Move with Mates program a boost for mental health

  • People lawn bowling
  • Mature man exercising
University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health
Going Rural Health team: Brenton Kiel, Claire Salter and Mateo Glavan

A long-term partnership between a local physiotherapist and Going Rural Health (part of the University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health) in the Goulburn Valley Region of Victoria provided the environment for the development of an innovative pilot veteran’s exercise group.  

The partnership has involved the physiotherapist supervising students at a local council-run leisure centre for over three years. In their placements, students are involved in clinical service provision two days a week and then implementing a pilot program. A new exercise group focusing on veterans was identified as a fitting project for students, with the support of a local veterans’ advocate who saw the potential value of such a program and was key in finding participants. Then the Move with Mates (MWM) program was born.

Two physiotherapy students were allocated to the placement; they were tasked with developing program content and running the exercise group each Friday morning for four weeks. Students conducted a review of the literature regarding mental health profiles of veterans as well as appropriate interventions that fit within the physiotherapy paradigm. Physical activity, exercise, social grouping, outdoor recreation and mindfulness/meditation activities were identified.

As part of the agreement with the leisure centre, participants did not have to pay an entry fee. They were charged through DVA under ‘Group Physiotherapy’ in accordance with ‘Physiotherapists’ schedule of fees’. Participants all had GP referrals. Six people participated in total and varied in age from 28 to 73 years.

Each participant was asked to complete two questionnaires: the ‘Adult Pre-Exercise Screening Tool’ (APST) and ‘WHO Five Well-Being Index’ (WHO-5). The APST was used to obtain medical information for each participant and gain informed consent to participate in physical activities. The WHO-5 was utilised as a self-reported measure of current wellbeing.

The general outline of each class involved:

  • warm up (15min): outdoor walking to lake with circuit style stretching and exercises
  • group activity (45min): sports/games/competition based
  • social coffee (30+min): participants encouraged to stay and socialise.

The warmup included similar exercises each week, whilst the main group activity was altered on a weekly basis and included bocce, hydrotherapy and croquet.

Of the original six participants, three people came to every session and two came to all but one. One participant dropped out due to family commitments.

For the participants who attended all sessions, a large change was noticed on the WHO-5 tool, with an increase of 5 and 8 points for two participants.

Feedback included:

  • all highly enjoyed and found the program beneficial
  • social coffee sessions were highly regarded
  • the program either met or exceeded expectations
  • some found the exercise components to be too easy or unchallenging
  • some would like to see some gym-based weight sessions.

All participants reported they would attend future sessions, and many have voiced that the program should be run on a weekly basis throughout the year.

Although the numbers were not high, the overall outcomes of the Move with Mates program has provided sufficient evidence to continue.

The students recommended that the program is scheduled to fit within school hours for those with childcaring responsibilities and also suggested additional activities such as yoga, Finska, and modifications to games such as hockey, soccer and basketball.

Mutually beneficial student placements are the ultimate objective. The MWM program has now recommenced, with numbers increasing to around ten participants and potential for further growth. Key to ongoing success will be maintaining good relationships with leaders within the veteran community, such as veterans’ advocates. There is also scope to continue involving physiotherapy students with the program in the future.

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