Promoting physical activity among individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and related disorders: testing a skills-based curiculum
Coleman, Lynn Lemcke
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Individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population. This early mortality rate is attributed to negative symptoms that make healthy behaviors, such as exercise, difficult, as well as to antipsychotic medications that carry significant physical side effects. Exercise has been shown to improve life expectancy and studies have shown that even chronically mentally ill individuals are capable of participating in physical exercise with support. Mental skills such as goal setting, visualization, self-talk, and energy management have been taught to the general population to improve exercise behavior. These skills have also been taught successfully to individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses for the purpose of symptom management. This, however, is the first study to examine the effects of teaching these mental skills to people diagnosed with serious mental illnesses for the purpose of promoting exercise. This dissertation examines a six-week skills-based curriculum highlighting the benefits of exercise as well as teaching a set of mental skills described above. Ten individuals participated, most were in their early twenties and all carried a diagnosis of schizophrenia or a related disorder. Participants were assessed at baseline, immediately following the intervention, six weeks after the intervention, and 12 weeks after the intervention. Measures included the Rapid Assessment of Physical Activity (RAPA), a semi-structured interview inquiring about the different mental skills and a quality of life questionnaire. Participants also completed helping alliance and consumer satisfaction surveys at the end of the intervention. A 73% attendance rate was noted and statistically significant differences were seen in physical activity and mental skills knowledge between baseline and immediately following the intervention and between baseline and 6 weeks post-intervention. No quality of life change was indicated. These results indicate that the intervention was acceptable to the population as evidenced by an adequate attendance rate and that further research is warranted due to the statistically significant improvements in two outcome areas. These findings indicate that a skills-based curriculum teaching motivational skills to individuals diagnosed with serious mental illnesses is an intervention worth exploring further with larger and more diverse samples.