Tohoku Pacific Earthquake: Report 17 on Medical Activities on the ground

Maintaining good mental health is something we all no doubt do in our day to day lives. We may do this in different ways. Some people like to take a break from the real world when they feel stressed through books or movies. Others like to belt out songs at karaoke, while others like to become absorbed in painting. In others words, people do what they enjoy.

The same applies to maintaining our physical health, too. We might do this through day to day activities. People now drive to the station to catch the train, when in the past they would have walked there. Perhaps this is why we see more people forming new habits like jogging on the weekends or going to the gym, because the amount of exercise in their day to day routines has decreased.

Here in the disaster area, it’s difficult for people to get back into their own, everyday routines. In day to day life here, it’s hard to maintain mental and physical fitness.
Immediately after the disaster, MdM Japan coordinated with the Physical Fitness Research Institute’s Meiji Yasuda Health and Welfare Foundation to help sufferers of the disaster incorporate more movement into their routines in the hope that it would help improve their mental wellbeing. Mental or psychological conditions are the result of imbalances in the brain (1), and exercise is known to have a direct effect on the brain’s activity (2), so with this in mind, members of the research institute’s exercise team are researching the relationship between exercise and mental health. The work they are carrying out in the disaster area is also part of the liaison with the medical team.
This report is from the exercise team

“Supporting Living:Mental Health & Social Approaches Guidance on liaising with consultation services”(March 2011)

National Center for Neurology and Psychiatry’s Center for Suicide Prevention
With the cooperation of: Japan Association of Psychiatric Social Workers, Japan Federation of Shiho-Shoshi Lawyer’s Associations
Ikiru:Center for Suicide Prevention Homepage

Physical Fitness Research Institute’s Meiji Yasuda Health and Welfare Foundation Homepage

The exercise team restarted its support activities in November 2011 and currently meets with local residents of temporary housing neighborhoods twice a month. Many people are away of the positive effects of exercise on the body, but fewer seem to be aware of the fact that it has also proven to be effective in improving mental wellbeing, sleep patterns, cognitive functions and much more. The exercise team aims to help participants to experience these positive effects for themselves and also to encourage more communication and interaction between them.
Nevertheless, this is nothing particularly special. All the exercise team is trying to do is encourage people to include a bit more ‘fun’ and ‘relaxation’ into their daily routines. Anyone can exercise on their own, but exercising together makes the experience even more enjoyable. Food tastes better after exercise, and exercise can of course help with weight loss. Unfortunately though, people still tend to have negative images of exercise and see it as tough or competitive. The exercise team wants to dispel these myths and provide a fun environment in which people can have fun and enjoy getting to know one another.
From April to June 2011 we carried out our exercise classes at evacuation shelters, but since people began to move in to temporary housing, the increasing challenge has been to get as many people as possible to come out and take part. We are still figuring out what the best exercise activities to offer are, and how best to let people know that our classes are happening, but we are nevertheless encouraged when we hear people who took part tell us how fun it was, how it reinvigorated their mood, or how much they would like to take part again. We have been able to carry out these classes by working with members of the Ohtsuchi Social Welfare Council and many other individuals, and we are beginning to see a response. It’s an ongoing process of trial and error, but we hope to continue our work and make a positive contribution to the lives of the people of Ohtsuchi.

We also have a piece of really great news. We had been secretly looking forward to seeing the people we first met at the evacuation centers again, and just the other day when I was speaking with a lady, I had the feeling that I had met her before somewhere, but I couldn’t recall where. The reason it was so difficult for me to remember is because she was so full of life, and a completely different person from the individual I first met months ago in the evacuation center. At that time she was in such distress that she was experiencing severe back pains which meant she could neither sit nor lie down. Seeing her in such discomfort left a strong impression with me, but I was so happy to see that she remembered us, and that she has improved so much. It was just one moment, but it made me feel that our efforts are making a difference, no matter how small. So we will continue offering our exercise classes here, in the hope that there will be many more happy reunions like this one.

MdM Exercise Team
Hiroomi Sensui
Research Associate at the Physical Fitness Research Institute’s Meiji Yasuda Health and Welfare Foundation

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