The Bristol Active Life Project: physical activity and sport for mental health

David Carless, Kitrina Douglas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In response to growing evidence of the therapeutic benefits of physical activity for people with serious mental illness (SMI), the Bristol Active Life Project (BALP) was developed to deliver specialised sport and physical activity provision to cater for the particular and challenging needs of people with SMI in the Bristol (UK) area.

Eight physical activity and sport groups were initially offered (football, badminton, tennis, table tennis, basketball, gym sessions, swimming, walking), but, over time, provision extended to over 30 different types of physical activity (including African dance, martial arts, Tai Chi and aerobics) delivered through dedicated and exclusive regular weekly sessions. Additional initiatives were offered alongside regular sessions to encourage participation, motivation and maintenance of long-term physical activity, including creation of tournaments and leagues, and the setting up of links with public sports clubs.

Regular sessions were delivered by a combination of mental health staff and qualified coaches. The opportunity was also provided for participants to themselves pursue coaching qualifications, with consequent benefits for personal development, employment and inclusion.
Positive benefits reported by participants were grouped into five categories:

A sense of meaning in one’s life through providing something to do.

Relational experiences through being with and for others.

Achievement through improving personal skills.

Feelings of well-being and perceptions of positive health.

A sense of discovery or adventure through going somewhere and doing something.

The success of BALP was judged to be a result of such factors as:

The range and variety of available sessions, to suit the personal preferences and abilities of individual participants.

The flexibility and adaptability of BALP to meet individual participants’ circumstances and needs.

Dedicated, friendly, welcoming, accepting and mutually supporting group sessions where all participants shared and understood similar mental health problems.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSports-Based Health Interventions
Subtitle of host publicationCase Studies From Around the World
EditorsDavid Conrad, Alan White
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherSpringer-Verlag New York
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781461459965
ISBN (Print)9781461459958
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2016


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