Study of physical activity improves mental health of women experiencing homelessness

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FILE PHOTO: Hilda Sierra-Marrero lives homeless in Lancaster.  She has been diagnosed with multiple mental disorders and finds it easier to live in her own

Keira McGuire / Transforming Health

FILE PHOTO: Hilda Sierra-Marrero lives homeless in Lancaster. She has been diagnosed with multiple mental disorders and finds it easier to live in her own “bubble”.

Air Date: August 19, 2022

When they think of homeless women, most don’t think about their physical health, but a new exploratory study by a Harrisburg University professor digs into that and finds that increased physical activity caused a significant reduction in the number of mentally unhealthy days that homeless participants experienced after the intervention.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, being active releases feel-good chemicals in your brain—boosting your self-esteem and helping you focus, as well as sleep well and feel better.

Tonya Miller, an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Harrisburg who conducted the study, worked with University of Harrisburg students and local shelters to educate homeless women about their physical activity and in turn change their mindset to achieve an overall sense of well-being.

“I think working with people to improve their mental and physical health plays a role in the motivation to look for and then find that next step and be able to focus on your life goals,” Miller said.

The ongoing study so far includes twenty-seven women who have participated in and completed the program. Participating women are 18 and older.

The test for the study is called Healthy Days, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows how many healthy days a person has had in the past month. As part of the study, participants take surveys, do two-minute walking tests and other physical activities.

Miller said she could tell the women who participated were excited, empowered and in a better mood because of the study.

She also said she will expand this study to include men to extend its scope of impact.

“I hope that they (the study participants) will feel empowered, that they will realize that they are already doing great things in their lives and that they can have control over what happens in their lives and how it can contribute to others things,” Miller said.

For more information about this program, email [email protected] or call 717-901-7969 ext. 1630


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