The Relationship Between Exercise and Mental Health
5 Ways that a Personal Trainer can Help You Towards Greater Happiness and Life Satisfaction
When you are in the depths of depression, or are paralyzed by anxiety, it can seem impossible to even consider exercising. And the knowledge that you should exercise, and that you probably will feel better, oppresses you even further; now there’s guilt on top of your anxiety and depression—you feel guilty for being lazy or unmotivated, for neglecting your health, for choosing to not help yourself, etc.
In Canada, 16% of women and 11% of men will experience major depression (a period lasting two months or more) at least once in their lifetime; 12% of the population live with an anxiety or mood disorder—and this does not include active members of the Canadian forces, people living on reserves and Aboriginal settlements, and incarcerated people.
I am not a doctor; I am not even a therapist. My intention is not to trivialize mental health issues, or to offer a be-all-and-end-all prescription. If you are struggling, I would urge you to please seek help from a mental health professional. I can only speak from my own experience, and to offer help from my limited understanding.
Like most people, I go through times of depression and anxiety. And as a personal trainer and ‘fit’ person, I am prone to intense feelings of guilt when I am too unmotivated even to move, let alone exercise; sometimes, all I feel capable of doing is lying in bed and eating sweet-and-salty kettle corn (my kryptonite). I feel awful, like I’ve failed myself and my expectations of myself. I become terrified that I will never feel motivated again. This is my life now, I say to myself, as I shovel popcorn into my mouth. Not a good mental health day.
A Personal Trainer Can Help Your Mental Health
If you’re struggling with your mental health, you are likely aware of what you should be doing and feeling. And I would hate to be yet another voice, yelling at you to be better, or to just ‘get over it’. But if you are looking for a little push or for something to inspire you towards getting up (or just staying down: whatever works) and moving, science has given us a lot of reasons to pursue exercise for our mental health and well being.
- Exercise releases endorphins. As with most things brain-related, the relationship between exercise and endorphins is complicated and only partly understood; but, basically, studies have found that the physical stress that our body experiences during moderate-intensity exercise causes the release of endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter which blocks our experience of pain, and the endorphin effect can last for hours following an exercise session!
Endorphins also effectively counteract cortisol, a steroid hormone that is largely responsible for that scattered, panicky feeling that people experience when they’re feeling anxious. Studies have found that cortisol can build up in a body unless it is depleted by movement; thus, a lack of physical activity leads to a build-up of cortisol, which will, as consequence, result in more stress and anxiety.
- Exercise increases your testosterone. As discussed in my previous article, testosterone is essential for motivation, energy, and drive. Heavy-volume weight-training, in particular, has been shown to increase testosterone levels, which negate the catabolic and inflammatory effects of cortisol.
- Exercise increases self-esteem. You are probably familiar with the idea of exercise ‘increasing self-confidence’. Unfortunately, there is no universal exercise prescription for self-confidence, as exercise evokes varying psychological and emotional responses in different people. That being said, every body has a natural desire for movement, and the satisfaction derived from following that natural desire cannot be overstated. I believe I could discuss endlessly the relationship between exercise, mental health, emotional and psychological well-being (in fact, I discuss it again below). If you are feeling lost or anxious or depressed, I would recommend trusting in your body’s innate drive towards movement—and letting it lead the way.
How Can a Personal Trainer Help You?
You might be thinking: how can I even think about getting a personal trainer? I’m paralyzed by stress and anxiety and I can’t get out of bed! This is too much for me!
I’m going to reiterate that you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do.The notion of a personal trainer may strike you as completely overwhelming at this moment, and that’s okay.
And, yes, I am also a personal trainer, so my position is definitely subjective; but it’s also because I am a personal trainer, and understand more fully the scope and practice of personal training, that I feel prepared to offer my perspective.
Years before I became a personal trainer myself, my understanding of what personal trainers did was limited to the TV show The Biggest Loser: if you’ve ever watched that show, you might understand why I imagined personal training to involve a lot of yelling, and mocking, and “tough love” tactics—though without the love, just the tough. And shame. Heaps and heaps of shame. How does this help? I would think to myself, baffled and horrified. Because on The Biggest Loser, the personal trainers (or perhaps more accurately, the show’s producers) were not interested in the cause of an individual’s unhealthy lifestyle, such as depression, or trauma, or anxiety—only its effects. And, usually, it was only one effect that they cared about: fatness.
But, I discovered later that besides being absolutely terrifying, this portrayal was also entirely inaccurate and not at all reflective of actual personal trainer-client relationships. If The Biggest Loser had remained my only exposure to personal training, I would probably be a dentist right now—or a therapist.
