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News article

Examining the impact of physical activity and severe mental illness

Published: 20 May 2024

  •   Featured
  •   Research
A photo of a runner running through a park showing only their legs and feet

Researchers from a range of higher education institutions and regional health trusts came together on 8 May 2024 to discuss the ongoing research activity and future direction of the Physical Activity and Severe Mental Illness (PASMI) research group. The one-day symposium, held by the University’s Institute for Health and Care Improvement (IHCI), hosted academics, clinicians and researchers who are currently undertaking research (or with an interest in developing research) related to physical  activity and severe mental illness. 

The IHCI was launched in 2023 and aims to influence decision-makers with research and evidence to address health and wellbeing challenges facing today’s society. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to its research in health and social care, the IHCI draws on expertise from across York St John University, whilst working in close collaboration with partners and participants in the community. 

People with severe mental ill health (SMI) die on average 15-20 years earlier than those in the general population, with over 70% of deaths attributed to preventable physical health conditions. Being physically active can reduce the risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, whilst also improving mental wellbeing. People with SMI report engaging in lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of sedentary behaviour compared to the general population. They also experience barriers to taking part in physical activity, including cost, availability, lack of social support and low motivation.   

Matthew Faires, Research Fellow in the Institute for Health and Care Improvement at York St John University and Symposium lead described the importance of the research: 

“Physical activity can play a vital role in addressing the inequalities people with severe mental illness experience in terms of their physical health. Members of the PASMI group collaborate in research efforts to understand how best to design and implement physical activity interventions among this population across a variety of contexts.” 

Professor Garry Tew, co-lead of the PASMI group and Director of the Institute for Health and Care Improvement added:  

“The PASMI symposium provided a useful forum for group members to share their research projects and ideas. Most of the group’s meetings to date have been delivered online, so it was great to get together in-person.” 

The following research projects were presented at the PASMI symposium: 

  • IMPACT: Increasing Physical Activity in Medium Secure Services – The development and feasibility of a physical activity intervention  
    Professor Tammi Walker & Gloria Lui (Durham University) 
  • Investigating the potential of open water swimming for improving public mental health – a participatory research study
    Dr Fiona Duncan (Newcastle University) 
  • SPACES: Supporting Physical Activity through Coproduction in Severe Mental Illness
    Matthew Faires (York St John University)
  • “Just (Don’t) Do It”: Physical activity as an intervention on acute mental health inpatient environments 
    Dr Phillip Hodgson & Dr Michelle Glascott (Tees, Esk & Wear Valley NHS Trust, Cumbria, Newcastle, Tyne & Wear NHS Trust) 
  • Accelerometer measurement of physical activity among people with SMI – learnings from NIHR funded programmes?
    Dr Gareth Jones (Sheffield Hallam University)

The PASMI group will soon be launching webpages to highlight the focus, membership and activities of the group. The group continues to meet quarterly. For further information contact Professor Garry Tew. 

Find out more about the work of the Institute for Health and Care Improvement at York St John University. 

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