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Exercise physiology for mental health month

St John of God Richmond Hospital has stepped out of the regular routine to encourage patients and staff members to engage in a different way as part of Mental Health Month.

With ‘Value your mind – self care’ the theme for the dedicated Mental Health Week, the hospital ran activities throughout the month to promote social and emotional wellbeing and increase mental health recovery.

The hospital’s Exercise Physiologist Kirrily Gould ran an afternoon outdoors session that included games like tunnel ball and three legged races - fun activities that get people moving, working together and laughing, which is vital for the healing of minds, bodies and spirits.

To put the science behind the activities, Kirrily conducted an education session for her fellow clinicians and caregivers to demystify the profession of exercise physiology, which covers the areas of the delivery of exercise, lifestyle and behavioural modification programs, prevention and management of chronic diseases and injuries.

  • Mental Illness represents the third highest disease burden behind cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • Nearly one-half of Australians experience mental illness at some stage in their life.

Kirrily works mainly with patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and drug and alcohol addictions at St John of God Richmond Hospital, where the facilities include a gym, pool, outdoor exercise track, golf course, squash and tennis court.

Patients assessed by the team and determined to benefit from exercise are encouraged to participate in group or individual programs and education sessions that aim to teach better lifestyle habits (e.g. physical health, improvement in mood, quality of sleep and energy) that will impact on the ability to move toward healing and mental wellness.

Kirrily is currently undertaking a Research Masters in Medical Science - School of Psychiatry - at the University of New South Wales, conducting research into the benefit of exercise as adjunctive treatment for drug and alcohol cravings. She hopes to share findings from her study in the future.  

St John of God Richmond Hospital has also conducted a randomised controlled trial of the use of exercise as an adjunctive therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

This trial showed that a prescribed exercise program could greatly enhance treatment outcomes for PTSD as well as associated benefits to physical health and social engagement.