Any personal trainer worth his or her salt knows that fitness is a mental practice. It’s not just about executing the physical motions with good form and technique—though this is certainly important. It’s about staying motivated and optimistic and enjoying yourself. Here at Infofit, I’ve witnessed so many personal trainers change people’s lives for the better. A good personal trainer will approach fitness in a holistic manner, taking into consideration all of the various facets of health.
So, how can a personal trainer help you to feel better–both inside and out?
- A good personal trainer wants the best for you.
It’s not just about the bottom line for personal trainers; all the personal trainers that I have ever observed or spoken with genuinely care for their clients. And a good personal trainer will acknowledge his or hers’ clients’ individual experiences, needs, and motivations—and is willing to accommodate for them. Too often, fitness is considered to be a solitary pursuit—but it doesn’t have to be. Fitness can be social and fun, and that’s what you can expect from a personal training session. They know that a happy client is a returning client, so they will try their hardest to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for you.
- You never have to do anything that you don’t want to do.
This is a common misconception about the personal training industry. People believe that 99% of a personal trainer’s job is yelling at a client, five inches away from his or her face, while he or she sweats and cries and performs an excessive amount of push-ups. Nope. Most personal trainers would be horrified by the thought of forcing their client to perform an exercise that was painful or scary–or one that the client just really didn’t want to do.
The dynamic of actual personal trainer-client relationships could not be more different; there is no power-tripping, or screaming, or even demanding. Perhaps Infofit is the exception, but I have never experienced or witnessed anything but respect in the personal trainer-client relationship. The job of the personal trainer is to accommodate you. You might even find your personal trainer becoming your friend—though this is certainly not mandatory if you don’t wish it to be. Anecdotally, my one friend just invited her personal trainer to her wedding. So, who knows. Your personal trainer might just become your next BFF.
- A personal trainer will know when you’re going too hard—or in the wrong direction.
I used to run high-intensity intervals for over an hour every day. And this went on for months. If I had had a personal trainer, I would have known that I was overtraining; I was depressed and anxious, I lacked appetite, and I couldn’t sleep, no matter how hard I tried. I was stressing my body beyond what it could bear. I felt awful, but I had no idea what I was doing wrong.
Even a mediocre personal trainer would have noticed the signs of overtraining, and would have pushed me into the weight room. Many experts recommend against engaging in prolonged, high-intensity exercise—such as the kind of excessive cardio that I was doing—if one’s goal is improved mental health and emotional well-being. Many studies have found that engaging in vigorous exercise for even over an hour will create more cortisol, thus leading to energy depletion and the breakdown of muscle—and more stress. And if I had known this, I might have avoided six months of misery and metabolic damage, and would have discovered the magic of strength-training that much sooner. Which leads into my next point…
- A personal trainer will see your strength and help you grow stronger.
Here at Infofit, the foundation of personal training is strength. You might scoff, but I would argue vehemently that the physical strength that you develop through weight training directly correlates with the development of inner strength and resilience. There is something so intrinsically satisfying about lifting something really heavy, and pushing your capacity to the limits, and seeing that capacity expand. But don’t just take it from me: the science agrees!
Getting started building strength can be a daunting prospect. With a personal trainer, you can leave the research and assessments to the expert, and reap the benefits of increased strength and self-confidence.
- A personal trainer will help you form habits.
One major study found that it takes around 66 days to form a habit. And many experts have found that the happiest people are the ones who stick to habits and routines. See where I’m going with this? A personal trainer will hold you accountable, get you on the habit train, and help you to stay there–where you can manifest your happiest, most satisfied self.
So, you’re thinking about hiring a personal trainer. Now, what?
Maybe you’re unsure as to how to make sure that you hire the right personal trainer for you. You can read the Infofit guide here to hiring a personal trainer. And again, I admit that I am completely biased, but Infofit without a doubt boasts some of the best personal trainers in the business. If you live in the Vancouver area, you can contact us here and we can set up a free consultation!
Until then, be kind to yourself. Trust in your body. And just keep moving.
Written by Theresa Faulder
Bio: Theresa was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. After pursuing a B.A. in English at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Theresa went on to earn her Masters in English Literature at the University of Victoria. Realizing quickly that she did not want a job that required her to sit on her butt all day, she moved to Vancouver and contacted Infofit, where she began her career as a personal trainer. And she hasn’t looked back since! Her passions include upper body day, drawing and painting, camping, dancing, and exploring Vancouver. Dislikes include spin class and direct sunlight. You can contact Theresa at theres[email protected]. She would love to hear from you!
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