This year World Physiotherapy Day – Saturday 8 September – focuses on the role physiotherapists play in supporting people with a range of mental health conditions.

Worldwide, one in four people will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives; one in six will have experienced a mental health condition in the past week alone.

That physical activity is good for us is well known – it supports a healthy cardiovascular system, strengthens joints and bones and keeps weight in check. The relationship between physical activity and improved mental health outcomes in those suffering mental health conditions, however, is less well known.

Depression and anxiety often co-exist with chronic health conditions such as osteoarthritis, stroke and diabetes. Left unchecked, people with severe mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder) can die up to 15 years earlier than those without severe mental illness, often as a result of co-existing cardiovascular illnesses related to sedentary behaviours[1].

APA National President Phil Calvert said the evidence supporting regular exercise as a treatment option for mental illness is compelling.

“For those Australians who struggle with mental illness, maintaining regular, prescribed physical activity can be the difference between merely functioning and enjoying a better quality of life.”

“Motivation to exercise is often lacking due to a combination of poor understanding of the benefits of exercise and the difficulties associated with the mental health condition itself. Physios are well placed to support these people as they can put together a tailored exercise plan based on the individual’s ability and interests, and keep them motivated by mixing it up as the individual progresses.”

Physical activity has a well-established antidepressant effect in people with mild to moderate depression. Health outcomes have been shown to be best when exercise is prescribed by a qualified health professional such as a physiotherapist, as they have a strong understanding of the physical, psychological and social factors affecting health and can adjust exercise programs to suit the individual’s needs.

In the lead up to World Physiotherapy Day, the APA encourages all Australians to view physical activity as a way of life, and value the positive difference it makes to our physical and mental health and wellbeing.


[1] Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaum, S., Schuch, F., Ward, P.B., Richards, J., Mugisha, J., Probst, M., Stubbs, B. (2017). ‘Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Severe Mental Illness: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.’ Sports Med, 47(2). 343–352.