Dan Parton (6/8/12) wants to see improved mental health become one of the Game's key legacies: 

Conveniently timed for the Olympics, Scottish research has found – once again – that physical exercise can often improve mental health. The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)’s ‘Get Active’ project, which aims to help people with mental health issues by encouraging them to take part in physical activities such as football, tennis, walking and gardening, has had an impressive success rate, with 91% of participants reporting that they felt happier for taking part.

Additionally, 81% said they had increased confidence, 87% said they had learned new skills and 82% reported that the project had helped them to be more active in their daily lives. Pretty impressive figures. While these won’t be a revelation to many with an interest in mental health, it nonetheless adds to a lengthening list of research that outlines the benefits of exercise.

Indeed, so robust is the evidence that exercise can be prescribed by GPs. Many surgeries prescribe exercise as a treatment for a range of conditions, including depression. GPs refer service users to a local active health team for a fixed number of sessions under the supervision of a qualified trainer. Elsewhere, there are projects across the country, from gardening initiatives to cricket teams, which aim to help people with mental health problems get into physical activity.

So, with the Olympics currently under way, and the Great Britain team winning a raft of gold medals, hopefully this will help to inspire people with mental health problems to get involved in exercise.  Projects like ‘Get Active’ are ideal for people looking to get involved in exercise, and the results speak for themselves. 

But, of course, such projects face a perennial problem; financing. With budgets still being cut around the UK, this can be tricky, but commissioners and purse-string holders should consider the benefits, not just to participants – which is the most important thing – but also the local economy. If an exercise project can, even indirectly, help people to move out of services and, for example, back into work, then the cost of the project shrinks considerably.  With such an evidence base, can commissioners afford not to put in place such projects?