Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. What’s more, our own research showed that the number of people seeking the advice and support of personal trainers (PTs) to help manage mental health issues is increasing, with over 55% of the Personal Trainers we questioned reporting that they’re seeing more and more clients approach them with mental health concerns and worries.
So, how exactly can exercise benefit mental health and what can you do as a Personal Trainer to enhance the impact of physical activity on people’s overall wellbeing?
The link between mental health and exercise
As a Personal Trainer, you have the ability to change people’s lives for the better – helping them to reach their physical goals through exercise and develop healthier minds in the process.
Being active is not just a great way for people to stay fit, but it can also have a powerful effect on their mental wellbeing. For many years, physical and mental health were seen as two separate areas but, recently, there’s been a positive shift in the way mental health is viewed and approached. This has led to much more open and frequent discussions around the subject, with the annual Mental Health Awareness Week and other initiatives helping people to understand, protect, and sustain their mental health. It also means that greater emphasis is now being placed on the way physical activity can support mental health.
During exercise, natural, mood-boosting chemicals are released into the body, such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, while harmful, stress-related chemicals are reduced. As such, numerous studies, including that by Rosenbaum et al, have shown that physical activity can have a strong and positive effect on mental wellbeing and some mental illnesses – increasing self-esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression to improve quality of life. So, your work as a PT is not only helping to make people healthier, but happier too – a reason for you to feel good about what you do every single day!
Every client’s different
With mental health being such a complex area of human science, it’s important for PTs to remember that every mental illness is different, and each person’s mental health is unique to them. That being said, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to supporting the mental health of your clients and the benefits of exercise may take a while to be seen. It’s all part of a longer journey and needs to be viewed as a marathon rather than a sprint; something important to communicate with your clients to help them stay motivated. As always, you’ll need to design your training programmes around what makes your clients comfortable and adapt them as you identify what’s working versus what’s not.
Communication is key
Communication can be a struggle for people experiencing a mental health issue. While some clients will be very open about their mental health, others may not disclose their condition or be undiagnosed.
For some, engaging with other people about their mental health, including their Personal Trainers, can be therapeutic, but expressing thoughts and feelings is not easy for everyone.
If clients choose to share information about their mental health and explain their history of anxiety, depression or ongoing issues with you, this is where your emotional intelligence – a fundamental skill for all Personal Trainers – really comes into play.
Through good communication, you can help your clients’ development and provide even better support throughout their journeys. The key to this is using positive reinforcement and discussing progress and programmes with your clients on a regular basis. This will not only help you to manage their expectations, but it will also enable you to show the positive steps they’re taking towards achieving their goals, which will give them an even greater sense of achievement and feeling of being supported. Remember, exercise may not have been the first thing they turned to as a treatment for their conditions, so your clients will appreciate knowing how they’re getting on and the next steps that they’ll be taking.
Something else that’s essential to consider is how you approach training sessions, mindful of each client’s personality and background. While a major part of a Personal Trainer's role is to provide motivation for your clients, it’s also important to understand their limits (what makes them tick, what they respond well to and what they don’t like) and whether your programmes are having the desired effect. This highlights the importance of making sure you set clear goals and objectives from the start and, again, why strong communication is so vital.
Personal training – a life-changing profession
As you can see, being a Personal Trainers goes way beyond helping people to lose fat or pile on a load of muscle; it’s about supporting people’s overall wellness journeys – as much about the mental health of clients as it is about their physical health. The great thing is, you have the opportunity to make a dramatic difference to people’s lives doing something you love!
Learn more about making a career out of fitness and start improving people's mental and physical wellbeing: