Embedding physical activity into community-based peer support groups for those severely affected by mental illness

Laura C. Healy*, Adam Benkwitz, Zoe McVinnie, Mustafa Sarkar, Mel Islin, Andy Brinded, B. Dodge, Sofija Opacic, Zoe Swithenbank, Shanika Ranasinghe, Jennie Oliver, Maria Karanika-Murray, Mary E. Nevill

*Corresponding author for this work

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Despite a growing evidence base on the effectiveness of community-based physical activity interventions for mental health, there is a lack of studies that focus on those affected by severe mental illness (SMI), who often experience poorer physical health, and are less physically active than the wider population. The use of peer support groups in this context is also understudied, despite benefits being documented in other contexts. This study examined the impact and process of a nationwide project to embed physical activity into peer support groups for those affected by SMI. Following the embedding of physical activity within peer support groups, interviews and focus groups were conducted to explore the experiences of those involved with the project and analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. The key findings related to: 1) the social aspects of embedding physical activity in the groups; 2) the focus on peer support and informal physical activity (rather than organised sport) being beneficial; 3) doing things differently and lessons to learn; and 4) the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, we found that peer support is an important feature to include in projects encouraging those severely affected by mental illness to become more physically active.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2291
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number3
Early online date27 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • community
  • mental health
  • peer support
  • physical activity
  • severe mental illness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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