2 December 2020

‘Exercise is like a wellbeing elixir’: Dr Adam Deacon on physical activity for mental health

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‘Exercise is like a wellbeing elixir’: Dr Adam Deacon on physical activity for mental health
‘Exercise is like a wellbeing elixir’: Dr Adam Deacon on physical activity for mental health
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Psychiatrist Dr Adam Deacon has extensive experience in sports, forensic and child and adolescent psychiatry. He currently works as a sports psychiatrist for Collingwood Football Club while also helping children and adolescents manage complex issues, including when it relates to criminal and civil forensics. Adam’s broad career has provided him with a wealth of experience and different perspectives, ultimately enriching his practise for all of his patients.

We were fortunate to welcome Adam as a contributor to our Invitation to Wellbeing series, where he explained to us the importance of exercise for our individual health and wellbeing.

We spoke to him following the Invitation to Wellbeing to find out more about his journey and advice for maintaining our wellbeing through physical activity.

What inspired you to dedicate your career to helping others to improve their wellbeing?
Throughout my childhood I aspired to be a vet, but I decided I’d likely struggle to practice euthanasia. I decided to pursue a medical career knowing it offered many opportunities. I didn’t anticipate becoming a psychiatrist, but I’ve always been fascinated by human behaviour.

I don’t know if it was a trigger, but I had a friend in primary school who lived in very difficult circumstances. I learned pretty quickly that he lived a different life to me and he often seemed to be mentally struggling. I tried to help by being his friend, but as a kid I didn’t know what to do. Mental health wasn’t something that was discussed and understood as it has been over the last decade.

I’ve particularly focussed my psychiatry career in the youth forensic sphere where I interface with some of the most disadvantaged and neglected children in the state who have committed crimes. They have almost universally been given a tough start in life. I’d like to hope I can help them improve their mental health and develop their opportunities to thrive.

I’ve also worked as a Sport Psychiatrist helping athletes manage their mental health. I’ve always loved sport. I think athletes should similarly be supported so they can mentally thrive; rather than succumb to some of the unreasonable expectations and pressures they face.

Why is exercise important to a person’s wellbeing?
Exercise is like a wellbeing elixir. It improves our physical health and reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia. It also boosts the immune system to protect from lesser ailments. There are enormous mental health benefits, including improved sleep quality, improved mood, reduced stress and anxiety, increased concentration, memory and productivity and enhanced socialisation and associated decreased sense of loneliness and isolation. And, most importantly, exercise and sport is fun.

What would you say to someone who is struggling to find the motivation to exercise?
Struggling to find motivation is common. We don’t always enthusiastically jump out of bed to run in the dark on a cold winter’s morning. I find the best way to maintain a regular exercise routine is to remind myself of how much better I feel afterwards, compared to how I feel if I don’t – but that’s not always enough. Making a commitment with a friend is an excellent safeguard to get you out the door, because we tend to not like letting a mate down. Lock in a time and location, and feel the extra benefits of sharing the experience with a friend.

‘Running alone is my time to practice mindfulness – escaping to a forest and running aimlessly is cathartic.’

What are some of the self-care activities that you recommend the most?
Sleep is probably the most undervalued activity to foster mental wellbeing. Whilst it is often difficult to prioritise sleep, if you can get a good block of sleep at least six or seven days each week, it will help you to restore your batteries.

I of course also recommend exercise. I try to exercise around six days a week and I like to link up with friends as much as I can so we can socialise, debrief and talk nonsense. Running alone is my time to practice mindfulness – escaping to a forest and running aimlessly is cathartic.

What was something you got out of participating in the Invitation to Wellbeing?
I enjoyed collaborating with the Head of Sport and Activities, Paul Jepson, especially because our values regarding youth sport and mental wellbeing align. It was a fun exercise chatting about stuff we think is important and I hope the audience were able to take something from the sessions.

What is the main message you hope to leave with the Carey community?
Let kids be kids – there’s plenty of time to get serious in life. I think we need to be mindful that we are increasingly being drawn into unnecessarily competitive environments where our kids’ mental health could be compromised. We shouldn’t feel the need to respond to the urge to get ahead of the pack. Be patient and help our kids find their path in life.

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