Exercise Physiology in Mental Health: Interview with Dr Oscar Lederman

Dr Oscar Lederman is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at the Prince of Wales Hospital, a conjoint lecturer and academic at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. Oscar’s research and advocacy in the mental health field has been key in defining the role and scope of practice of exercise professionals in mental health.

The following is my interview with Oscar, which demonstrates the importance and value of exercise physiology for mental health treatment and prevention.

(A) What is an Exercise Physiologist?

(O.L) Exercise Physiologists (or EP’s) are university qualified health professionals who use exercise as medicine to improve treatment outcomes in people with a range of health conditions including; cardiovascular disease, cancer, musculoskeletal issues and mental illness.. just to name a few!

(A) Does exercise have the ability to minimise side effects of medication, social anxiety & isolation?
(O.L) There is now so much evidence supporting the beneficial effects of exercise on our mental health and well-being. The beneficial effects of exercise are thought to be due to a combination of neurobiological and psychosocial factors. It is clear that the social benefits of exercise can help manage social anxiety when well-supported. Plus, engaging in group-based exercise provides an opportunity to engage in meaningful social activities, hence reducing social isolation. Exercise has also been found to increase our alertness, improve memory, concentration, fatigue level and sleep quality.

(A) How do you view the relationship between the mind and body?
(O.L) It’s pretty clear that the relationship between our physical health and mental health is bidirectional. For instance, people with physical health conditions and chronic disease have significantly higher prevalence of mental illness. Similarly, people with a mental illness, in particular depression, psychosis and bipolar disorder are much more likely have diabetics, cardiovascular disease and chronic pain. Healthy lifestyles including nutrition, sleep and physical activity have been shown to improve our mental and physical health simultaneously providing further evidence. This is why addressing physical health and lifestyle should be considered a core component of mental health treatment.

(A) What if an individual suffers from chronic pain or illness. Does exercise mean you need to be doing strenuous cardio or weights to get positive results?
(O.L) It is important to recognise that physical activity and exercise are two separate things. Exercise is a structured more formal subset of physical activity which may be associated with going to the gym going for a run or playing a game of sport. Physical activity could be anything that is making your body move! For instance yoga, walking to the shops, walking to the bus stop, or taking the stairs. Physical activity is equally as important as exercise and should be encouraged in people who live Sedentary lifestyle’s.

(A) Can you tell us a bit about pain and what pain is communicating?
(O.L) Pain is the bodies way of telling us something isn’t quite right. When pain persists for longer then it should, it may mean that the pain pathways from our brain to the painful part of our bodies are hypersensitive/ overactive. As a result we may become guarded, reduce our activity levels and be more stressed/ sad! Moving is in-fact the best way to improve our function and may result in reduced pain. Be conservative with how you start. Don’t go straight into the strenuous stuff. Walking and light strength exercises/ dynamic or active stretching may be the best place to start then slowly progress. If you’re requiring more support find an accredited exercise physiologist at ESSA.com.au

(A) Can individuals with an ongoing mental health condition, such as depression, receive medicare rebates for exercise physiology?
(O.L) Yes, they can receive Medicare rebates for up to five sessions per year with an Exercise Physiologist under the Chronic Disease Management Plan. Private psychologists/psychiatrists are also able to refer to accredited exercise physiologists, which most private health funds recognise.

Thank you Dr Oscar Lederman!

Alexandra Lederman