Benefits of exercising for your mental health

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There are many proven benefits of exercising – the rush of endorphins from a run lifts your mood while even a gentle walk in nature would soothe poet Wordsworth’s soul. For those living with mental illness, additional benefits can include a changed perception of self and a confidence boost.

St Helen’s Private Hospital is putting exercise to work as part of its holistic mental health program to provide patients with the opportunity to enhance both their physical and mental health.

St Helen’s Private Hospital (St Helen’s) clinical psychologist Erin Kelly, has noticed the impact exercise classes have on patients in a range of ways.

“To be able to leave a class and feel like you have successfully attended a fitball class or a Pilates class, which perhaps doesn’t fit with your conception of yourself or your unwell self, it really gives people the extra boost of ‘look what I have just achieved’.

“It really improves their sense of self confidence, because it is either something they have never done before or something they use to do a long time ago but they haven’t been able to do it for a while,” said Ms Kelly.

Ms Kelly, is also the program coordinator of the Mind, Body and Soul inpatient program at St Helen’s, which aims to equip patients with the skills needed to better understand their mental health condition and increase their sense of empowerment.

The Body element of the program is accessible to everyone no matter their age, injury or fitness level.

“One of the really good things about our program is that we are really relaxed and flexible about the way the classes are run.

“I always encourage the patients that they don’t have to stay for the whole time, they might just want to watch for five minutes and when you take that pressure off and people know that they don’t have to participate or stay, is usually enough to get them through the door.

“Then once they see what’s happening in the room and that it’s not as intimidating as they have perhaps made it in their minds, then often they will be happy to stay and participate.

“Maybe, if they have gotten enough confidence from attending classes at St Helen’s they might be more inclined when they leave the hospital to sign up for an exercise class in the community as well,” said Ms Kelly.

The Victoria Clinic’s Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Patrick West said not only does exercise make mental health patients, and everyone in general, feel happier and healthier, it also helps establish a form of routine in a mental health patient’s day-to-day life.

“It also ties in to ensuring they have social supports in place, be it a group exercise class or they go to a gym they are seeing familiar faces, they are having at least some form of social interaction in their day,” said Mr West.

Mr West said the patient benefits of getting out and about are not just about the exercise, but also the social interaction or community engagement the patients experience while they are outside.

The hospital runs walking groups near gardens which encourages patients to get out and start moving. They also run their group exercise classes in the park to keep it fun and enjoyable.

“I’m a big advocate for getting patients outside and walking as it offers them another opportunity to interact with someone else, be it a smile on the street or a hello to someone walking their dog,” said Mr West.

Exercise is not just a boost for those living with mental illness, a recent Black Dog Institute study found that 12 percent of depression cases could have been prevented by engaging in just one hour of physical activity a week. That’s reason enough for us all to put our runners on and get out the door.

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