As a personal trainer for over 20 years, I have dealt with many clients intent on becoming more healthy or improving the way they look, but the importance of fitness for the mind as well should not be overlooked.

Whilst I do not pretend to be an expert on the topic of mental health, it is a topic relevant to everybody as we all move along the continuum of mental wellbeing at various times of our lives. The current situation of lockdown we find ourselves in can be a taxing time and greatly exacerbate feelings of isolation for those who live alone or put a strain on family relationships if all members are at home all day. The industry in which I make my living, whilst providing a great boost to mental wellbeing, can also be responsible for many an individuals’ sense of inadequacy or inferiority and so could be seen as both beneficial or detrimental to one’s mental health depending on your point of view and perception of the fitness scene.

So what is mental health? The World Health Organisation (2014) defines it as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community. Poor mental health can cover a wide spectrum of issues from depression to eating disorders and anxiety to suicidal thoughts and are too broad to be categorised in this piece, but should always be taken seriously and dealt with in an empathetic manner; what may seem minor to one person may feel catastrophic to another.

Undertaking some form of physical activity, whether that be a team sport, a gym session or simply a walk around the block, has been shown to improve mental health markers and should be encouraged as part of a care plan for anyone suffering with symptoms of poor mental health. Whilst obviously not a cure all or stand alone solution, the inclusion of healthy activity can play a major role in supporting the individual in conjunction with input from other sources.

Team sports can encourage social interaction and broaden a persons network of friends, whilst individual activities can help one compose ones thoughts or calm a racing mind. Exercise has been proven to reduce stress and help control the balance of cortisol in the body, whilst elevating levels of certain endorphins resulting in improved mood, and can also be a boost to self worth and improved body confidence. Better sleep can be a helpful by-product of exercise and a 2011 study by the Department of Heath showed that exercise reduced levels of depression by up to 30% Add to these factors, the attached addition of improved lifestyle choices such as a reduction in smoking/drinking and improvement in diet which often come with starting an exercise programme, and the benefits of exercise can be seen as beneficial to the whole body.

Now obviously I am not suggesting that all mental health issues can be resolved by a quick jog around the park, but it is clear that exercise in one form or another can be particularly beneficial to anybody experiencing negative issues. Other than the direct help, the adoption of a healthier outlook and habits is always a good thing, regardless of situation.

This post is just my take on the benefits of exercise to mental wellbeing and is in no way supposed to help diagnose or cure any issues. If you or somebody you know is suffering from any kind of mental health issue, please suggest that they seek professional help from their GP or organisations such as MIND, CALM or The Samaritans.

Wishing you a healthy body and mind.

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I am a fully qualified Personal Trainer with over 22 years’ experience. Find out more about my specific training and qualifications or book a personal training session.

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