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Book Review: 8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise

According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, “less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week. More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.”

When I studied sport psychology a few years ago, I found a statistic that the peak age for participating in athletics in the U.S. was 13. More and more schools lessen or eliminate physical activity, while more kids are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and more and more people in general are being diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Doctors in the U.S. have responded with psychotropic medication, while I learned years ago that if you go to a physician in Europe feeling depressed, you might be given a prescription for exercise rather than drugs. But if Christina G. Hibbert’s new book, 8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise, is any indication, it may be that doctors in the U.S. are moving in that direction as well.

Hibbert does a very thorough job of presenting the case for exercise to improve mental health. She makes clear that this is not a workout or weight loss book, but is a book “to show you how to make exercise work for you.” She addresses how exercise can help with many conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to chronic pain, but stresses that it is important to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program and not to replace therapy and/or medication with exercise without consulting those treating you.

Throughout the book, Hibbert includes her own stories and those of others who have used exercise to cope with problems and painful feelings. Because this is a workbook, you will be asked questions and given exercises to help guide you on your way.

I like how the book is structured. She uses Prochaska, DiClemente and Norcross’s transtheoretical change model, which grew out of a project at the University of Rhode Island back in the 1980s that originally studied how people quit smoking. The model has stood the test of time and over the years has become a standard for behavioral change therapy, particularly in the substance-use disorder field. Hibbert does a very nice job of presenting the model’s stages — precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance — and the keys help you with each stage. She also points out that we do not go through these steps in a straight line, but in a spiral and that we can cycle through the stages many times on our way to more permanent change. The original studies found that people cycled through an average of about seven times before making a change last.

Seeing change this way totally reframes the sense of failure we feel when we fall off our plan. Hibbert helps us re-evaluate our plan, gives us tools to change self-talk, and get back on track. You learn how to set goals and to overcome roadblocks to your goals. Hibbert provides information in a very thorough, thoughtful, and systematic way. She helps you get through precontemplation with information making the case for using exercise to improve mental health. You might spend a lot of time in the contemplation and preparation stages so that when you get to action, your chances of succeeding are maximized. And you learn how to make this a lifelong change.

Another feature I really like is her take on self-esteem. I think we put so much emphasis on self-esteem these days that we end up with situations like U.S. kids scoring lower in the world on testing like math, but over-estimating their efficacy in the subject. She reframes this to self-worth and incorporates exercise that improve self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-determination in the process. She also incorporates internal and external motivation as factors in change.

Hibbert has a strong web presence that includes a very useful website to go with the book at, and a Facebook fan page you can join for support. She makes her worksheets available on the web and has a Youtube channel. She also tackles exercise addiction in the book. This book is not only about improving your mental health through exercise, it is about having a nurturing and healthy relationship with yourself.

8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise

W. W. Norton & Company, April 2016

Paperback, 304 Pages


Book Review: 8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise

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Stan Rockwell, PsyD

Stan Rockwell, PsyD, LPC has been working in the mental health field for over 40 years. He has worked as a therapist at a state hospital, a community mental health center and has been in private practice since 2009. He has also worked in disaster mental health, crisis intervention, as a client rights investigator and advocate, training and research, and graduate student supervision. He is a past chair of professional development for the Virginia Counselors Association. He has been a volunteer field tester for the World Health Organization in the development of the ICD 11 since 2013 and has been reviewing books for since 2012. He also teaches a class at the College of William and Mary that combines taijiquan and qigong with science and Chinese philosophy. He uses eastern and western methods in his counseling psychology practice. You can find him online at and

APA Reference
Rockwell, S. (2016). Book Review: 8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Sep 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 1 Sep 2016
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