What better way to celebrate Mental Health Week than by doing some exercise?

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      If you google the words "exercise" along with "mental health", more than a million links become available.

      That's because there's a tremendous  amount of research showing how working out, running, and even dancing can enhance people's well-being and help ward off depression and anxiety.

      Earlier this month, it was CMHA Mental Health Week in Canada, which is as good a time as ever to focus attention on this issue.

      "While structured group programs can be effective for individuals with serious mental illness, lifestyle changes that focus on the accumulation and increase of moderate-intensity activity throughout the day may be the most appropriate for most patients," wrote several researchers wrote in a paper published in the Primary Care Compansion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. "Interestingly, adherence to physical activity interventions in psychiatric patients appears to be comparable to that in the general population."

      But newer research only confirms what one Vancouver fitness pioneer, Ron Zalko, has understood for nearly four decades in the industry.

      The owner of Kitsilano's Ron Zalko Fitness & Yoga spoke to the Straight in his office just after finishing a 40-minute workout.

      "I do upper body weights for strength," he said. "Also, I do core, and I do 25 minutes of cardio. I'm very happy with it."

      He explained that as a younger man training for triathlons or marathons, he would exercise for four hours a day, but nowadays, he prefers shorter sessions to keep his mind and body in shape.

      People with anxiety commonly suffer insomnia. Zalko pointed out that regular exercise helps people sleep better at night.

      "If you don't sleep well, it creates other problems," he noted. "You gain weight because your body thinks you are under attack. You start producing more fat."

      He recognizes that there's a vicious cycle of depression sapping motivation, and the reduced motivation causing people to avoid exercise.

      His advice is to start with "baby steps"—maybe a five-minute walk around the block, building up to longer periods of exercise in the future. He said that it can also help people experiencing the grief of a divorce or a death in the family.

      "Also, I advise many people who are experiencing everyday stresses from work and other challenges...should exercise moderately and eat right," Zalko added. "Those who take my advice tell me it has helped them immensely as we live in very stressful time as technology advances. Keep away from your smartphone and your computer and start thinking about yourself—and start to exercise!"

      He even suggested that working out can assist those hoping to return to the workforce.

      "If you start getting in shape, you'll find a job," Zalko said. "You start looking after yourself and you'll find a job because you're going to change. You start thinking more positively."

      In his life, exercise has helped him deal with the stresses of running a business—and it's a business that has continued in Kitsilano since the early 1980s.

      "When I went through those challenges, what I did was start eating right and exercising right, even if I didn't like to do it," he said.