4 February, 2016

There is no doubt that becoming a personal trainer can change someone's life forever. By being a mentor, personal trainers develop a deep connection with clients, helping them reach their physical goals and becoming healthier in the process.

However, there is another side of personal training that is often overlooked – the power of improved mental health.

Across the country, tens of thousands of Australians struggle with mental health, whether as the result of an injury, event or the circumstances of their life. According to Beyond Blue, in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.

As a support person, personal trainers become an important part of their client's lives – providing an outlet for change and in the long term, enhancing their own mental outlook.

Mental illness affects millions of Australians each year.
Mental illness affects millions of Australians each year.

A growing issue in Australia

For many years, the concept of mental illness wasn't discussed in Australian society. It was the elephant in the room that nobody wanted to talk about. Fortunately, thanks to the work of many organisations, it's starting to gain the traction it deserves and the signs of mental illness are more widely known.

In fact, on World Mental Health Day, Mental Health Australia cited that 20 per cent of the country's population will deal with some form of mental illness over the following 12-month period. Additionally, 50 per cent will experience an issue during their lifetime.

At the time, Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan explained the importance of identifying and managing mental health.

"Mental illness impacts so many in our community. But if we can recognise the signs and do something about it early, we can significantly reduce the impact it can have on our lives," he said.

"It would be unimaginable to break a limb and do nothing about it. We must begin to see our mental health and well-being in the same light as other health conditions. It's also important when people do reach out for help, services are readily available and easy to navigate."

The link between exercise and mental health

It is vital for personal trainers to remember that every mental illness is different and it also varies from person to person. As such, the benefits of exercise may work straightaway or take some time to manifest. In any case, it's vital to take mental health illnesses seriously and design training programs and exercises around what makes your client the most comfortable.

Nonetheless, the link between exercise and improving mental health is unquestioned. In recent years, there has been countless studies which have documented these changes.

Dr Nicola Burton, University of Queensland's school of human movement studies senior research fellow, believes that exercise isn't always a cure to mental health issues, but a way to "promote good mental health".

As exercise produces chemicals such as endorphins, people can begin to enjoy improved wellbeing and vitality as well as better concentration and alertness, Dr Burton noted, as cited in a 2014 ABC article. "People who engage in regular exercise experience higher levels of optimism," she said.

As such, personal trainers can play a critical role in helping clients with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, and is something that many of us will feel at some time during our lives. With exercise playing a critical role in decreasing the effects of anxiety, personal trainers need to know that their efforts contribute to something wider than physical changes, it can promote a healthier way of thinking, and therefore living.

There are clear links between exercise and improved mental health.
There are clear links between exercise and improved mental health.

Working with those with mental illness

As mentioned earlier, it isn't always easy to identify mental illness. This means that personal trainers may work with someone that doesn't disclose their condition, is undiagnosed or keeps it hidden from public view.

Personal trainers may work with someone that doesn't disclosure their condition or keeps it hidden from public view.

If they are open about their mental health and explain their history of anxiety or depression etc., it is vital that personal trainers treat them with the same care and respect as any other client. However, as a personal trainer is a key part of their support group, there is a number of positive communications elements that can help their development.

According to Health Direct Australia, communication is key.

The authority states that "communication can be a struggle" for those that experience mental health disorders and while some want to engage, others may have trouble expressing feelings and opinions. 

As such, personal trainers must keep up positive reinforcement and discuss progress and programs with their clients on a regular basis. Exercise may not have been the first course of treatment for someone with a mental illness which means that they will want to know how they are doing.

While personal trainers need to motivate their clients, it is also important to understand limits and whether this form of exercise is having the desired effect. This highlights the significance of goal setting and developing clear objectives at the start.

For more information on anxiety and depression please visit: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/family-and-friends/caring-for-someone-with-depression-or-anxiety

Personal training – a life changing occupation

Helping people become healthier isn't all about the muscle. The concept of well-being is so much more and can have a dramatic impact on the emotional side of human existence.

If you would like to learn the art of personal training, contact the team at Australian Fitness Academy today.

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