As the evidence piles up, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the mental health – exercise connection. A growing amount of research indicates that engaging in regular exercise can have a positive impact on mood, self esteem, productivity, concentration and management of anxiety and depression symptoms. Research is also starting to demonstrate that creativity, self and emotional awareness and other positive outcomes can heighten during movement. It is therefore not surprising to see psychologists, psychiatrists, exercise physiologists and other allied health practitioners embracing exercise as part of a treatment plan for those with mental disorders, as well as using it as a preventative measure for the general population.

Research also shows there is a direct link between mental health and spending time outdoors. So, what about integrating psychological therapy with exercise and nature? Incorporating exercise and the outdoors into clinical and/or performance psychology work can be highly effective whilst still upholding ethical boundaries such as confidentiality. It is not so much about getting in an extra workout, or running for miles alongside your therapist. But it is about drawing on the healing power of nature and the outdoors, removing the restrictions of an office and getting up off the couch to actualise health and exercise resolutions and draw on a greater perspective.

By promoting deeper ways of thinking and processing feelings, fresh air and exercise can make a world of difference to someone’s experience of psychological therapy, and the session is set by the you – it can be meditative and relaxing, or fast paced and action focused. By enhancing mindfulness, fostering holistic wellness and encouraging awareness, all whilst moving forward, a combination of exercise and therapy aims to translate awareness into action. Experiencing therapy with a registered and qualified psychologist in fresh air and embracing movement is a double dose of biological and psychological behaviours promoting optimal mental and physical health.

For the athlete or performer, combining exercise and therapy can be a highly motivating and constructive method for goal setting, exploring emotion regulation and performance anxiety, and discovering techniques for enhancing focus and performing under pressure. For children and adolescents, a combination of exercise and psychological therapy can be useful for encouraging healthy lifestyle behaviours and exploring tools for managing stress and anxiety. For the general population, an integration of exercise and therapy can be highly effective for those suffering from anxiety, depression, phobias and panic disorders, trauma related disorders and chronic pain, as well as behaviour interventions for health challenges, such as diabetes and obesity.

Alice Williams is a Registered Psychologist at Open Air Psychology, integrating therapy, exercise and the outdoors for health and performance. Located at Sydney East Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Double Bay. Ph 02 8313 9217 to book your session, Medicare and Private Health Fund rebates available.