Mental Health Gets Boost in London’s Olympic Legacy Planning

Olympic event for psychologists?

Posted Feb 20, 2012

On July 27th, the 2012 Summer Olympics will open in London, England. On March 16th, just over 4 months before and 5 miles from the Olympic opening event and stadium, over 200 mental health clinicians will be running or walking a prepared 5K course in Reagent's Park in central London. What is the link between these two events?

One of the hopes of the organizers of the London 2012 games is to leave behind a lasting legacy of greater sport participation and overall health. In short, the London Olympics are seen as a rare opportunity to change the sedentary culture in the United Kingdom.

There is also a much broader legacy program in action in United Kingdom. This is the British National Health Service (NHS) program to Improve Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) as part of a "no health without mental health" initiative to improve mental health and well-being for the British people. To achieve these ends, the British government allocated no less than £500 million to this program and the training of a cadre of new mental health service providers to be able to deliver cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) for individuals suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. CBT is a collaborative and focused, action-oriented therapy designed to help individuals undo patterns that maintain mental disorders. The overall goal of the IAPT program is to ensure that the British population will have access to IAPT services, with 3,600 new psychological therapy workers trained to deliver CBT and other interventions. 

The perfect marriage of the IAPT and Olympic Legacy initiatives is the March 16th training of IAPT clinicians in the powerful effects that exercise has on mental health. And this training would not be complete without a personalized exercise experience—hence the 200+ psychologists hoofing their way around Reagent Park. And they will be learning while they run, reading signs along the course that discuss exercise benefits and motivational strategies. For example:

  • Regular exercise is linked to less depression, anxiety, hostility, and stress, and greater well-being.
  • Exercise interventions have been shown to be efficacious for even treatment-resistant depression.
  • Exercise is also a way to improve memory and attention...and for children, a pathway to better grades in school.
  • You don't need grueling workouts: Moderate exercise (where you can talk comfortably while exercising) is enough for mood benefits.
  • Start slow, and work up to more energetic workouts. Treatment trials often started with just 10 minutes of walking for sedentary individuals.
  • 40 minutes of moderate exercise, 4 times a week, is a great goal.
  • Rather than relying on self-control effort to exercise, use your environment to change your motivation. Combine your motivations: Exercise + Music + Friend = a fun exercise time.
  • Deciding not to exercise when in a bad mood is like deciding not to take an aspirin when you have a headache.

My hope is that this extraordinary British health initiative will be echoed in the United States, at least to some degree.  All of us could use the mood improving and well-being effects of regular exercise as well as the benefits of greater access to CBT.

Copyright Michael Otto

Drs. Michael Otto and Jasper Smits are authors of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well Being.