More than ever, the role of exercise in managing mental and physical conditions is crucial, explains exercise physiologist Katie Stewart.


Health care is in the middle of a perfect storm. We are trying to manage skyrocketing frontline GP and mental health-related service demands, the clogging of EDs with non-urgent presentations, and long waiting lists for specialist service providers.

Exercise physiologist Katie Stewart

And, most worryingly, we are seeing rising levels of chronic disease rates.

In the eye of this perfect storm lies an opportunity to escape the pending fallout. 

WA, in particular with its collective health data access and its Future Health WA initiative (FHWA), has an opportunity to explore new models of care that consider the whole health of West Australians, while embracing ways to prevent and dilute the untenable load of single service management on both the service provider and consumer. 

Value-based health care is one such opportunity. It is a framework for restructuring health care systems with the overarching goal of value for clients and efficiencies in service delivery. Value is defined as measured health outcomes per unit of costs.

It incentivises health care providers to focus on the quality of the services rendered as opposed to the quantity. It engages GPs, allied health care and specialists to work together in what’s called integrative practice units. These practice units only call on team care providers to treat as required to achieve the best possible collective health outcomes.

Consider the real possibilities of being able to introduce prevention, early intervention and collective mental and physical health outcomes into this revised formula of care at no extra cost. This is the tangible utopia that exists with the application of one of primary health care’s most cost-effective treatment modalities – exercise medicine. 

Exercise medicine has been clinically proven to be effective in the treatment of varied chronic conditions ranging from anxiety and depression through to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

Currently, exercise medicine which can be prescribed and delivered by qualified exercise physiologists and some specialist physiotherapists, can only be accessed with Medicare rebates via a chronic disease management plan. Private health rebates are available for approved members and coverage varies from one insurer to another. 

The real value of exercise medicine in the face of the current healthcare service realities is its efficiencies as an auxiliary treatment. It’s been clinically proven to reduce the symptoms and side effects of varied concurrent mental and physical conditions.

A well-prescribed exercise medicine plan can help resolve the varied symptoms of combined chronic conditions at the same time, saving money, time and travel costs. 

Many physical chronic conditions come with secondary mental health conditions and vice-versa. One in four Australians have two or more chronic conditions that they have to manage at the same time. The problem is that too often these conditions are handled separately, leaving the person with exacerbated symptoms and unnecessary secondary and tertiary disease. 

Exercise, when prescribed well, can be used as a highly effective auxiliary treatment for many chronic conditions. It supports the clients by reducing symptoms and side effects as they navigate their specialist and GP treatment plans.

A health care system that is value-based and built on a foundational framework of exercise medicine has the potential to improve health outcomes, quality of life, increase service efficiencies and value while mitigating potential disease progression.

More information about exercise physiologists and service providers in different areas can be found at www.essa.org.au and the Exercise Medicine Research Institute at Edith Cowan University www.exercisemedicine.org.au is a good resource. 

ED: Katie Stewart is an accredited exercise physiologist and managing director of exercise medicine company Chronic Care Australia.