied.

Author contributions

HZ and XT prepared the manuscript. WZ and Y-lT revised the manuscript. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.


This study was supported by the Annual Report on Intelligent Upgrading of National Physical Fitness Testing Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology of the People's Republic of China (Grant No. 2020YFC2006701). The funders had no role in the identification, design, conduct, and reporting of the analysis.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

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Keywords: physical activity, sports, mental disorders, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, exercise prescription, health promotion

Citation: Zhou H, Tang X, Zhang W and Tang Y-l (2023) Editorial: Physical activity in people with mental disorders: Benefits, risks and prescription. Front. Psychiatry 14:1189053. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1189053

Received: 18 March 2023; Accepted: 20 March 2023;
Published: 30 March 2023.

Edited and reviewed by: Wulf Rössler, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Germany

Copyright © 2023 Zhou, Tang, Zhang and Tang. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Weijun Zhang,; Yi-lang Tang,