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Oftentimes when people think of personal trainers, they think about competitive athletes, getting in great shape for a wedding or achieving that desired bikini body, or someone who works exclusively with the rich and famous.

Though this image might be a component of a sliver of the market, my experience as a personal trainer working with clients deals more with lifestyle changes to improve both physical and mental health.  I work with older clients to keep them moving, help them improve balance, and maintain muscle tone so they can live independently. I work with clients who have disordered eating and unhealthy exercise habits, and many of my clients come to me because they suffer from mental illnesses.

Exercise is just what the doctor ordered.

Sedentary lifestyle habits and mental illness go hand-in-hand. A Harvard Mental Health Letter explains that the risk of heart attack or stroke in patients with depression more than doubles. So making significant lifestyle changes to get moving and incorporate aerobic exercise in your life is the best step toward improving the health of your heart and mind.

Exercise increases blood circulation to the brain, thereby bettering your mood. An NCBI study, Exercise for Mental Health, explains that this boost in blood circulation has a significant “influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, on the physiologic reactivity to stress.”

The problem with depression and anxiety is they sap your energy. This isn’t imagined, but a cruel reality of mental illness.

I don’t expect my clients to start running marathons, instead I give them specific goals to achieve to start that blood circulating. Here are 6 practical tips to get moving even when you really, really don’t want to:

  • walking-wintersportOne Step at a Time Can Save Your Life:  Walk away from your depression. Start by walking to the mailbox, taking out the garbage, finding ways to get your body to move. Call a friend and don’t stop walking until you hang up the phone. Setting achievable goals is the name of the game. Start with small goals and build from there. Feel the success of these achievements.
  • Plug In: Get your favorite audio book or playlist and move (in a safe place) one chapter at a time. Don’t stop moving until the chapter is over. Do the same with a playlist. Begin with two songs, and work your way up to ten, fifteen, or twenty songs. Add a song a day (or week!).
  • Know Your Ups and Downs: When does depression hit the hardest – morning? Evening?  Exercise can kick-start your circulation. So if you know you’ll fall into the temptation of not exercising, make a schedule and stick to it. The less you want to do it, the more you should do it. And the benefits will be even higher.
  • You’re Not Alone: If you can find a group to exercise with, all the better. This kind of social support will keep you accountable and, perhaps, give you that extra push you need to get out the door and to the gym, walking at the park, or to yoga class.
  • Keep it Convenient: If you have to drive forty minutes through snow to get to a gym, you’re likely not going to go. Make sure you mold the exercise to fit your life, not the other way around. Walk your kids to school. Find a Zumba class that fits in your lunch schedule. Make sure your gym is on your way to work. Look at the nearby park to see if they have Tai Chi sessions. Keep it close to home or work!
  • yay-49464-digitalUnconditional Love: If you’ve got the means, consider getting an animal. They need exercise and care, and the unconditional love they return may just be what your body needs.

Exercise for yourself, your health, your mind and body. No matter how down you feel, make the extra effort to stick to your schedule and give your brain and body that pump they need. Finding ways to move is one way to battle depression and mental illness.