Mental Health and Exercise: What’s the big deal?

Mental Health and Exercise: What’s the big deal?

To be consumed alongside the Instagram and Podcast series of the same name, this series aims to look through the world of strength training through the lens of mental health and sheds light on different people with different living, working, or health conditions. 

What does the current landscape of mental health support look like?

As we know, mental health places a considerable burden on the individual, the social support network, and the healthcare system as a whole. Over the years, research engaging in exercise has been demonstrated to improve mental health outcomes comparable to medication. 

Exercise is medicine.

We’ll hear this phrase touted from all parties that practice in the area of exercise for health. There’s already a lot of support in place for someone with conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes to begin exercising. There is a growing network of Allied Health Practitioners who are pushing for exercise to be considered among treatment options for people with mental illness. 

Despite an impressive body of evidence supporting exercise as a treatment option for mental health, healthcare support systems are yet to catch up, only offering exercise or exercise-related therapies to people with chronic musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, or metabolic conditions. 

Who funds support for mental health?

The COVID-19 pandemic jettisoned mental health to the early 2020’s zeitgeist, sparking conversations and actions built to further education and support into mental health. Part of this was the Australian Medicare system adding further funding towards psychological interventions, increasing the rebate sessions from 10 to 20 per calendar year.

This was undoubtedly a positive move but knowing that exercise interventions also improved mental health outcomes, exercise-based professionals were still left by the wayside. Obviously the huge growth in online personal training groups were a positive, financially accessible step but for people without experience or fondness of these modalities, it was difficult to break through into exercise for health.

How else can I get support?

We won’t touch on the NDIS system here as that is going to be covered in a separate blog.

In the case of support for Medicare/DVA, Return to Work or other insurance claims, all too often we see a trend of treatment approvals based on table top tests rather than the mental health of the patient related to either the injury or factors around the injury. 

“Range of motion is good? Good.”

“Oh they’re still anxious and in pain? Get them into a psychologist that may be available in 3 months.”

***Just a quick note: I am not saying don’t see a psychologist. I am merely explaining how, as an exercise-based healthcare professional, we are overlooked on the mental health assistance we provide on a smaller but more frequent basis.***

This can obviously be very frustrating on our level of client interactions and the pride we put into our client care. 

Good news is that at the time of writing this, The Queensland Mental Health Select Committee released an enquiry to increase opportunities to improve mental health outcomes for Queenslanders. Part of this was a recommendation to integrate dietitians and exercise physiologists within the mental health workforce to provide more holistic care to people experiencing mental and physical health comorbidities. 

So how can we use exercise to support mental health?

Short answer from the research perspective is that there’s no specific findings comparing different modalities. The aim is having support in completing Australian Healthy Guidelines of 150min of vigorous or 300min of moderate-intensity physical activity.

My general argument stems from the social support engaging in frequent physical activity through varying modalities. Lifting can be empowering. Running can be exhausting. Yoga can be relaxing. A coach can act as the void you vent into (within reason). 

Ok so, how do you create that support for an individual from exercise selection/ specificity?

From a programming perspective, we want to create a program that the client wants to do. Easier said than done. We might spend a bit more time introducing someone to the general feeling of movement, ensuring more difficult exercises can be done under supervision for a short time. 

It’s honestly always surprising and a good feeling when a client with no previous enjoyment of strength training actually lights up when a movement feels good.

Perhaps this will become a program staple for now?

Depending on the experience and goals, we may need to employ some level of trickery to balance what we need to get out of the program and what the client wants to do in the program. This might entail;

More thinking

Less thinking

The famed “shit sandwich” approach

Simple movements

Complex movements

Ascending, descending, tri-, quad-, super- sets

Playing with volume, constraints, load, RPE, set numbers

It’s quite a bit to consider but that’s my role. You just do the thing, self-regulate, and communicate your findings.

Tan woman in pink and blue workout gear being mentored by physio coach on gym equipment

Final thoughts…

There’s a lot to explore in the realm of mental health and secondary comorbidities which is why we’re going to continue plugging these blogs, podcasts, and posts. 

Feel free to follow me on Instagram or LinkedIn as well as check out my shows on the Performotion Podcast.

Movement and Mental Health

Movement and Mental Health

How are movement and mental health correlated?

Most of us use exercise as a method of maintaining our mental health. If we start experiencing pain in our back when we run, squat, do push ups, pick up our kids of the canine, feline, and primate variety; we tend to not want to do those things anymore and our mental health can suffer from that.

So I’m going to paint a word picture for you:

“But Michael, I like doing group fitness because it takes my mind of things and I don’t have to think about what I’m doing”

I hear this one a lot. What I also hear a lot is….

“I don’t do squats, it hurts my knees”

Okay, so you enjoy the group-based environment but you are unable to partake in certain exercises because of knee pain? Why don’t you get someone to have a look at those knees, hips, ankles, back or whatever else could be the cause of that knee pain? 

“Use it, or lose it”

“Motion is lotion”

Your body is a lot to think about. You do enough thinking during the day when trying to organise meetings, projects, kids, clients, orders. Why should you add something else to the mix and stress you out further? 

Moving efficiently is all about making small wins for yourself and changing your mindset about movement-based challenges. Once we’re able to get a roll going with these small wins, the fundamentals are going to feel so much better and you’re going to experience far less stress. Couldn’t feel your hamstrings during a deadlift but now you can? You had back pain but managed to feel your glutes firing and that back pain has disappeared? That’s a success right there. It gets you pumped. It gets me pumped. These wins will echo into your daily routine, reducing the stress and anxiety of your daily grind.

My biggest challenge in the mental health field is trying to get people to care about how their body moves and have fun while doing it. If your body moves well, you’re much less likely to end up in pain. If you’re not in pain, you’re going to want to keep moving. You keep moving, you hit your health and fitness goals, your brain will thank you for it.

Strength training and moving well is not just good for your pain, it’s good for your mind.