The connection between physical activity and mental health has been extensively studied, and several theories have been developed about it. For example, during the aging process, physical exercise might represent a possible treatment for depression and dementia, helping delay the onset of normal aging processes. Exercise has been shown to reduce the harmful effects of stress when performed at moderate intensities. Release of chemicals from the brain and improving blood flow to the brain are some of the possible benefits.

A recent article published in the American College of Sports Medicine journal describes the mental health benefits of exercise in teenagers. Higher levels of sports participation and physical activity were linked to lower levels of depression, and exercise can encourage better self-perception in teenagers. Today, the evidence is very strong to suggest that exercise ensures successful brain functioning.

The BCBSKS website also is helpful if you have questions about behavioral health issues. The New Directions free online behavioral health screening is just a few clicks away at: http://www.bcbsks.com/BeHealthy/DiseaseMgmt/BehavioralHealth/

The screening can be completed in about three minutes and provides results assessing your levels of risk for alcohol abuse, depression, eating disorders, gambling, physical health issues, stress and substance abuse. If your risk level is high, you will be prompted to contact a clinician to discuss your screening results and offer additional assistance.

Myron Leinwetter is the medical director for quality improvement, disease management, care coordination and medical policy at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. He is board certified in family medicine.

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