'Prescribed exercise improves mental health - I will explain how!' | Latest News

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'Prescribed exercise improves mental health - I will explain how!'

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May) and the theme is “Movement: moving more for our mental health”. Here, clinical exercise therapist Lasse Eini talks about his role and how exercise supports mental health.


Q. What do exercise therapists do?


Clinical exercise therapists are specialists in the relationship between prescribed exercise and various physical and mental health conditions. We collaborate as a team and try to get the best out of our patients through assessment and review appointments. We conduct various physical health checks (such as blood pressure, ECG, BMI, and blood glucose levels) and often come across patients who have high blood pressure, or pick-up on life-threatening conditions which patients were unaware of previously. We discuss with patients how specific exercise and lifestyle changes will positively impact these conditions and help them access the additional support they need. Our role is a clinical role that includes assessment, intervention, review, and discharge from care to a community setting.


Q. What type of exercises/activities do you do with patients?


Working our bodies in only one particular way, such as only running or weight training, may cause imbalances in the body and lead to physical health problems such as muscle cramps, joint issues, and stress fractures. The secret probably lies in the importance of doing a variety of different forms of exercise and gradually introducing yourself to an exercise programme.


Aerobic exercises such as cycling and/or running will improve your cardiorespiratory health, which means that your heart muscle becomes stronger, and your body is better able to use oxygen as energy to power your muscles. Interval training, which involves short periods of rest followed by a short period of intensity has been shown to improve aerobic health. Strength exercises such as resistance or body weight exercises improve your muscle strength and support to evenly load your joints. Doing regular core stability exercises may prevent back pain, improve posture, and provide a foundation for all other forms of exercise and sport. Stretching improves your flexibility and mobility, which helps to reduce the risk of injury and muscle soreness. As a team we incorporate all aspects of exercise through prescribed gym programmes, exercise ward sessions and community football sports teams.


Q. Why is exercise important for recovery?


Imagine a pharmaceutical pill, which has no side-effects. This medication can be prescribed to prevent, manage and cure almost all mental and physical health conditions. It would be magic and too good to be true! Yet, exercise as prescribed medicine improves cardiorespiratory fitness, blood pressure, bone density, recruits anti-inflammatory myokines ( compounds released by our muscles) , improves musculoskeletal health and supports joint flexibility, to name a few physical health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity. Exercise can also be used to manage a variety of physical health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis and obesity, among others.


Exercise also improves and supports mental health! Exercise empowers patients to be actively involved in their care and treatment. It can help to create a daily schedule and routine, improve sleep hygiene, support day-to-day occupational functioning, and most importantly create meaningful social interactions. It can also help steer people away from negative behaviours such as abusing substances. Recently, researchers have highlighted that aerobic exercises including running or cycling release neurochemical transmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which are important neurochemicals affecting mental health. The role of our team is to support recovery and encourage patients to experience personal growth through regular exercise and physical activity.


Q. Can you share a particularly memorable moment or patient interaction that has impacted you during your time here?


I always enjoy interacting with patients from different backgrounds, especially those with unique communication needs like our Deaf patients as it requires attention on showing positive body language. Our non-verbal communication accounts for 80% of our interaction with patients!


I remember supporting one of our Deaf patients with a tailored exercise programme. It was incredible to witness their progress, from embracing challenges in the gym to joining a rowing club post-discharge. It was also really rewarding to hear their feedback about how our communication had made them feel comfortable and understood. I’m proud of how well the team interacts and communicates with people from different backgrounds.


Q. What do you find most rewarding about being a clinical exercise therapist?


I find it rewarding being part of a team that collaborates closely and always has the best interests of our service users at heart. We all find it rewarding when patients feel confident to leave our care and exercise independently in the community.


Our journey with a service user often starts when they’re first admitted to psychiatric intensive care and continues all the way to the community, highlighting how we are involved at every stage of someone’s care. Seeing service users progress in their journey towards recovery is a rewarding part of our work. Due to our long-lasting therapeutic relationships, we often form trustful and open relationships with service users, which patients have highlighted is one of the most important parts of their recovery. 


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