NCSEM-EM working with St Andrews Healthcare to look at physical activity in secure settings


The NCSEM-EM is working with St Andrews Healthcare to develop physical activity interventions with populations with severe mental illnesses in secure settings.

Much research has been carried out into the link between exercise and mental health, particularly those with mild to moderate mental health concerns, however there is limited literature available looking at severe mental illnesses and secure settings.

Physical activity can help to reduce the negative symptoms of mental health conditions and susceptibility to a wide range of physical co-morbidities, such as obesity and hyperglycemia. Despite these benefits, individuals with severe mental illness remain among the most inactive populations in society. The effect of physical inactivity is magnified within secure mental health settings where negative symptoms are at their severest and structural barriers, such as locked doors and limited access to facilities, deter engagement with physical activity.

This study aims to look at the efficacy of existing psychologically informed physical activity interventions in this population via a systematic literature review, identify the perceived barriers and facilitators of physical activity for patients in this setting, and develop a new psychologically informed physical activity intervention. It will cover all four St Andrews Healthcare sites, encompassing over 900 patients and 4,500 members of staff.

This work follows on from a previous masters-level study with healthcare assistants in secure settings which explored perceptions and attitudes towards physical activity and sedentary behaviour in this unique setting. The study has provided foundation data for developing training and induction programmes for newly appointed healthcare assistants with the aim of reducing sedentary behaviour on the wards.

Dr Florence Kinnafick, Lecturer in Psychology in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to be able to carry out research within a unique healthcare setting that will produce findings significant to both the mental health and health behaviour change fields. We are grateful to St Andrews Healthcare for allowing the University to access their hospitals, patients and staff.”

Dr Anthony Papathomas, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology and a collaborator on the project added: “How to best promote exercise in a secure mental health setting is unchartered territory and it is vital for Loughborough University and the NCSEM to be at the forefront of that.”