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'Sweat is the best antidepressant': U of T introduces gym to reduce mental health issues

The University of Toronto has developed a state-of-the-art research facility that doubles as a fitness centre to examine the ties between physical activity and mental health.

Mental Health and Physical Activity Research Centre will help students and researchers

Students using some of the equipment at the U of T's Mental Health and Physical Activity Research Centre, which will study the link between mental and physical health. (University of Toronto/Arnold Lan)

A work-out can leave you feeling pretty good, but how much influence can physical activity have on your overall mental well-being?

With mental health issues on post-secondary campuses on the rise, researchers at a new centre at the University of Toronto are trying to figure that out.

The university recently opened a Mental Health and Physical Activity Research Centre to work with individual students, and to study the link between mental and physical health.

Catherine Sabiston, an associate professor at the university's faculty of kinesiology and physical education, said it's all founded on research, but the centre will also encourage students at the university to get active.

"Research shows that mental health is a serious issue on campus and in the community," said Sabiston, one of the centre's researchers. "We're committed to reducing mental health challenges by promoting physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour, and providing long-term solutions."

The centre is focused less on "pen and paper research" and more on building programs. "By bringing people into the lab, we are seeing the kinds of exercise they really enjoy and the changes that occur during that exercise," said Sabiston.

Fellow researcher Guy Faulkner said the centre is cutting-edge, and will push research forward with the use of web- and app-based exercise and health programs.

Sabiston said it addresses the sedentary life many students tend to lead. The overall goal is that, through exercise, students can better manage and cope with their day-to-day stress and anxiety.

The problem can be cyclical. "If students are stressed or overwhelmed, needing more time, they're not going to say, 'I'll take an hour to go exercise,'" she said.

But, as research shows, they should.

"Sweat is the best antidepressant," Faulkner said.

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