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Research shows that physical activity can increase life expectancy among those with mental illness

Research shows that physical activity can increase life expectancy among those with mental illness
May 17, 2018

The role of exercise interventions in increasing life expectancy among people experiencing mental illness is acknowledged in a new international consensus statement released this week.

People living with a mental illness die much earlier than the rest of the population, mostly due to preventable cardiovascular disease. Dying 15 to 20 years earlier means that life expectancy for people with mental illness is similar to that seen in the population at large in the 1950s.

Physical inactivity accounts for approximately 9% of premature mortality worldwide, and people living with mental illness are much less likely to be physically active.

Officially released in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), ‘The Role of Sport, Exercise, and Physical Activity in Closing the Life Expectancy Gap for People With Mental Illness’ is the first joint international consensus statement by Exercise and Sports Science Australia, American College of Sports Medicine, British Association of Sport and Exercise Science, and Sport and Exercise Science New Zealand.

This international consensus statement aims to delineate the key factors that must be addressed by key decision makers to increase access to appropriate exercise programs for people with mental illness and subsequently contribute to closing the life expectancy gap.

Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA Chief Executive and statement co-author, advises “this statement represents a significant piece of work between like-minded organisations after two years’ worth of collaboration.

“These international relationships allows our organisation and industry to work collaboratively on global issues that need addressing.”

The statement identifies that exercise practitioners (such as accredited exercise physiologists), as members of a multidisciplinary team, play a core role as advocates for positive lifestyle change, with the ability to address major modifiable risk factors contributing to premature mortality.

Dr Simon Rosenbaum, lead author and researcher with the UNSW School of Psychiatry and the Black Dog Institute adds “although not a magic bullet, physical inactivity is a key, modifiable risk factor that we overwhelmingly know how to address.

“Helping people experiencing mental illness to live active lives is not a gap in knowledge, rather a lack of implementation.”

Professor Philip Ward, co-author and director of the Schizophrenia Research Unit, South Western Sydney Local Health District, and Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, adds “this is a great step towards increasing awareness of the critical role that enhancing physical activity can play in improving the lives of people living with mental illness. Enhancing the role of exercise and sports science professionals working with people with mental illness will provide a huge boost to the quality of care they receive.”

The organisations that endorse this consensus statement commit to promoting the role of exercise interventions as a key component of a global strategy toward achieving a 50% reduction in the life expectancy gap of people experiencing mental illness by 2032.

Dr Rosenbaum adds “we believe that enhanced training of our members, facilitating culture change within mental health services, and advocating for the provision of required infrastructure are the cornerstones of achieving this goal.”

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