Maintaining good physical health alongside mental health is an important part of our care pathways and overall treatment objectives across our sites. Jason Bonney, Lead Physical Health and Wellbeing Coach at Elysium, based at The Spinney, discusses our fitness programme, Mission Fit, and the major benefits physical fitness can bring to our patients.
What is Mission Fit?
Mission Fit is a fitness and weight management programme which aims to educate service users on how to live a healthy lifestyle. The programme covers topics such as energy balance, sugars in drinks, calories in takeaways to name a few.
The sessions consist of a weigh in, a group discussion around a healthy living topic followed by a one-hour exercise session which is varied every week. We challenge all patients to lose 5% of their starting bodyweight and those who are successful in achieving this goal are rewarded with a Mission Fit T-Shirt for their efforts.
Alongside running the programme once a week we also run a full and varied timetable of exercise sessions for our patients to attend. The timetable consists of community walking groups, community football sessions, gym sessions, swimming sessions, circuit training, badminton, boxercise, on site walking groups around our grounds or pitch.
We have community cycling sessions starting soon and we are also linking in with a local country park to set up a cycling hub and to help maintain an orchard on the park by putting in paths and mowing the lawns, which is all physical work and contributes to fitness. I started the programme almost 7 years ago now and since then it has gained national attention when presented at conferences around the country.
Mission Fit is being run across Elysium services and we now have a team of Physical Health and Wellbeing Coaches around the country, all working to help keep our patients fit and healthy. We have one service user who has recently hit the 6 stone weight loss mark with help and guidance from Mission Fit.
How does Mission Fit help patients physically?
Attending Mission Fit helps the patients improve their physical health in lots of ways. We have seen a reduction in diabetic blood sugar readings, reduction in blood pressure, improved cardiovascular function and improved resting heart rates as well as a reduction in bodyweight and waist circumference. As overall fitness levels improve it makes doing daily tasks easier and more enjoyable and all these benefits lead to a longer and heathier life for our patients.
How does Mission Fit help patient’s mental health?
Exercise has many well-known mental health benefits such as improved self-esteem and reduced stress levels. It gives people a sense of purpose and responsibility and can be used to breakdown social barriers between peers and staff. Physical fitness can also be used as a coping mechanism with many patients and is proven to give people a sense of hope for the future.
A sense of escapism from the ward environment and something to look forward to is also a big benefit to patients and it helps to create a positive routine. Exercise gives patients increased autonomy over their own training plans and sessions, with the guidance and support of Mission Fit staff.
How does Mission Fit benefit the staff on site?
The staff on site benefit from Mission Fit as they have free access to our on-site gym which they can use outside of patient hours. Prior to COVID I ran a staff Mission Fit session once a week where staff would have the chance to weigh themselves and take part in a different exercise session every week such as gym, swimming, badminton, basketball, dodgeball, circuit training or boxercise. I am hoping to get the go ahead to start this up again soon.
What are some of the challenges you face in Mission Fit and in encouraging patients with keeping active?
Some of the challenges we face when running Mission Fit is the engagement of patients. Becoming disengaged or withdrawn is a negative symptom of mental ill health and can also be a side effect of anti-psychotic medication. We overcome this by putting on a varied, engaging timetable and being consistent in our approach – avoiding cancelling sessions whenever possible. Other challenges we face are having enough staff to facilitate sessions that require more than one staff member, availability of transport and patients having the correct leave passes to attend community sessions.
We find the benefits definitely outweigh the challenges and people often feel motivated, encouraged and proud when they have attended a session and these feelings encourage them to put in the effort to keep on attending.
What are the main benefits of including physical wellbeing in mental health treatment?
Physical health and mental health go hand in hand. It is well documented that exercise alleviates symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Exercise also releases endorphins which is a “feel good” hormone released in your brain. Side effects of the antipsychotic medications include increased appetite and sedation which can lead to significant weight gain in our patients.
We use exercise and education to try and combat these effects to help our patients maintain a healthy weight.