New Moves is a healthy lifestyle program designed by the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW. It aims to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of those with serious mental illness through education, physical activity and healthy eating. This is the first time Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) has run the program.
“One of the goals of the program is to equip participants with the skills to keep exercising on their own. I can modify exercises to make them easier or harder. Participants then build up enough confidence to exercise on their own, and they’ll have the skills to keep doing that for the rest of their lives,” Georgia said.
“Initially when people heard we were going to run a healthy lifestyles group I think they assumed it would be just physical exercise. It took a little while for the group to settle into the classroom environment and to feel comfortable with each other but now it is amazing and everyone contributes from their own experiences,” Karen said.
The cooking component allows participants to learn healthy recipes and participate in the making of healthy meals to improve their cooking skills.
“The first thing we do at the start of each week is to reflect on the past week. We usually ask people what were their strengths over the week, what were the opportunities to improve and what were the barriers to meeting their goals. The group will just start talking--and it is amazing what comes back in this discussion. Sharing personal experiences has been a key factor to learning in this group,” Karen explained.
Stephen’s goal for the week is to drink more water, at least a litre a day, and to cut down on his bread intake from four slices a day to two slices a day. He says the course has built up his self esteem through the goal setting and that he is now confident to set goals and achieve them.
“We set achievable goals every week—goals which are achievable, measurable and attainable,” Stephen said.
Nigel says he’s learned “a lot about sugar intake and trying to get it down, so I’m learning to not have as much and to really watch what I eat, my favourite meal so far has been the wholemeal pizza. It was beautiful. It went so quickly!”
Paul says he’s enjoyed discussions about “how you look after yourself, how you go about meal planning, how to manage nutrition and consumption and how to be wise about eating—just how important it is to make sure you eat fresh fruit and veggies, and I try to get as much exercise as I can these days.”
“We’ve learned that healthy eating will help you maintain a healthy weight and will stop you from having a heart attack and getting things like diabetes,” Stephen said.
People with serious mental illness have a much higher rate of physical illness and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. They are also much more likely to be overweight and likely to die 10 to 25 years earlier that those in the general population. But by learning about their risk factors participants are empowered to make changes in behaviour that can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing these diseases.
Karen and Mischa say they love facilitating the course. “We get to see them adopting the knowledge they learn in the group and making positive lifestyle changes. For us a lot of it is about seeing the group come together as a team and being supportive of each other. The thing about this group is that apart from having a serious mental illness they also live in boarding houses on their own and are often socially isolated. Here they get to come together and be part of a supportive community,” Karen said.
Stephen and Paul have no hesitation in recommending New Moves to others. “If anyone out there is thinking of doing the program, I can tell them it’s a really good thing to do. I’d recommend it", Stephen said.
The results are in!
At the half way mark there have some impressive changes. Everyone has seen an improvement in exercise capacity, most participants have lost weight and one participant has reduced his blood pressure back to a healthy range.
It will be interesting to see how the group go on their final fitness testing, but, whatever the results are, success has already been achieved! Stay tuned for an update.
Photos by Diana Shypula