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Perspect Psychiatr Care. 2018 Apr;54(2):266-273. doi: 10.1111/ppc.12233. Epub 2017 Aug 1.

Increasing physical activity for veterans in the Mental Health Intensive Case Management Program: A community-based intervention.

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College of Nursing, Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina, USA.
Mental Health Services, Ralph H Johnson VA Medical Center, South Carolina, USA.



Individuals with severe mental illness (SMI), experience increased mortality-20 years greater disparity for men and 15 years greater disparity for women-compared to the general population (Thornicroft G. Physical health disparities and mental illness: The scandal of premature mortality. Br J Psychiatr. 2011;199:441-442). Numerous factors contribute to premature mortality in persons with SMI, including suicide and accidental death (Richardson RC, Faulkner G, McDevitt J, Skrinar GS, Hutchinson D, Piette JD. Integrating physical activity into mental health services for persons with serious mental illness. Psychiatr Serv. 2005;56(3):324-331; Thornicroft G. Physical health disparities and mental illness: The scandal of premature mortality. Br J Psychiatr. 2011;199:441-442), but research has shown that adverse health behaviors-including smoking, low rate of physical activity, poor diet, and high alcohol consumption-also significantly contribute to premature deaths (Jones J. Life expectancy in mental illness. Psychiatry Services. 2010. Retrieved from This quality improvement (QI) project sought to improve health and wellness for veterans in the Mental Health Intensive Case Management Program (MHICM), which is a community-based intensive program for veterans with SMI at risk for decompensation and frequent hospitalizations. At the time of this QI project, the program had 69 veterans who were assessed and treated weekly in their homes. The project introduced a pedometer steps intervention adapted from the VA MOVE! Program-a physical activity and weight management program-with the addition of personalized assistance from trained mental health professionals in the veteran's home environment. Because a large percentage of the veterans in the MHICM program had high blood pressure and increased weight, these outcomes were the focus of this project. Through mental health case management involvement and the comfort of their familiar living environment, veterans were assisted to meet their physical and mental health goals with a program that could easily be integrated into their daily lives.


Healthy People 2020 developed goals to improve levels of physical activity and has ranked physical activity as a leading health indicator (US DHHS. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical activity topic overview. In Healthy People 2020. 2016. Retrieved from Individuals with SMI are significantly less active than the general population (Shor and Shalev, 2014). It is sometimes difficult for the average individual to obtain the recommended 10,000 steps and even more difficult for those with SMI. Lifestyle modifications, in particular diet and exercise, are recommended for improvement of chronic disease outcomes (US Preventive Services Counseling Task Force, 2016). The health benefits of physical activity for people with SMI are mixed (Pearsall R, Smith D, Pelosi A, Geddes J. Exercise therapy in adults with serious mental illness: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatr. 2014;14:117). Some studies found significant physical health benefits, while others did not. However, according to a review by Soundy et al., physical exercise is shown to not only have physical benefits but also psychosocial benefits. One of the barriers that hinder participation in physical activities is accessibility (Shor and Shalev, 2014). Integrating a more personalized supported, and in-home pedometer program into mental healthcare should ensure better access to interventions that could possibly reverse the causes of premature death.


The program was offered to 69 veterans in the MHICM. Forty-nine agreed to start the program and 20 declined. Twenty-five clients actually started the program with 17 veterans completing it. Preimplementation data included collecting blood pressure and weight measures for all veterans in the MHICM program. Additionally, a focus group was held with case managers to obtain a group perspective on motivating veterans to participate in this program. Further, a teaching session was held to review pedometers use, the client video, the client booklet, methods for getting veterans started, and the progression of the walking intervention. The pedometer physical activity intervention continued for 2 months. At the end of the 2 months, aggregate de-identified data on number of steps, blood pressure, and weight were collected. At the end of the program, the data were reviewed, synthesized, and analyzed, being careful to account for potentially intervening conditions and other chronic illnesses.


The postimplementation data revealed that the mean weight decreased by 9 lbs. The percentage of controlled blood pressure increased from 60 to 84, while the percentage of uncontrolled blood pressure decreased from 40 to 16.


Implementation of a multiple component personalized exercise intervention program for veterans with SMI contributed to reduction in weight and blood pressure.

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