Mental Health and the role of Accredited Exercise Physiologists

Some days, you can’t even be bothered to get out of bed. Why would you want to try something like exercise?

You’ve been referred to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to address some physical health issues. She’s referred you to address some weight related concerns associated with your weight, and has explained something to you about your heart. She’s told you that exercise therapy will be great for addressing these. She also mentioned to you, that it might help with your motivation and energy levels.

You have no idea why she would make that last point, as exercise is the last thing you want to do. Some days, you can’t even be bothered to get out of bed.

exercise and mental health

Approximately one million adults suffer from depression or experience depressive episodes, and a further two million with anxiety.

Over the last decade, we have been consistently motivated by the need to better our physical health profiles. Evidence drives health campaigns aimed at increasing bone density, reducing blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as improving our body composition.

But while we as a society continue to address these physical issues, a dark and insidious challenge looms on the horizon…

The Facts & Figures of Mental Health

Mental illness continues to embody a large economic and social burden in today’s society, with a rise in prevalence in mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The significance of mental health concerns in Australia is alarming, with approximately one million adults suffering from depression or a depressive episode, and a further two million with anxiety (1).

Further, it is not uncommon to see these illnesses paired in conjunction with each other, representing a concerning and ever growing challenge to the Allied Health industry. Mental illness presents a significant barrier for facilitating any type of change, and must be considered when formulating a treatment plan. GPs, alongside Psychologists and Psychiatrists, form part of a multidisciplinary care team aimed at improving the long-term mental health and well being of patients.


Why should exercise be used in mental health settings?

There have been large bodies of evidence demonstrating the positive effect that exercise and physical activity can have on mental health, and has been shown to effectively manage, reduce, or in some cases eliminate certain mental health disorders. Further, the commencement of a regular and habitual exercise routine can prevent the onset of certain disorders. Rapidly emerging evidence is gaining the favour of healthcare practitioners worldwide, as it is seemingly becoming an important treatment option alongside traditional pharmaceutical methods. Exercise, as a treatment has been shown to have a substantial impact on the brain and the associated benefits, including overall happiness and well being, as well as confidence and improved self-esteem (2).

If someone with mental illness wants to commence exercise, where should they begin?

However, much like physical illness and disability, treatment should always be provided by a University qualified, Allied Health Professional. This makes Accredited Exercise Physiologists pivotal in the multidisciplinary treatment environment. Working alongside GPs and Psychologists/Psychiatrists, Accredited Exercise Physiologists can tailor a plan suited to the client’s needs, ability and motivation level. No two clients are the same, and an Accredited Exercise Physiologist can tailor a plan specifically designed with a client centred approach, and address any psychosocial barriers that the client may address towards exercise participation.

Won’t exercise be painful and make the condition worse?

Contrary to what is shown in popular culture and on popular television programs, exercise is not designed to cause humiliation, pain, and a restrictive or all-out mindset. Such an approach would surely exacerbate mental health symptoms and this is far from the approach an Accredited Exercise Physiologist would undertake when working with a client suffering from mental health challenges. Rather, exercise therapy that any client can undertake, with their own specific needs and goals in mind, and designed to match their ability, motivation level, and will address any barriers that may exist.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists often place the client at the centre of care, and allow for a certain degree of freedom and autonomy when designing an exercise treatment plan, as this client centred approach allows for confidence, consistency and momentum, which are such important drivers of exercise adherence. The development and adherence towards good positive habits like exercise allow for the development and increase in client confidence, self esteem and assertiveness, which are all such positive aspects in the fight against depression and anxiety.


Overview of Mental Health and Exercise

The provision of the specific and client focused exercise plan becomes crucial not just for the short-term benefits on mental health, but more importantly the long standing effect exercise has on overall mental health and wellness.

Exercise, when provided suitably, and in a way that is specific and individual to the needs of the client is an excellent addition to other treatment for the ongoing journey towards good mental health.

If you know of someone in your life who is wanting to commence exercise, but is suffering from some mental health challenges, or if you yourself have or are suffering from mental illness, make your first choice an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to work with you to better your mental health through appropriately designed exercise.

Find out more about Exercise and Mental Health, and locate your nearest Accredited Exercise Professional.

Blog contributor bottom banner_Phil Caruso

Exercise Right Blog

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(3), 104.