29 Oct, 2012 Last updated: 17 Nov, 2014

A VicHealth and Hanover Welfare Services program which has provided bikes, physical activity training and nutrition skills for homeless Victorians over the past three years has been shown to improve their mental health and fitness.

Download the media release

A VicHealth and Hanover Welfare Services program which has provided bikes, physical activity training and nutrition skills for homeless Victorians over the past three years has been shown to improve their mental health and fitness.

The Client Participation Project, which began in 2010, provides an opportunity for homeless people to take part in the annual Hanover ConnectEast Ride for Home, coming up this year on 18 November. A third team of Hanover clients is now being trained to take part in 2012.

Before setting out on the 35-kilometre ride along the EastLink tollway, every person in the team will be fitted out with new customised bicycles to keep, a three-hour coaching session from a professional cyclist, a session with a nutritionist and take part in group fitness training.

Hanover Chief Executive Tony Keenan said Hanover researchers had found that since participating in the ride, the majority of past participants reported an improvement in their mental health and that their knowledge of health and fitness had increased (87 per cent).

“The improvement in mental health and physical fitness is really remarkable when you consider half of our client team had the added stress of moving house more than five times in the past 12 months,” Mr Keenan said.

“Many of our clients also reported poor mental health to begin with, so it is great that this project has really made a difference in their lives. Every participant who took part on the day relished the personal challenge and told us that simply being a part of the event made them feel good.”

Other findings from the evaluation included:

• Before participating in the Ride, 60 per cent had moved homes between four and more than five times over the past year.
• Clients listed their reasons for participating as a desire to be part of a team, to represent Hanover, to get more involved in the community and to meet new people.
• 88 per cent of participants in 2011 reported an increase in physical activity after the ride.
• Overall, more than 70 Hanover clients and staff were involved with the program in 2010 and 2011, with 15 clients in the 2011 team, and approximately 15 this year.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said recent research has established a clear connection between unstable housing and poor health.

“Cycling is a fun and sustainable form of physical activity with proven mental health benefits. One of the strengths of this project is that it gives participants the ability to independently navigate from point A to point B, on their own terms, and they are not impacted by financial constraints. It also makes it easier for people who are living in precarious housing to get to somewhere safe to sleep the night,” Ms Rechter said.

“We found the client team benefited in a range of other ways, including increased self-esteem and a feeling of being part of a community. They also gained a greater awareness of the importance of being physically active for good health.”

Find out more about EastLink Hanover Ride for Home 2012 event at www.rideforhome.com.au