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Mental health is a crucial component of physiotherapy treatment

Mental health is a crucial component of physiother
Photo: Mental health is a crucial component of physiotherapy treatment
Mental health should be at the centre of all physiotherapy treatment plans, according to Physiotherapist, Kathryn Anderson, who says the profession has never been more committed to acknowledging its role in managing mental health conditions.

“Physiotherapists often inherently contribute to mental health by improving people’s pain and self-efficacy, however I would like to put out a higher calling to our profession to hold mental health at the centre of all treatment plans,” says Ms Anderson.

“By helping the client to understand the role that mental health plays in their physical health, helping them to safely and comfortably get moving, and recommending when the client should tap into further care for their mental health through a clinical psychologist, physiotherapists can not only contribute to improved mental health but overall better health outcomes.”
Research shows that exercise is one of the best ways to prevent mental health conditions, as well as treat active conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately though, poor mental health can cause lethargy and indifference, reducing motivation to get moving.

“We often see reduced attention to routine and planning are effects of poor mental health,” says Ms Anderson.

“As a result, the component parts that we need to maintain physical health, such as eating well and exercising, become more challenging.

“Here lies the unfortunate snow-ball effect of their relationship, which produces poorer health overall.

“Motivation takes goal setting, planning and higher executive function which are reduced when someone is suffering mentally.

“In this space, as physiotherapists we often work closely with clinical psychologists to assist in the overall goal of getting people moving to support their physical health.

As a clinician of 20 years’ experience, Ms Anderson believes there is still a lot to learn, when it comes to understanding the link between physical and mental health.

“I feel as though we all have a little part of ourselves that knows we feel better when we exercise, but I don’t think as a society we truly understand this as one of the building blocks to having a healthy life.

“So, I feel as a profession we have an opportunity to step up and be more direct in establishing this link in the understanding and habits of our clients.”

Being more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia, the health profession now has access to data that demonstrates the impact of lockdowns on mental health.
Many of the things that are important to motivation, such as routine and availability of resources, are challenged in lockdown.

But with many research papers combining mental and physical health outcomes due to their interlinked nature, Ms Anderson believes a more realistic depiction of the data around physical health will emerge in the coming months and years.

“Anecdotally however I have noticed that the lockdown has either had a significantly negative effect on people’s physical health or a slightly positive effect due to less distractions and more time to put into exercise.

“However, those who had a positive effect were generally not suffering from mental health challenges, and so the less favourable outcomes were seen by those who were most vulnerable.”


The good news, is that any physical activity can help.

“The first thing I recommend to my patients is to choose an exercise that they enjoy and is easily accessible.

“Many of my clients often start with walking due to its accessibility and ease, and in fact it was identified early in the lockdown that purely taking more steps was important.

“There is an increasing body of research that shows aerobic and strength training can be very useful in improving mental health, but also to improve sleep which is intricately linked to health.”

For those just getting started with physical movement, Ms Anderson suggests the following, particularly if motivation has become a barrier.

1. Start by choosing something achievable - success in the early days of an exercise program is really important. Even telling yourself you’ll walk 10 minutes at lunchtime goes a long way to forming the long term habits and mindset that is imperative to an exercise routine.

2. Choose something you enjoy. Don’t start by sitting on an exercise bike just because you were once told it’s good for you. Enjoyable movement can look like throwing a frisbee, bouncing a basketball or jumping on a trampoline.

3. Be mindful of impact and load when first starting out. Many injuries occur when load is added too quickly. Start with six to eight of low impact exercise such as walking, yoga or Pilates, before moving onto higher impact things such as running, or rock climbing.

So passionate is Ms Anderson about increasing understanding around the physical and mental health connection, she created Miles for Minds, a charity run and walk, I conjunction with Prevention United.
“It was really important for us to create something that was an accessible way of improving health, and we are mindful that only the minority of the population see themselves as runners.

“The idea was hatched in the depths of the long stage four lockdown last Melbourne winter, as a way for my team to lead by example, both for our own health and for that of our clients.

“The way we tapped into motivation and long-term exercise habits for ourselves and our clients was really amazing.

“We had many success stories from our clients - people who hadn’t run for over 10 years due to chronic pain who completed the 5km run, and people who had never had a regular exercise routine but managed to form and maintain one during the program, was just awe inspiring.

“Plus, we managed to raise over $3,500 for Prevention United.”

Ms Anderson says Prevention United and Viva Physiotherapy have a effective, symbiotic relationship, as the crux of both organisations is prevention –  the former in the mental health space, and the latter in the physical health space.

“PU made me aware that 99 per cent of government investment in mental health goes into treatment rather than prevention, and to me, that really seemed as though there was a need to promote and to support them.”

Last year, Miles for Minds had 30 participants and raised $3,500.

“This year we are hoping for 50 and to raise $5,000, but of course the sky is our limit!

“I have the personal goal myself to train well for, and run, the 10km which will be the first time I’ve completed a full 10km training program since my children were born.

“And finally we all have the goal individually as practitioners to support our clients through the process to not only achieve the event, but create lasting exercise habits.

Miles for Minds 2021 will take place October 3, 2021 with both Viva and Prevention United providing an 8-week program to support training from early August.

You can learn more about Miles for Minds or donate, with 100 per cent of all money raised and entry fees going to Prevention United.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.