Loughborough academic involved in largest ever study of its kind into physical activity’s benefits to mental wellbeing
A Loughborough University academic has worked with the mental health charity Mind on a landmark two-year study showing that people with mental health problems who are more regularly active have better mental wellbeing.
Loughborough’s Dr Florence Kinnafick evaluated Mind’s Get Set to Go programme, which was launched  with support from Sport England and the National Lottery in July 2015 to help people with mental health problems benefit from being physically active. The programme has since supported 3,585 people with mental health problems get more active.
Dr Kinnafick worked with over 1,000 participants to track their progress, finding that participants’ activity levels increased by an average of 1.3 days each week and that they reported feeling like they had more support available to them after taking part in the programme.
Participants took part in specially designed physical activity projects delivered in communities across England by eight local Minds. They received group and one-to-one support from peers with an understanding of how mental health can be a barrier to physical activity. Participants took part in a range of activities including gym, football, badminton, boxing, walking, boccia and even ultimate frisbee. They also received support through Mind’s safe and supportive online social network Elefriends, by swapping tips, advice and linking up with others who were just starting out.
Nationally, Get Set to Go campaigned to promote the benefits of getting active on mental health, reaching over 19 million people with specially developed information. Thousands more accessed information and support to help them get active online through Mind’s Elefriends website.
Dr Florence Kinnafick, Lecturer in Psychology in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University and member of the NCSEM-EM, said: “It is exciting to be involved in this landmark study and to be able to explore the relationship between physical activity and mental health further. It is particularly insightful to investigate the effectiveness of the peer navigator model adopted by Mind for encouraging sustained sports participation.”
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said: “Sport can have such a positive impact on a person’s mental health and help change lives for the better. I want to see more sports bodies work closely with mental health organisations and ‘Get Set to Go’ is an excellent example of this. I hope that the programme continues to go from strength to strength, increasing mental health awareness across the sport sector.”
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We know that physical activity can play a vital role in the lives of people with mental health problems, reducing the risk of depression by up to 30%. Unfortunately we also know that many people who do want to participate in sport are being held back by their mental health, whether that’s feelings of low self-confidence, exhaustion or fear of crowded spaces.
“The findings of the Get Set to Go programme shows us that it works as a model, improving participants’ resilience and building their support networks. We hope that organisations working in sport and physical health take up the recommendations from Get Set to Go and we look forward to working closely with them to reach our shared aim of helping more people with mental health problems become and remain physically active.”
Jennie Price, Chief Executive of Sport England, said: “This project has really brought to life how physical activity can help people with mental health problems improve their sense of wellbeing, and how in practical terms they can be supported to be more active. I am very proud of what Sport England’s partnership with Mind is achieving, and we want to do more work in this area in future.”
 Funding was awarded in November 2014