Sydney tennis coach Cameron Wilson knew what he was doing well before launching Mood Active, an exercise program targeted to people who'd been diagnosed with a mood disorder. 'I'd discussed with clinicians at the Black Dog Institute the typical barriers to exercise for people struggling with depression or anxiety – medication side-effects, general physical inactivity, a lack of social engagement. There was need for a program structured to address these barriers and encourage people to use exercise to improve their mental health," says Cameron.
The benefits of exercise on mental health – generating endorphins, increasing neuro-transmitter activity, reducing cortisol (stress hormone) levels – are well understood. 'There's increasing acknowledgement among psychologists and GPs that exercise is hugely under-utilised as therapy for depression" says Cameron.
A 2014 Australian peer-reviewed research paper entitled 'A call to action: exercise as treatment for patients." Abstract: In addition to pharmacological and psychological interventions, exercise has demonstrated benefits for people with mental illness including symptom reduction, improved cardiovascular risk profile and improved physical capacity. Unfortunately, evidence shows that clinician-delivered exercise advice is not routinely offered. Clinicians should consider exercise referral schemes to increase the accessibility of interventions for people with a mental illness.
Cam is a freelance journalist and tennis coach who's battled bi-polar depression for most of his adult life. For decades he's used exercise as part of his mental health well-being strategy. 'In the times I've been battling depression myself, I can always rely on an exercise session to lift my mood and quell the anxiety."
Mood Active tracks improvements in participants' mood and physical fitness using research-proven assessment tools. 'We're now starting to present our results data at universities and we can provide credible input to the health-care network on exercise versus depression."
Among the current class options – cardio tennis, Pilates, yoga and circuit fitness – cardio tennis has proven especially popular and effective. 'A high-intensity workout that's play-based, incorporates skills challenges and lots of games and interaction, all to a music soundtrack, has turned out to be the perfect storm for what we do."
As a standout example of the program's impact, Jon, unemployed and battling depression when he joined, himself qualified as a Tennis Australia coach less than a year later. Today Jon runs Mood Active cardio tennis classes alongside Cameron and is back to full-time work.
Thanks to ongoing support from Eastcourts Tennis at Kingsford and the Clovelly Community branch of Bendigo Bank, Mood Active is continuing to expand. Among the program's current participants are people who've been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bi-polar, post-natal depression and PTSD.
Mood Active is a non-profit association and registered charity. www.moodactive.com.au
Question: What is Mood Active?
Cameron Wilson: A non-profit community exercise program targeted to people suffering depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
Question: What are examples of mood disorders?
Cameron Wilson: Depression, anxiety, bi-polar and post-natal depressions.
Question: How did your own battle with bi-polar depression inspire Mood Active?
Cameron Wilson: Exercise has always been part of my mental health "self-care" routine, and on some occasions, it's saved my life. I understand on a personal level the challenges people battling depression face - medication side-effects, low self-esteem & self-confidence, social disengagement. Mood Active is enabling others to build it into their own recovery strategy!
Question: How does exercise help people diagnosed with a mood disorder?
Cameron Wilson: Increases neurotransmitter activity (endorphins, serotonin)
reduces cortisol (stress hormone)
improves sleep & energy levels
distracts from worries & rumination
improves self-esteem & social engagement
Question: How did you experience this, yourself?
Cameron Wilson: My sports are tennis, squash, touch footy, body-surfing - plus yoga & gym for general fitness. Every exercise session I've ever done produces these physiological effects, brings down my stress levels, quite often leaves me feeling blissful!
Question: Can you tell us about the exercise program you've created?
Cameron Wilson: Group classes; so far we've run cardio tennis, yoga, Pilates & circuit fitness. More options to come since they all work!!
Question: What is cardio-tennis?
Cameron Wilson: Group class on a tennis court done to a music soundtrack; racquets & balls, but it's an exercise session, not tennis coaching.
Question: How can Australians support Mood Active?
Cameron Wilson: If you or a family member has battled depression or anxiety, help us help others get back on their feet using exercise - go to http://moodactive.com.au/donate, $10 (tax deductible) fully funds one person's place in a Mood Active exercise class.
Question: What is your goal for Mood Active?
Cameron Wilson: Our vision is to see all Australians using exercise for better mental health. Our mission is to run exercise programs that empower people to better manage their mental health...and to get more GPs & psychologists prescribing exercise as a treatment for mood disorders.
Question: What's next for Mood Active?
Cameron Wilson: Expanding the program, with all-new group classes for inner-city Sydney, starting early 2017.
Interview by Brooke Hunter