depression and anxiety

Helping People Through Depression and Anxiety

One of the key concerns for many referrers and direct enquirers to our program is whether participants can make it through the 8-week commitment 3 times a week. This is perfectly acceptable, given that they are experiencing depression and anxiety, often commenting that they find it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

At Mood Active (MA) we have helped people through the program who have bipolar, MDD, post-natal depression, PTSD, GAD and Social Anxiety disorders. We have found that there is no difference between our program and the general population where attrition rates of 25–50% are reported in the literature on exercise interventions in general.

These rates are also better than retention rates for gyms – of which often participants and enquirers tell us they compare us to when making a choice to join.  A recent study of Sydney gym 5240 members showed that 63% drop out in the first 3 months.

What We Found – Depression and Anxiety Participants

The annual drop-out stats for MA range from 30-50% – and while that’s not bad – our aim is to reduce this to less than 25%. Our General Manager Tania Curley recently talked to participants and enquirers to find out more about what helps them make it through the program. She found a number of important factors that influenced participants.

The Length of the program in the majority of cases (80% interviewed) was not at all a key issue for individuals. In fact, they felt that they would rather do what was recommended to reduce symptoms rather than doing a shorter program that didn’t really work.  For referrers, this would suggest that the nature in which they refer individuals to a program is a key influence in an individuals decision to attend. Recent Studies have shown that a minimum of 4 to 12 weeks exercise can help depression and anxiety sufferers. At MA we work with 8-week programs since it’s also aligned with the latest neuroscience research around brain rewiring (new neural pathways) which takes at least 6 weeks to retrain the brain.

One participant, a young male uni student who made it through the program when interviewed said:

I honestly didn’t believe my doctor when he suggested exercise and I have been surprised at how well it has worked! I had not been an exerciser and could barely get out of bed so to think I could do the program was a real challenge. After the program, I moved away from the area but am still exercising regularly even despite having an injury as I now know how much it helps.

The most common reason for people not starting the program is confidence in their ability to commit. A referrers encouragement is the key here to help overcome barriers and also reiterate the benefits. On average it takes 6 goes to change a major habit and MA is all about helping individuals make the long term changes. Trying the program and finding something else that works long term is our ultimate goal, we can also help them transition to another exercise option if it’s not working out. As long as participants are trying then that is the most important factor for us.

Location and Travel time were the two most common contributors noted for dropout rates with many individuals finding travel greater than 15-20 mins each way too much.  While we have had the occasional individual travel over 1hr each way to our classes this is considered an exception.

The most commonly cited factor that contributed to helping those who did make it through was their rapport and comradery with the trainer and or the other participants with lived experience. The ability to show up and not feel judged has been found to be the key, thus MA is moving towards recruiting more trainers with lived experience. We are also working on getting the balance of participant numbers right in order to facilitate connection amongst participants with initial findings suggesting that 3-8 in a class is ideal.



Chinn D, White M, Harland J, et al., (1999) Barriers to physical activity and socioeconomic position: Implications for health promotion. J Epidemiol Community Health. 1999;53:191–192. 

Sperandei, S., Vieira, M. C., & Reis, A. C. (2016). Adherence to physical activity in an unsupervised setting: Explanatory variables for high attrition rates among fitness center members. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 19(11), 916-920.

Kelley, G. A., Kelley, K. S., & Hootman, J. M. (2015). Effects of exercise on depression in adults with arthritis: a systematic review with meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arthritis research & therapy, 17(1), 21.

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