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Study: make exercise programmes part of mental health treatment

Mental health providers such as psychiatrists and therapists may not have the necessary training to prescribe physical activity as part of their mental health practice
– Carol Janney, assistant professor of epidemiology, Michigan State University

Mental health providers should integrate personal training programmes into their patients’ treatment plans, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan in the US asked 295 patients receiving treatment at a mental health clinic whether they wanted to be more physically active and if exercise helped improve their mood and anxiety.

The study, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, found that 85 per cent said they wanted to exercise more and over 80 per cent believed physical activity helped improve their mood and anxiety.

The researchers concluded that offering physical activity programmes in clinics could improve the mental and physical health of patients, with treatment programmes partnering fitness plans to support patients and their willingness to exercise more.

“This support might come from integrating personal trainers into mental health clinics or having strong partnerships with the YMCA or other community recreational facilities,” said Marcia Valenstein, senior author and professor emeritus in psychiatry at the University of Michigan.

More than half of the participants said their mood limited their ability to exercise but the researchers said that psychiatrists rarely sit down with patients and create a comprehensive exercise plan for them.

“Mental health providers such as psychiatrists and therapists may not have the necessary training to prescribe physical activity as part of their mental health practice,” said Carol Janney, lead author of the study and assistant professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University. “But by teaming up with certified personal trainers or other exercise programmes, it may help them prescribe or offer more recommendations for physical activity in the clinic setting.”

“This is a missed opportunity,” Valenstein added. “If we can make it easier for both therapists and their patients to have easier access to physical activity services, then we're likely to help more patients reduce their depression and anxiety.”

The findings support a two-year study by Mind and Sport England, reported on Friday, which showed that, given the opportunity for exercise, people whose mental health was suffering increased activity levels by 1.3 days a week reported it improved their ability to cope.

Guidelines advise at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, five days a week, to promote mental and physical health, yet many of those surveyed were not meeting recommendations.

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