• focus groups;
  • schizophrenia;
  • mental disorders;
  • physical activity;
  • exercise

Purpose: To explore perceived barriers and benefits to physical activity in people with serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) who were enrolled in community-based psychiatric rehabilitation.

Design and Methods: Four focus groups, two for men and two for women, were held with a total of 34 outpatients from two program sites. The investigators used a semistructured interview guide to facilitate the discussions. Audiotapes of the discussions were transcribed and analyzed for concepts and themes.

Findings: Significant barriers to physical activity were: mental illness symptoms, medications, weight gain from medications, fear of discrimination, and safety concerns. Being in a psychiatric rehabilitation program offered comfort and belonging, but it also had the effect of leaving activity initiation up to the program staff, which some participants perceived was part of required program compliance. However, participants viewed physical activity positively, and they linked being active to improved mental health.

Conclusions: Outpatients in psychiatric rehabilitation valued physical activity, but mental illness symptoms, medication sedation, weight gain, fear of unsafe conditions, fear of discrimination, and interpretations of program compliance were barriers. Confronting how attitudes and barriers specific to this population can affect activity and reframing program compliance to include the independent initiation of activity as part of improving health might help clients of mental health services to become more active.