Gamechangers: St Andrew’s and Loughborough University work together to change attitudes towards exercise

An ongoing partnership between Loughborough University and St Andrew’s Healthcare is changing the way patients feel about exercise.

People experiencing severe mental ill-health can face a reduced life span of up to 20 years, and physical health inequalities are a key component of this. Healthy lifestyle choices – including physical exercise and a healthier diet – can dramatically reduce the risk of premature death and greatly improve patient recovery.

Much research has been carried out previously into the link between exercise and mental health. The effect of physical inactivity is magnified within secure mental health hospitals where negative symptoms are at their severest. This can be exacerbated by an absence of physical activity in patient’s routines, medication-induced fatigue and staffing levels – making regular exercise difficult to initiate and maintain. St Andrew’s, however, is taking great strides to ensure patients can access and enjoy exercise.

Loughborough University and St Andrew’s are researching the role physical activity can play in an inpatient care setting, and assessing how best to increase patient participation. The relationship between the two organisations was formalised in summer 2018 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, officially marking the start of a research partnership which comprises several themed projects.

One strand of the research has examined the role of healthcare assistants in promoting exercise on the wards, their attitudes towards the benefits of exercise for patients, and the barriers that patients may face within a secure care setting. The results of the study – published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing – highlight the importance of staff members in addressing the barriers to exercise participation amongst patients. The research found that Healthcare Assistants are well placed to assess what sort of exercise is most suitable for individual patients, as they have built up a close rapport with them. For example, some patients may benefit from an informal approach; whereas others may respond to more formal strategies.

This work is now being developed to explore how to further promote physical activity in both adult and adolescent wards, while educating staff on the psychological principles of effective exercise promotion.

Loughborough and St Andrew’s are also working together to develop a range of physical activity interventions, and – as part of this – are delighted to be jointly investing in a number of PhD studies.

To keep up to date with this research, visit Loughborough University's Gamechanger website