There are many well-established links between physical health and mental health; even on a basic level, the endorphins released as a result of exercise are known to improve our mood, our sleep and reduce stress - a known culprit behind many hair loss conditions.
Now an Australian study has looked specifically at the relationship between the effects of physical activity levels and the psychological well-being of people with hair loss caused by the chronic autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata (AA).
This research follows a number of reports detailing how people with any form of Alopecia Areata have a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression.
The study authors, from various institutions across Melbourne, note the specificity of this study was necessary due to the fact that "physical activity (PA) has been associated with better mental health outcomes in diverse populations [however] the association in individuals with AA has not been established. The aim of this study was to examine the associations between PA and mental health outcomes in individuals with AA to inform intervention strategies for this specific population."
The team's methodology involved a cross-sectional study conducted among 83 participants aged 40.95 ± 13.24 years who had lost more than half the hair on their scalp.
Each volunteer completed authorised International Physical Activity Questionnaire-Short Form (IPAQ-SF) and the Depression and Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-21) questionnaires before their results were analysed to determine associations between physical activity levels and mental health outcomes.
When analysing the findings, researchers found that 81.9 per cent of these respondents did not meet guidelines - presumably Australian government guidelines though this is not stated - for physical activity.
Results showed a clear correlation between the participants who did not meet physical activity guidelines and an increased propensity towards severe depression, moderate anxiety and mild stress.
Therefore, researchers concluded this suggests "increased PA participation in AA individuals with severe hair loss is associated with improved mental health status. Intervention efforts for this specific population should consider barriers and enablers to PA participation as they face challenges that differ from the general population."
In the UK, the NHS gives the following advice on the amount of exercise adults aged 19 to 64 need to do, per week, in addition to advising all long periods of sitting are broken up with light activity:
"...at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)
Or: 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)
Or: a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week for example, 2 x 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)..."
Group classes or team sports can also provide a valuable sense of camaraderie, as a number of amateur and professional sports people with Alopecia Areata have found. Famous examples include English rugby player Heather Fisher, footballer Jonjo Shelvey, basketball player Charlie Villanueva and former Olympian cyclist, Joanna Rowsell-Shand, who are all bald due to the more extreme Alopecia phenotypes.
These include Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis and, although Alopecia Areata treatment is possible for the scalp-only form, these more extensive iterations - which cause baldness to the head and from head-to-toe, respectively - currently have low success-rates for the limited hospital-based treatments available.
Whilst becoming an Olympic-level gold-medallist isn't feasible for everyone, small steps every day can be beneficial to both mind and body - and especially so to those already known to be more prone to mental health issues.
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