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Sprint Interval Training for Adolescents with Serious Mental Illness

Sydney Local Health District
Project Added:
29 February 2016
Last updated:
8 April 2016

Sprint Interval Training for Adolescents with Serious Mental Illness


A 10-week sprint interval training exercise program was implemented at Concord Centre for Mental Health (CCMH), to provide adolescent inpatients in the Walker Unit with a structured form of physical activity.

View a poster of this project.

Project poster


To improve the psychological symptoms and health indicators of adolescent inpatients at the CCMH .


  • Improves the physical and psychological wellbeing of young people with serious mental illness.
  • Reduces the risk of obesity-related conditions, such as such as high blood pressure, Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Improves clinical practice by addressing the physical needs of inpatients, alongside psychological treatments.


In people with serious mental illness, side-effects from medication such as antipsychotics and antidepressants can include severe weight gain. Prior to the projects, sedentary behaviour was observed in inpatients at CCMH , which can increase the risk of obesity-related conditions, such as high blood pressure, Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The combination of a sedentary lifestyle and weight gain increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of obesity-related health issues. While mental health facilities do not regularly incorporate structured exercise programs as treatment options, research suggests that it can benefit the patient and improve overall wellbeing. As a result, a study was undertaken to measure these benefits on sedentary inpatients at CCMH .


  • Psychiatric patients in the Walker Unit at CCMH were selected to participate in this project. They were aged 12-18 and each had an identified serious mental illness with a history of unsuccessful exposure to hospital treatments.
  • Consent to participate in the project was provided by patients, parents and carers, clinical psychologists and medical staff.
  • Each participant completed a 10-week sprint interval training program of one session, three times a week.
  • The exercise program comprised a high-intensity interval training approach using a cycle ergometer.
  • A two-week baseline period was completed, followed by an eight week sprint interval training intervention.

Project status

Implementation - the initiative is ready for implementation or is currently being implemented, piloted or tested.

Project dates

August 2015 – December 2015

Implementation site

The Walker Unit, Concord Centre for Mental Health, SLHD


  • University of Sydney


  • Multiple, repeated measures were taken at baseline, mid-way and post-intervention time points. These measurements included:
    • Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS)
    • WHO-5 Well-Being Index
    • psychological incident type
    • psychological diagnosis
    • body mass index (BMI)
    • waist to hip ratio
    • percentage body fat
    • resting heart rate
    • resting blood pressure
    • bloods
    • maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max).
  • Preliminary results indicated positive short-term changes to health and wellbeing measurements, including weight and VO2 max.
  • A full evaluation of post-intervention results has taken place and is awaiting publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Lessons learnt

It was imperative to find a solution that was time, cost and resource efficient.

Further reading

  • McCloughen A, Foster K, Huws-Thomas M et al. Physical health and wellbeing of emerging and young adults with mental illness: an integrative review of international literature. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 2012; 21(3): 274-288.
  • Nabkasorn C, Miyai N, Sootmongkol A et al. Effects of physical exercise on depression, neuroendocrine stress hormones and physiological fitness in adolescent females with depressive symptoms. European Journal of Public Health 2005; 16(2): 179-184.
  • Stanton S, Rosenbaum S, Kalucy M et al. A call to action: exercise as treatment for patients with mental illness. Australian Journal of Primary Health 2015; 21(2): 120-125.


Caitlin Taylor
Postgraduate Fellow
The University of Sydney
Phone: 0416 333 117

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