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A physical activity study increases mental health of women experiencing homelessness

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

 Keira McGuire / Transforming Health

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

Airdate: August 19, 2022

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

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

Tonya Miller, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at Harrisburg University, who conducted the study, worked with Harrisburg University students and local shelters to educate homeless women on their physical activity and in turn, shift their mindset to achieve an overall sense of well-being.

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

The ongoing study, so far, has twenty seven women who’ve participated and completed the program. The women that have participated are 18 and older.

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

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

She also said, she would expand this study to include men to elongate her reach of impact.

“I hope that they (the study’s participants) gain empowerment, that they understand that they’re already doing great things in their lives and that they can have control over what’s happening in their lives and how that can build to other things,” Miller said.

For more information about this program email tmiller2@harrisburgu.edu or call 717-901-7969 ext. 1630.

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