News & Insights 16 March 2020

Physical Activity & Mental Health Within the NHS

Mental health is a growing issue which has been highlighted by the NHS as a key area for improvement in the care provided to patients. Recent statistics show that approximately 1 in every 4 adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any given year. This prevalence is extremely high and has led to it becoming the single largest cause of disability in the UK.

The result is a reduced quality of life for those who are dealing with a mental health condition, coupled with a massive impact on the UK economy, at an estimated cost of £105 billion per year. These figures highlight the increasing burden that mental health poses to the NHS, and it underlines the need for interventions which can help to reduce this burden whilst also providing meaningful and sustainable results.

The current care pathway has left people with mental health conditions feeling marginalised which has led to many people receiving a lack of care. IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) was introduced in 2008, with a view to transform the treatment of anxiety and depression disorders in the UK. The overall consensus is that it has been successful so far, however more can still be done to treat other mental health conditions and to access individuals where traditional care is less accessible.

A shift in public attitude towards mental health conditions, has seen an emphasis on encouraging people to seek treatment, and then learning to self-manage their condition. The NHS has started to recommend regular physical activity for people who have been diagnosed with mild – moderate depression or anxiety, and GP’s are beginning to prescribe physical activity to treat the condition.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, as there is an abundance of research which supports the use of physical activity as a treatment for mental health conditions. Studieshave shown that physical activity can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by up to 22%. Furthermore, physical activity has been shown to have a strong protective power in reducing the risk of dementia for all individuals. In addition to this, individuals who are genetically predisposed to dementia, but remain physically active can reduce their cognitive decline by up to 55%. This is extremely significant and shows that although one can’t stop the condition from taking form – slowing its course could add years to a person’s life and hugely impact their quality of life.

For any new initiatives to be truly successful, they must recognise the important role which physical activity can play within the care pathway. Harnessing the power of movement through everyday physical activity which fits within an individual’s daily routine is accessible to everyone with no barrier to age or mobility. This would allow physical activity interventions to have a greater reach and benefit the highest number of people. Each of us have ~112 waking hours per week which provides a valuable opportunity for functional everyday movements to occur at varying intensities within our daily routine. Embracing this concept creates a far greater window of opportunity to benefit from physical activity than structured exercise and can deliver better results when understood and personalised to the individual. Moreover, this innovative approach will empower sustainable behaviour change and enable long term self-care.

At KiActiv® we have proven this approach over the past 4 years with remarkable results. Our 12-week personalised online behaviour change programme with remote guided mentor support, has witnessed outstanding improvements in levels of physical activity and engagement across a broad demographic. We incorporate the latest technology and science to empower an understanding of actionable personalised everyday physical activity, and this quantitative and qualitative data also delivers transparency for measurable outcomes.

The multi-dimensional theory of physical activity takes the emphasis away from solely focusing on forms of exercise, instead placing equal importance on other dimensions such as non-sedentary time and moderate intensity activity. This opens up physical activity to the whole population and allows individuals to find value in their everyday movements.

We are re-establishing an understanding of everyday physical activity for health benefits and challenging the narrative that it needs to be sweat-inducing and uncomfortable. The success of the online programme also highlights the appeal of personalisation and enabling self-care outside of a gym or clinic environment, and we want to make this accessible to as many people as possible across both physical and mental health pathways.

The KiActiv® Team