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AUSactive’s Barrie Elvish explains the importance of Mental Health Month

AUSactive’s Barrie Elvish explains the importance of Mental Health Month
October 4, 2023

October is Mental Health Month and Australia is in the grip of a mental health and inactivity crisis.

One in five Australians have experienced a mental disorder in the last 12 months, and one in eight people worldwide live with a mental disorder.

The worldwide cost of mental health disorders is set to rise from $2.3 trillion to $6 trillion by 2030 and while the benefit of exercise for depression and anxiety is generally recognised, it is often overlooked in the management of these conditions.

Nobody in their right mind - and I’ll come to that later - would deny that physical activity and exercise is a critical factor in maintaining good physical health.

The benefits of exercise in combatting obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, in fact just about any physical ailment, have been demonstrated time and time again by medical authorities and researchers. 

But we don’t need doctors to tell us that - it’s something we intrinsically know through personal experience.

What is becoming more evident, especially after the ravages of Covid is the role exercise and physical activity plays in supporting our mental wellbeing as well as our physical health. 

A recent meta-analysis from the University of Adelaide of over 100 credible research programs covering over 100,000 participants concludes that exercise is one and a half times more effective in managing/mitigating anxiety and depression than medications or counselling.

This finding reinforced my own personal experiences in managing mental health issues. Since the age of 14 I have been accustomed to occasional bouts of depression triggered by events or situations. 

Since the same age I have managed the episodes by various means including counselling, pharmaceuticals and physical activity with the latter being the most effective and most enduring. 

As a teenager I discovered surfing and the adrenalin, fear and most of all serenity it provided me. Sitting in the ocean watching the sun come up or go down was a nature induced panacea that nurtured and protected me. 

Later when I moved away from the ocean, I took up running, became addicted to the natural high that ensues and again found peace running most mornings before work in the Adelaide parklands as the sun rose and the morning mist was dissolved by the warmth of a new day. 

Although at times I have resorted to medication and or counselling, and they have their place, exercise and nature have been my ‘go to’ managing strategies for the past 57 years.

Health researchers are also discovering the positive impacts of exercise when combined with nutrition and cognitive training in preventing, or at least delaying the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. 

If you are still not convinced of the positive nexus between exercise and mental wellbeing, earlier this year the Harvard Business Review published findings on the benefits of exercise for improving individual productivity. 

The research found that regular exercise resulted in better sleep, more energy and greater cognitive function - all leading to improved productivity and improved workplace morale.

Take note Mr Treasurer.

It is this greater awareness on the importance of physical activity and exercise for both physical and mental wellbeing that is behind the current Fit for Office campaign initiated by AUSactive with the support of Myzone technology. 

Over a four week period, currently more than 28 senators and federal politicians from both houses representing all political persuasions and states are participating in a friendly competition until 22nd October to prove they are ‘Fit for Office’. 

The point of the exercise, no pun intended, is to raise the national conversation on the importance of exercise, to prod all governments to seriously invest in preventive health and inspire population wide behavioural change through a national public health campaign promoting the benefits of physical activity.

The various state-based voucher systems are a start but inconsistent in eligibility, timing, value and activity choice. 

The federal government has given some grants to organisations working in the chronic health sector, but by definition these organisations deal primarily with managing existing health problems, rather than prevent them in the first place. 

With a return on investment of a reported sixfold, a Health system, that includes Hospitals, the NDIS, Aged Care and increasing demands for mental welfare services, collapsing under the strain, surely a government talking of wellbeing Budgets and the need to increase national productivity would seriously consider investing more in preventive health? The savings are significant, ongoing and exponential.

Coinciding with the Fit for Office campaign October is also Mental Health Month; what better time to seriously invest in the best medicine and/or treatments available - exercise?

Images: Barrie Elvish (top) and addressing the recent AUSactive Senior Management Summit in Melbourne (top).

About the author

Barrie Elvish

Chief Executive, AUSactive

Barrie Elvish has over 20 years’ experience of managing successful organisational change, strategic development and business growth across a range of sectors such as education and health.

His passions and experiences including training for triathlons, keeping his depressive episodes under control through exercise, trekking the Kokoda Trail and Hot Rods – all for the purpose of making meaningful connections.

Click here to contact him via LinkedIn.

Read more from this author

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