Physical activity in mental health work

This summary provides an insight into physical activity as a treatment measure in mental health work for adults. The summary identifies and presents research and development studies, legal and political documents, and other publications and material providing an overview of the topic. A majority of international studies are included in the summary, as publications with empirical data from a Norwegian context are sparse.

Publisert 07. oktober 2021 | Sist oppdatert 07. oktober 2021

The included research and development studies shows that physical activity as a treatment measure has a positive effect on symptoms of depression. Physical activity can also be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders and psychosis disorders, however the knowledge is limited. People facing mental health challenges experience participating in physical activity as an opportunity for social interaction. Physical activity provides an identity and a purpose of the day and can be used as a self-help strategy. In addition, participation in exercise has a positive impact on mental health and physical fitness. People facing mental health challenges experience challenges with physical activity. The mental illness itself, side effects of medication, poor physical shape, low self-esteem and a complexity of barriers prevent them from being physically active. Other challenges may be attitudes, resources and competence of health personnel, as well as the lack of follow-up services with physical activity in the community.

The summary also presents various activity arenas and measures with physical activity that are implemented in local mental health work in Norway. These are divided into the main categories; Exercise therapy and Exercise clinics, Local exercise contact, Activity centers and low-threshold services, Healthy Life Centers, Active daytime, Sports teams, and Nonprofits. Included publications refer to the following factors as important in implementing and facilitating physical activity in mental health work; Framework conditions and facilitation, Motivational climate and the health personnel’s role / competence, and Support from the exercise group and variation in activities.

Research and development studies on physical activity in local mental health work in Norwegian municipalities is deficient, especially among users of municipal health and care services. There is also a need for knowledge about the users ‘experiences and preferences regarding physical activity, and about the municipalities’ experiences with various activity measures.