Study examines fitness program for mentally ill

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LEBANON, N.H. (AP) — More research is confirming the benefits of a New Hampshire program that promotes physical fitness among people with serious mental illness.

The In SHAPE program was started at Monadnock Family Services in 2003, and the state later won a federal grant to expand it to community health centers across the state. The acronym in In SHAPE stands for "Self Help Action Plan for Empowerment," and participants get a 12-month gym membership and weekly meetings with trained health coaches who help them develop plans that include exercise and nutrition counseling.

A study published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry says the program produced more fit participants and significant weight loss than a control group in which participants only got gym memberships. Researchers succeeded in replicating or exceeding results of an earlier study, this time including community mental health providers in the greater Boston area.

"Upwards of 80 percent of people with serious mental illness are overweight or obese, and rates of obesity among people with serious mental illness are nearly double the rate within the general population, which represents an alarming public health concern," said the study's author, Dr. Stephen Bartels of the Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging.

He said one of the main surprises of the study was the finding that participants maintained clinically significant reductions in cardiovascular risk six months after the program ended. The study's sample size was not large enough, however, to determine whether there were differences in weight loss between different psychiatric diagnoses or between different racial or ethnic groups.

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