Research into physical exercise and mental health

Researchers from Loughborough University are working in partnership with the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine and St Andrew’s Healthcare to investigate the effect physical exercise has on patients who are severely mentally ill.

Much research has been carried out previously into the link between exercise and mental health – particularly for individuals with mild to moderate mental health concerns, however there is limited research into severe mental illnesses and secure settings.  The effect of physical inactivity is magnified within secure mental health hospitals where negative symptoms are at their severest and structural barriers, such as locked doors and limited access to facilities, can deter engagement with physical activity. St Andrew’s, however, is taking great strides to ensure patients can access exercise.

This new research project – led by Dr Florence Kinnafick, Lecturer in Psychology in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, and collaborator Dr Anthony Papathomas -  aims to develop a new psychologically informed physical activity intervention for patients in St Andrew’s care.  The project will cover all four St Andrews Healthcare sites, encompassing over 900 patients and 4,500 members of staff.

Alan Jones, Manager of Sport & Exercise Therapy at St Andrew’s, commented: “Working with the University that has just been voted the world’s best for Sport and Exercise Sciences and home to the  National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, truly shows that St Andrew’s is serious about linking both Physical and Mental Health. We are leading on the development of new therapies and treatments for a world class service, and working hard to achieve the best possible outcomes for our patients. This collaboration will also help with the development of a culture where we look to make everyone responsible for promoting the normalisation of being physically active.”

Dr Florence Kinnafick explained: “This is an exciting opportunity to be able to carry out research within a unique healthcare setting that will produce findings significant to both the mental health and health behaviour change fields. We are grateful to St Andrew’s Healthcare for allowing the University to access their hospitals, patients and staff.” Florence's collaborator, Dr Anthony Papathomas,  added: “How to best promote exercise in a secure mental health setting is unchartered territory and it is vital for Loughborough University and the NCSEM to be at the forefront of that.”

For more information, please visit the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine Website.