Walking back to happiness

07 Oct 2009 11:22:00.000

PA 261/09

A unique exercise programme which has been proven to help women living with depression has been unveiled by researchers from The University of Nottingham.

The programme is a result of a two year-long study in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy. Its mission has been to help women who are living with depression, characterised by low levels of physical activity, increasing health and weight problems, low self-esteem and a lack of motivation.

Previous research by the team had found that standard GP-prescribed exercise, usually gym sessions, don’t work well for this group as they find them discouraging and lonely, with many dropping out very early on. The team’s aim was to come up with a new type of exercise programme which would ensure that the women are supported and motivated for the duration of the treatment.

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Around 40 women with depression in the Nottingham area took part in the research. It involved a pragmatic randomised trial of a standard ‘exercise-as-usual’ programme compared with the new, individually tailored and supported plan.


The key to the new programme is ‘mentored’ exercise, which includes group motivational support and a low effort walking plan. The women volunteers attended sessions at their local authority leisure centre three times a week for four weeks. In each session the women received a half hour motivational coaching session conducted by a health psychologist, in a small friendly group, followed by an individually tailored exercise session on the treadmill in the gym, supervised by a sports therapist. The women exercised alongside each other, and additional emotional and social support was available to them for the duration of their session, though this was slowly decreased as confidence and the support from peers within the group increased.


Results of psychometric tests carried out on the women on the special programme proved they had experienced a significant improvement in their mood, physical health, sense of wellbeing, self-esteem and quality of life. In focus group sessions the women said they felt they had achieved these gains via a positive, comfortable and unintimidating experience which encouraged regular and continued attendance.


One volunteer said: “I feel more confident in my physical self and my emotional self. I do think it has helped with my mood.”


Women who received an ‘exercise as usual’ programme experienced no significant benefits, were less likely to continue attending, and were markedly less enthusiastic. Lead researcher on the team, Professor Patrick Callaghan said: “Exercise tailored to preferred exertion levels, combined with support from others is a prescription designed to improve depressed women’s overall health and well being.”



The women who participated in this study are those commonly seen in GP surgeries up and down the country. The researchers intend to make GPs and PCTs aware of the benefits of adding this to the range of services they make available to women living with depression through a process of educational outreach meetings in the coming months.


The research was conducted by Professor Patrick Callaghan, Elizabeth Khalil and Ioannis Morres at the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy. It was funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing, and has been adopted by East Midlands hub of the Mental Health Research Network, part of the National Institute for Health Research.


— Ends —


Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.


More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.


The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.


Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

Story credits

More information is available from Elizabeth Khalil on +44 (0)115 823 0873, Elizabeth.khalil@nottingham.ac.uk


Emma Rayner - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.rayner@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 74 84413  Location: University Park

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