Exercise program to support refugee and asylum seeker mental and physical health

April 19, 2023
Keeping the Body in Mind Mental Health

26 February 2022

People from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds will be able to access an inclusive exercise facility tailored to their needs, following the launch today of the Addi Moves program in Sydney’s inner west.

Addi Moves programs, at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville, will be co-facilitated by exercise physiologists and people from similar backgrounds as their clients, to ensure cultural as well as physical safety. The program is modelled on the Keeping the Body in Mind Program which promotes accessible exercise for a different group of people – those who experience mental ill health. Addi Moves is proudly supported by Mindgardens Neuroscience Network, NSW Health and UNSW Sydney.

Addi Moves programs will be free of charge and respond to a wide range of experiences and needs, including training and classes for those who have been in Australia for many years as well as more recent arrivals, and for people with vastly different levels of previous exercise experience.

People who have experienced the trauma of conflict, oppression or displacement may experience barriers to participating in exercise, said Associate Professor Jackie Curtis, the Executive Director of Mindgardens Neuroscience Network.

Some people who arrive in Australia as refugees or seeking asylum have had their physical freedom constrained for many years, and they may need support to participate in exercise that can be immensely beneficial to mental as well as physical health, A/Prof Curtis said. Some groups, including women, may have particular needs. The aim is to assist people to incorporate exercise sustainably into their daily lives.

A/Prof Curtis developed the Keeping the Body in Mind program for people living with severe mental health conditions including schizophrenia, which can impact on physical health through lifestyle factors such as smoking and poorer diet and through side-effects of mental health medications.

Founded at The Bondi Centre in the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, the Keeping the Body in Mind Program comprises exercise and lifestyle education components, and has proven highly effective in supporting clients to maintain good physical health. It has also demonstrated positive psychological effects, said A/Prof Curtis.

She said the Addi Moves program would extend existing knowledge about the value of exercise interventions and provide a blueprint for implementing exercise programs for people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.

Scientia Associate Professor Simon Rosenbaum, from the Discipline of Psychiatry & Mental Health & School of Health Sciences at UNSW, said, The Addi Moves program will allow us to extend our world-leading research in exercise and mental health, improving our understanding of how we can better support communities exposed to trauma.

Included Image Shows Mostafa Azimitabar (Moz), Who Has Painted A Mural To Celebrate The Opening Of The Addi Moves Gym For People Of Refugee And Asylum Seeker Background. Moz, A Kurdish-Iranian Refugee, Was Released Into The Community In 2021 After Eight Years Of Detention.