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45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives - 65% will not seek treatment. According to the Black Dog Institute, this equates to an annual burden of $12 billion on the Australian economy through lost productivity, sick leave and poor staff morale.

Altius Group Exercise Physiologists, Jack Whitaker and Jacob Francis, explain that while front line mental health treatments (medication, talking therapies and electro-stimulants) are effective in managing symptoms to varying degrees – evidence now supports that exercise is an increasingly effective and beneficial front-line therapy for improving mental health.

Why See an Exercise Physiologist to Improve Mental Health?
1. Exercise Is a Non-Invasive, Low Cost Treatment Option

Exercise physiologists can devise exercise plans that are free, performed at home – that don’t have to be overly vigorous, exhausting or strenuous to be of significant benefit. An exercise physiologist educates clients, and helps them find ways to incorporate incidental, free exercise such as walking the dog, taking the stairs or getting off the bus a stop early, into their schedule. National Physical Activity Guidelines state that 30 minutes of brisk walking per day, and not even all in one session, can illicit significant effects on mental health outcomes.

2. Exercise Can Be an Enjoyable Treatment Tailored to Suit Individuals

Exercise programs need not be structured and regimented. Exercise Physiologists support an individualised approach, incorporating an individual’s likes and meaningful activities, and self-education, to deliver positive results. This may be as simple as playing team sport, working out at home or walking around the neighbourhood with family. Exercise tailored for mental health conditions should not be a structured approach but rather focus on encouraging individuals to do more of the things they enjoy. Exercise physiologists can help an individual to plan and stay focussed on such an approach to achieve enjoyment, compliance, motivation and improved outcomes.

3. The Evidence is Strong: Exercise Improves Mental Health Outcomes

The well-known positive effects of an exercise session are the release of endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins, “happy hormones”, are released in the brain to reduce pain and in large amounts can lead to increased relaxation and energy. These endorphins are great combatants to stress, anxiety and lethargy. Serotonin, however is responsible for affecting mood, appetite, libido and sleep levels – further addressing primary symptoms of a range of mental health conditions. A recent study conducted by Dr Simon Rosenbaum illustrates this, concluding “a brief exercise program (2 weeks long) is shown to reduce PTSD symptoms”.

4. Exercise vs Medication: Exercise has No Adverse Side Effects

According to the Black Dog Institute, just 16 weeks of regular exercise has been found to be equally effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. ESSA, the governing body of Exercise and Sports Science Australia, also indicates that exercise is great at counteracting the side effects experienced with medication including weight gain, increased blood pressure, increased falls risk and increased lethargy.

How Altius Group Exercise Physiology Programs Improve Mental Health Outcomes

OccHealth by Altius, in collaboration with PeopleSense by Altius, have implemented a multi-disciplinary approach to improving mental health through the Mind Movement (MM) program and the Recovery and Wellness Initiative (RAWI). This collaboration ensures there is a continuation of treatment to assist in implementing behavioural change and achieve greater health outcomes for individuals.

Key to both programs is empowering individuals to practice self-management techniques learnt from their psychologist and to incorporate these techniques into their daily activity routine. Our exercise physiologists also assist clients to combat the psychosocial barriers impacting upon their recovery -  including sleep hygiene, community engagement and managing stress through breathing techniques and meditation.

PeopleSense by Altius Clinical Psychologist, Laura Fildes, supports including exercise as part of the front-line of mental health treatment. Laura says, “The benefits of exercise for mental health have long been recognised, though not adequately utilised in treating psychological conditions. At Altius Group we implement exercise for psychological conditions and see improved in outcomes.

Data from the MM and RAWI programs highlights the effectiveness of Altius Group’s collaboration and implementation of evidence-based best practice in assisting individuals to realise their health potential

  • 72.2% of program participants recorded improvements in social activity and community engagement.
  • In 57.6% of cases, participants improved their exercise and incidental activity levels.
  • 55.7% of participants showed increases in WHO5 Wellbeing and Quality of Life questionnaire scores.