Body Movement for Mental Change

Tiffany Watkins, Affinity Patient Advocacy Board member

It is hard to ignore over the last 10-15 yrs the influx of work out programs. From Zumba to HIIT to Crossfit WODs to Hot Yoga, people are flocking in droves to body movement, and exercise.

Mental illness (Anxiety, depression, PTSD etc.) have a high rate of stigma and a low rate of treatment. This imbalance causes many people to go untreated and to be marginalized and ignored.

I have spent the last 12 years as a fitness instructor and personal trainer. I hold several national fitness certifications as well as being trained and certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine - but nothing prepared me for the many clients I serviced who clearly struggled with mental health.

Men and women alike would come to me often with same goal (wish) - to change their bodies. After initial assessment tests and questionnaires, I was able to determine what they were really after...a way to feel better emotionally and have a better body image. Losing weight and toning their bodies was definitely a part of it, but when they spoke about themselves I could hear the mental struggles presenting themselves.

Through exercise, both in group and one on one settings, I watched client emerge into a better head space. Every goal accomplished giving them confidence...lifting their fog.

I began to notice that there was a great link to movement and mental clarity and wellness.

Exercise increases blood circulation to the brain, creates neural activity, and releases endorphins. All of these effects are key in reducing the feelings stress, depression, and anxiety.

Another factor is that exercise can be very social depending on the environment. Social activity can be very beneficial to those who feel isolated or are struggling with trying to find a sense of belonging.

Collectively we need to bring increased awareness to the link between movement and mental health. I am all for treatments that improve the body, not hurt it.

Exercise in any form has little to no side effects and is safe for much of the general population.

I will continue to advocate for people to get out, breathe in some fresh air, and move.

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