Staying active is a great way to maintain physical health and fitness. What may surprise some is that exercise can also have powerful effects on a person’s psychological well-being. Physical activity can support mental-emotional transformations, including altering brain chemistry.
For a long time, physical and mental health was believed to be mostly separate from one another. More recently, there have been shifts in how mental health is understood and approached to include a more integrated and holistic vision.
Now, exercise is often included as an essential component of lifestyle modifications required to heal, nourish, and maintain psychological wellness. Personal trainers have become part of the mental health team.
For people struggling with mental health disorders—and their loved ones—and interested in a holistic approach to recovery, this page provides helpful information on personal training for mental health recovery. It discusses the science behind exercise and how personal training can be a powerful adjunct to more traditional treatment modalities.
Personal Training for Mental Health Recovery
Intelligent exercise is excellent for the body because it can help build strength, flexibility, and endurance. Exercise can improve bone density and help a person maintain their ideal weight.
But the benefits of exercise don’t end with physical health. Exercise is also one of the best stress-relieving techniques. It can enhance a person’s overall mood, increase self-esteem, improve cognitive function, and help to resolve depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
So, the job of a personal trainer can go way beyond helping people reduce their body fat percentage, increase muscle mass, or improve bone density. It’s also about supporting a person’s overall psychological well-being and helping them maximize their physical, mental, and emotional potential.
In this sense, a personal trainer can make a dramatic difference in the lives of their clients. By introducing ways in which the body and mind affect one another, a personal trainer provides their clients with empowering tools for comprehensive health and wellness.
How Can Exercising Make a Difference?
One of the ways that physical exercise affects psychological health is by changing the biochemical makeup of the brain. Research has shown that mood-enhancing chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins are released into the body during physical activity. At the same time, harmful, stress-related chemicals are reduced.
It’s for this reason that physical activity can have a positive effect on mental well-being and even help resolve certain mental illnesses.
Aerobic exercises—such as walking, swimming, cycling, jogging, gardening, and dancing—have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and improve the overall quality of life. These improvements in mood are related to an exercise-induced increase in oxygen and blood flow to the brain, which promotes neurogenesis: the process by which new brain cells form. This increased blood flow also modulates reactivity to stress via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
And the HPA axis communicates with several brain regions, including:
- The limbic system—controls motivation and mood
- The amygdala—generates fear in response to stress.
- The hippocampus—plays a vital role in memory formation, mood, and motivation.
Studies have shown that exercise can alleviate mild to moderate depression just as effectively as antidepressant medication—and without the side effects!
Regular exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood; and to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. The biochemical changes in the brain resulting from exercise enhance focus and attention. For this reason, exercise works the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Mindfulness Maximizes the Positive Effects of Exercise
An excellent way to increase the effectiveness of exercise is by maintaining mindfulness of movements and physical sensations. Such mindfulness improves body awareness, reduces injury, and enhances performance.
Mindfully attending to how the body feels during exercise, without judgment or mental commentary, a person can also support their nervous system in becoming “unstuck”—and beginning to unwind the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD and trauma.
How is a Personal Trainer Helping with Mental Health?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now acknowledges that physical activity can improve cognitive health. Exercise can help people think, learn, problem-solve, and cultivate emotional balance. It can improve memory and help resolve anxiety and depression
Suggested Amount of Weekly Exercise
Around 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, three days a week, is recommended to access physical and psychological health benefits. These 30 minutes can be continuous. For instance, three 10-minute brisk walks are just as beneficial as one 30-minute walk.
Mental health professionals should emphasize to their patients the health benefits of regular exercise and how personal training can enhance mental health. Such benefits include:
- Stress relief
- Improved sleep
- Improvement in mood
- Increased interest in sex
- Better endurance
- Increased energy and stamina
- Reduced tiredness that can improve mental alertness
- Weight reduction
- Reduced cholesterol
- Improved cardiovascular fitness