For persons with a persistent, severe mental illness, staying physically healthy and fit is a special challenge – and yet regular exercise and proper diet can be key elements in recovering from a major mental or emotional illness. InSHAPE is MFS’s special program that brings the benefits of exercise and a healthful way of living to individuals facing these concerns. We created this approach more than 10 years ago and it has now been adopted across the U.S. and in other countries.
InSHAPE pairs a person with a severe mental illness, such as depression, with a personal health mentor who is also a certified personal fitness trainer.
Together, the mentor and participant tailor a unique personal health plan that the participant carries out with the mentor’s support. A participant’s plan may include walking, lifting weights, swimming, tai chi, dance, yoga, playing sports, or engaging in a variety of other physical activities at sharply reduced fees at our local YMCA, area dance studios, and other facilities. Each participant maintains an activity log, recording targeted risk factors and the activities completed. Health mentors guide, coach, and help to motivate participants as they set specific personal health and fitness goals, track progress, develop personal nutrition plans, and learn basic cooking, food shopping, and menu-planning skills.
Health mentors also help participants find smoking cessation programs, form relationships with medical professionals for regular and preventive care, and access other services that an individual may need.
InSHAPE participants meet at regularly scheduled celebrations to share their achievements, swap tips and success stories, and support each other in their efforts to make health improvements.
InSHAPE’s ability to improve the physical and mental health of persons with a mental illness has been studied by the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center, the National Institute for Mental Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program is being adopted by mental health agencies across New England as well as in Michigan, Texas, and other states.