How can we increase physical activity in people with depression and long-term physical health conditions?

Close-up of a man walking along a pavement.

Isabel Adeyemi, one of our PhD students, blogs about how her PhD will help people who have both physical illnesses and depression to do more activity.

I have started recruiting for my PhD study – designing an intervention to reduce sedentary behaviours and increase physical activity in people with depression and long-term physical health conditions. Here is a plain English summary of my PhD to help you find out more.

Physical activity can include many things, including walking.

Physical activity can be many things, including walking.

Physical activity is any activity that requires you to expel energy, above the energy levels you use when resting. You might do physical activity whilst sitting down or standing up, for example doing wheelchair yoga, housework, walking to the shop or to work, or meeting with a friend.

Physical activity has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and improve people’s physical well being. However, current UK guidelines (the advice for GPs and other health professionals about which treatments are most helpful for patients) are unclear about how we can help people who have both physical illnesses and depression to do more activity. No intervention has yet been developed to meet the physical activity needs of this group of patients. My PhD will design an intervention to increase physical activity in people who have both depression and long-term physical health conditions such as diabetes or coronary heart disease. My PhD is in three parts or studies.

In the first part, I am interviewing people who have both a mental and a physical long-term condition to understand what their day to day physical activity behaviours are, what challenges them and what helps them to do physical activity. From this interview study, I am trying to establish what an intervention would need to address to increase physical activity levels. I want to explore how we can help overcome the challenges and how we can build on what already helps people.

In the second part, I am reviewing all of the research literature on physical activity interventions tested in people with depression and long-term physical health conditions. These interventions have all been developed outside of the UK. I am identifying what components of such interventions most successfully increase physical activity. Here, I am trying to establish what a “gold standard” intervention should look like according to previous research.

Physical activity is any activity that requires you to expel energy, above the energy levels you use when resting, including meeting friends.

Physical activity is any activity that requires you to expel energy above the energy levels you use when resting, including meeting friends.

In the final part of my PhD, I join the results of the two previous studies together. Specifically, I want to consider whether the components of interventions from previous research could address the problems that people told me about. In exploring the results together, I am creating a template for an intervention that I think could work based on the evidence I have. I will then pilot my intervention on a group of participants with depression and long-term physical health conditions. I will also get their feedback. This feedback will provide valuable information for refining the intervention in the future.

Recruitment for the first part of the PhD (the interview study) is underway. If you would like more information or would be interested to take part, please visit the study web page. If you have any questions, please email dailyactivitystudy@manchester.ac.uk or phone 0161 275 7664.

Get real-time updates on the daily activity study by liking the study on Facebook or following the study on Twitter.