By Michele Nugent​​​​, Media & Communications Officer, City of Cockburn

Could regular exercise at local council recreation centres be the key to improved mental and physical health outcomes for communities, and financial benefits for the councils that serve them? A recent study into the benefits that local recreation centres provide suggests that this is absolutely the case.

An aquatic and recreation centre in the City of Cockburn, in Perth’s southern metropolitan region, saved its community almost $30 million in health costs across the 2021-22 and 2022-23 financial years.

This reduced the risk of ten major acute and chronic health conditions and diseases including mental health conditions, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, breast and bowel cancer and dementia in the community.

The mental health benefits of regular physical activity were the standout data indicator from ARC’s active membership, accounting for nearly 32 per cent of social value in 2022-23. 

City of Cockburn Head of Recreation Andrew Tomlinson said while people still questioned the value of exercise, especially if it involved a financial investment, science showed regular physical activity had the ability to change and save lives.

In October 2023, Australian Bureau of Statistics Head of Health Statistics Linda Fardell said more than two in five Australians (42.9 per cent) aged 16-85 years had experienced a mental health disorder in their lifetime, with one in five Australians (21.5 per cent) experiencing a mental health disorder in the previous 12 months.

The study gave insights into how people managed their mental health, with nearly a quarter of all Australians aged 16-34 years (22.9 per cent) having at least one consultation with a health professional for their mental health in the last 12 months. 

Just ask Sanford Gadomski, who became an ARC member in 2018 while recovering from a serious car accident. 

He credits the facility with changing his life, enabling him to improve his physical and mental health with a gym circuit five days a week.

“If I didn’t get to the ARC my health would plummet within a week, I’d go backwards very quickly,” Sanford said.

The father of two young children had to rebuild his life from scratch after his car rolled several times before hitting a tree in 2017, spending months in hospital, including stints in a coma.

“Some mornings I feel really down, but I know I’ll feel better after I finish at the gym. Once I get on the road heading towards ARC, I know everything will be okay,” he said.

“Yes, regular exercise is really important for my body, but it’s the mental health benefits that really make a difference to me every day.”

Mr Tomlinson said Cockburn ARC was designed on a commercial scale as part of a partnership between local, state and federal government, the Fremantle Dockers AFL/AFLW club and Curtin University.

“Adhering to a business model designed to achieve financial stability enables the City to consistently provide cutting edge facilities and services at ARC,” Mr Tomlinson said.

“This includes equipment and facility upgrades and expansions that attract and sustain regularly active members, and provides an attractive alternative to privately operated gyms.

“It was a conscious departure from a common scenario for local governments, which are expected to provide essential community services like recreation centres in the knowledge they would often run at a loss for some time or in perpetuity, with the aim of eventually breaking even.”

The ARC, including its spin studio, gym, group fitness areas, will undergo a major revamp in 2024-2025.

For the past two years, Cockburn ARC has partnered with ActiveXchange, a Sydney-based company that provides data intelligence to help organisations and facility operators make evidence-based decisions to grow active and healthy communities.

Aligned with Federal Government and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare guidelines and in collaboration with KPMG, ActiveXchange’s social value model captures data that shows a predicted dollar value saving of members’ activity levels and how it reduces the risk of acute and chronic health indicators on a community-scale.

In 2021-2022, ARC had 1.17 million visits, and 1.27 million in 2022-23.

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