As soon as possible:

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Physical activity can be encouraged when an individual first reaches out for support or is identified as in need of support, as it requires few resources, is low cost, and offers benefits that can be quickly observed.

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Physical activity is a helpful stop-gap while an individual is waiting to access psychotherapy as it can be implemented immediately, and can continue indefinitely.

It is important to note that goal-setting may not be helpful or appropriate for individuals who are in an acute state of distress or dysregulation, as these individuals will likely be unable to effectively engage with the activity. In these circumstances, stress-reduction or relaxation techniques such as slow breathing and grounding exercises may be more beneficial.

When to follow up with additional support

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If an individual is struggling to identify physical activities they are prepared/able to do, or struggling to find the motivation to engage in activities they would like to participate in If the individual’s living environment does not provide a safe or viable space for physical activity

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If an individual’s support needs change – i.e. they are in need of more support than was previously the case.

Helpful strategies & supports

It can be helpful to know:

  • What structured and unstructured physical activity options are available in your client’s area
    • Structured options may include: gyms, sports clubs, boxing clubs, lawn bowls clubs, dance classes, yoga classes, community fun runs (e.g., Parkrun) etc.
    • Unstructured options may include: safe places to walk, jog, cycle, skateboard, shoot hoops, kick a footy around, practice Tai Chi, etc.
    • How to facilitate access in support of your client’s needs – particularly when working with children or older people, or with clients who have challenges with transport, mobility, or physical or cognitive impairment
      What additional supports are available that may assist your client – such as referral to allied health practitioners with expertise in exercise prescription (exercise physiology, physiotherapy). Consider also, referral options via Medicare and NDIS service providers.

Once a client has the appropriate level of practical support to access opportunities for physical activity, then the practitioner’s role may transition to:

  • ensuring access to opportunities remain, or can be facilitated if access changes
  • ensuring practical support remains consistent with the level of support your client requires
  • supporting your client’s motivation to continue with a sustainable routine, with psychoeducation and tracking progress where appropriate, and facilitating social connections where necessary.

Do you know how to

Explain the mental health benefits of physical activity?

Guide clients in planning a physical activity routine that suits their needs?

Provide the level of support that is appropriate to the client’s needs?

Access appropriate referral pathways?

To what extent:

Does your practice support the use of physical activity as a core component of client health?

Do you apply the key principles of physical activity for mental wellbeing in your own life?


Ashdown-Franks, G., Firth, J., Carney, R., Carvalho, A.F., Hallgren, M., Koyanagi, A., Rosenbaum, S., Schuch, F.B., Smith, L., Solmi, M., Vancampfort, D. & Stubbs, B. (2020). Exercise as medicine for mental and substance use disorders: A meta-review of the benefits for neuropsychiatric and cognitive outcomes. Sports Medicine, 50, 151–170.

Firth, J., Solmi, M., Wootton, R.E., Vancampfort, D., Schuch, F.B., Hoare, E., Gilbody, S., Torous, J., Teasdale, S.B., Jackson, S.E., Smith, L., Eaton, M., Jacka, F.N., Veronese, N., Marx, W., Ashdown-Franks, G., Siskind, D., Sarris, J., Rosenbaum, S…. & Stubbs, B. (2020). A meta-review of “lifestyle psychiatry”: the role of exercise, smoking, diet and sleep in the prevention and treatment of mental disorders. World Psychiatry, 19(3), 360–380. DOI:10.1002/wps.20773 (open access link)

Firth, J., Siddiqi, N., Koyanagi, A., Siskind, D., Rosenbaum, S., Galletly, C., Allan, S., Caneo, C., Carney. R., Carvalho, A.F., Chatterton, M.L., Correll, C.U., Curtis, J., Gaughran, F., Heald, A., Hoare, E., Jackson. S.E., Kisely, S., Lovell, K…. & Stubbs, B. (2019). The Lancet Psychiatry Commission: a blueprint for protecting physical health in people with mental illness. Lancet Psychiatry, 6, 675–712. (open access link)

Harvey, B., Overland, S., Hatch, S.L., Wessely, S., Mykletun, A. & Hotopf, M. (2018). Exercise and the prevention of depression: Results of the HUNT cohort study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(1), 28–36. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111223 (open access link)

Rosenbaum, S., Sherrington, C. & Tiedemann, A. (2015). Exercise augmentation compared with usual care for post-traumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 131, 350–359. DOI: 10.1111/acps.12371

Schuch, F.B., Vancampfort, D., Firth, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P.B., Silvam E.S., Hallgren, M., Ponce De Leon, A., Dunn, A.L., Deslandes, A.C., Fleck, M.P., Carvalho, A.F. & Stubbs, B. (2018). Physical activity and incident depression: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(7), 631–648, doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17111194

Schuch, F.B., Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P.B. & Stubbs, B. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 77, 42–51.

Teychenne, M., White, R.L., Richards, J., Schuch, F.B., Rosenbaum, S. & Bennie, J.A. (2020). Do we need physical activity guidelines for mental health: What does the evidence tell us? Mental Health and Physical Activity, 18,

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