Movement for your mind's sake

Clinical psychologists can prescribe physical activity to help people with poor mental health. Do they?

With mental illness on an apparent rise, it is heartening to know that there is an ever-growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of regular physical activity for mental health and well-being. Physical activity is bodily movement; it includes activities during daily living as well as exercise to maintain or improve physical fitness. A recent project undertaken by Gary Barclay, Laura Munro and Codi Ramsey aimed to gain insights into the use of physical activity by practising mental health professionals as part of client treatment in New Zealand. 

The research team adapted the Exercise in Mental Illness Questionnaire: Health Practitioner Version for New Zealand. The online questionnaire was completed anonymously by 87 registered clinical psychologists. The majority of respondents (90%) indicated that they were interested in prescribing exercise for people with mental illness, and all respondents felt that participation in exercise could help those with a mental illness. Approximately 60% of respondents reported already prescribing exercise to people with mental illness ‘most of the time’ or ‘always,’ and a further 33.3% ‘occasionally’ prescribed exercise to people with mental illness. However, most (80%) respondents did not undertake a formal assessment of a client’s suitability for exercise before prescribing an exercise programme.

Most respondents did not have training in exercise prescription per se. Depending on the frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise that practitioners are prescribing, a great deal of specific knowledge in this area may not be required. However, to ensure the utmost safety of their clients, some degree of upskilling and knowledge development in this area would be appropriate.

This study has potential to help mental health professionals increase the use of a treatment strategy that has few negative side effects and a range of positive mental and physical benefits. The potential combination of both mental and physical benefits could have a significant positive impact on the NZ healthcare system by reducing overall morbidity and associated costs of on-going treatment.

June 2023

Image credit: "jcomp," Freepik