Program that supports mental health and fitness

by Nichole Edsall on July 15, 2021

Sydney Local Health District partnered with Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre to provide a program that supports customers living with mental illness.

The ‘Gym & Swim’ program is a community run exercise group situated at Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre, Marrickville. The program has been running since 2018 under the Living Well Living Longer Program and is currently available to Sydney Local Health District mental health consumers twice a week. It consists of 1 hour of Exercise Physiologist assisted resistance exercises, and 1 hour of Peer Support led aqua aerobics tailored to individual’s needs.

The program aims to provide a strength based approach to Sydney Local Health District consumers who are living with mental illness, giving them the tools to one day complete independently.

The ‘Gym & Swim’ program provides an environment for consumers to be supported by an Exercise Physiologist and Peer Support Worker by allowing them to develop the confidence to exercise in what can sometimes be a daunting environment.

One individual who has experienced the positive effects of the program is Paul La Cava. Paul has been attending for 18 months now, and has achieved some tremendous results. Since then, Paul achieved the highest MEP score (a unique measurement accounting for duration and intensity of exercise) over 6 weeks. Paul has found a new passion for the gym and reaped the rewards through regular attendance of the program.

“I love the class dynamic, catching up with the group & seeing the progression and benefits it has on everyone else”.

With ongoing education on the benefits of regular exercise, Paul went onto further discuss how the program has benefited him.

“The stronger I was getting, the more control I had on my mental health, reducing my anxiety and helping me move forward and recover from my illness”.

Over the past 18 months Paul has had a growing impact on the ‘Gym & Swim’ program. Being dubbed “The Godfather” by fellow consumers, his presence alone has increased attendances of both new and returning participants. Paul believes the exercise program provides both a physical and social aspect, looking at exercise as part of a greater holistic approach in long term recovery.

“The group is a great mood booster, with the combination of both the physical and social aspect”.

With exercise proven to have significant short and long term health benefits, groups like the ‘Gym & Swim’ program help demonstrate the need for further support to be implemented into community programs across Sydney.

Paul had all but positive things to note about the benefits of regular Exercise Physiologist and Peer Support Worker involvement.

“Sarah, the Exercise Physiologist, is very knowledgeable, decisive, and able to adapt to various individuals and their current needs.”

The Gym & Swim program provides a means of allowing individuals living with mental illness to develop their wellbeing through the improvement of not only their cardio-metabolic health, but social interactions.  

“The Gym & Swim program is the whole package of making me feel complete, improving my confidence & communication skills”.

With the changes Paul has made, he now hopes he can spread the good news of ‘Gym & Swim’ onto others who have access to the mental health service in Sydney Local Health District and want to improve their skills and overall wellbeing. Paul is hopeful that one day with these new found skills; he is able to return the favour and work alongside the team to assist others entering the program.

Click here for more information on Sydney Local Health District.

Click here for more information on Annette Kelleman Aquatic Centre.


Pictured: Alex Burjan, Exercise Physiologist from Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre with program participant Paul La Cava.