Exercise for good mental health

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PERSONAL TRAINER: NZ Exercise Industry Awards 2016 student of the year, Shane Way.

THE Exercise Association of New Zealand (ExerciseNZ) says Kiwis with mental health illnesses should be encouraged to exercise but it advises against starting off with extravagant exercise regimes.

Mental disorders are the third-leading cause of health loss for New Zealanders, making up 11.1 percent of all health loss, behind only cancers (17.5 percent) and vascular and blood disorders (17.5 percent). Depressive and anxiety disorders account for 5.3 percent.

In the 2011-2012 New Zealand Health Survey, more than half a million New Zealand adults had been diagnosed with depression at some stage in their lives and more than 200,000 with anxiety disorders.

ExerciseNZ chief executive Richard Beddie says regular exercise is known to have a positive impact on depression and anxiety. Kiwis struggling with mental illnesses should be encouraged to exercise but it is important to start small and focus on enjoyable activities, he says.

“Setting extravagant goals like running a marathon or attending fitness boot camps can backfire and leave you feeling despondent. It is important to keep things simple. Being active for just a few minutes can be enough to make you feel better and should still be celebrated as a success.”

The government’s Lowdown website, which exists to support young Kiwis aged 12 to 20 to recognise and understand depression and anxiety recommends exercise as a free mood booster.

The site states that for mild depression, physical activity can be as good as antidepressants or psychological treatments.

NEW Zealand Exercise Industry Awards 2016 student of the year, 27-year-old Shane Way from Hamilton has struggled with mental illnesses for most of his life and is a keen believer in the smart use of exercise to help treat mental illness.

“In 2012, after years of battling depression and anxiety and not accepting or understanding my sexuality or gender, I had a breakdown and tried to take my own life. I was extremely lucky to survive. During my recovery, I analysed how I could turn my life around and this is when my passion for exercise developed,” Shane says.

He has since completed a certificate in fitness industry training, national certificate in massage therapy and a degree in sport science and human performance from Waikato Institute of Technology. He is a personal trainer at Les Mills Hamilton, runs his own massage therapy business, Rejuvn8 Massage Therapy and has a long-term ambition of setting up his own personal training business.

“Exercise built up my confidence, self-esteem and helped me overcome my mental illness. After exercising I am more positive, energised and feel a sense of achievement. It lifts my overall mood and if I don’t train, my depression comes back in full force.

“Mental illnesses are overwhelming and the wrong approach to exercise can make this worse so it’s important to start off small. I recommend people start off with small walks and once in a routine, try new things like going for a run, training with a friend and even going to a gym or group fitness class.

“I am still battling depression, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive order. Through working with the right doctors, having an amazing support team and taking the right approach to keeping active; my mental illness no longer controls me, I control it.

“I believe exercise is the best way of battling mental illness as it has personally saved my life,” Shane says.

The annual NZ Exercise Industry Awards recognise people like Shane Way who are contributing to the health and wellness of New Zealanders through exercise. The 2017 award finalists will be announced in October.

Shane’s tips on taking a sensible approach to exercise when struggling with mental health related issues:

  • Start off small – Depression and anxiety are already overwhelming so getting into exercise initially can make this worse. Start off with a small walk around a local park or something similar, choose a time of day when you know it won’t be busy so that you can have your own space and be one with yourself.

Once you can get into a routine, then you can start to try new things like going for a run, training with a friend and even going to a gym or group fitness class.

  • Find the right fitness centre to fit your personality – If you join a gym, check it out first and get a trial to see if it is the right fit for you (for now). There is no point joining a gym if you aren’t comfortable there – a big part of mental illness is feeling safe and accepted.

Feel free to talk to someone at the gym, ask them when the quieter times are and what the overall atmosphere is like. I prefer a gym where the music is upbeat, it is colourful, well organised and the staff are friendly and caring.

  • Get a personal trainer – Part of depression and anxiety is feeling isolated and unsupported in life, so avoid this at the gym.

Even though I’m a fitness professional I have always had a personal trainer because I need someone to be accountable to and to push me along. I mostly need someone to support me, that I can talk to and get some issues off my chest. Ask around, find a trainer that you will feel comfortable with, ask for someone who has experience in the mental health field like me.

  • Set achievable goals – Don’t go into it thinking you will be fit and strong overnight. You’re not going to lose 20 kilograms in a month and you’re not going to have huge muscles next week.

If you manage just a little exercise, like taking the dog for walk, that’s still something to feel good about. Be realistic. If you have a bigger goal in mind, set a long-term date then work backwards and set out small achievable steps to help you reach the big one.

For example, if your goal is to run 10 kilometres, set mini goals like running for five minutes the first week and building up from there. Most importantly, set yourself up for success, not failure.

  • Have a wow factor in every workout – Set yourself a goal each time you exercise that is achievable but makes you challenge yourself. This may be running a few seconds faster or doing a few extra repetitions.

It’s amazing how improving your time or the amount of times you do something can really boost your confidence. This is something I incorporate into all my workouts and my clients’ workouts. It gives me and the client a sense of accomplishment – that feeling of winning and it’s the best feeling you can get.


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