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Over the last few days, I have read a number of articles on the effect of exercise on those with mental health issues or on delaying the onset of mental health problems.

Firstly, one in four of us has, or will, suffer from some form of mental health issue.  We all have someone in our family (or one of our friends) who has mental health issues or has suffered from it. My nephew is bi-polar and has been symptom free of a little while.  

Some of the more common mental health issues include:


Exercise is now being prescribed by health professionals as an effective way of treating many conditions.  To a certain extent, we have all come out of a training session feeling 100% better (mentally) than when we started the session; that’s the amazing effect that exercising the body has on the brain.

There are three types of triggers that affect out mental state.  All research – and summaries of research – I have read split these ‘triggers’ into three fields:

Physiological changes to the body and the brain has a massive impact on us and how we think and feel.  Chemical changes in the brain affect the functions of the brain; hormonal changes on the brain affect our moods and how we feel.  

Psychological changes also have a massive impact on how we think and feel.  Our perception of the world around us in clouded by how we are thinking and feeling at any given time.  Sometimes we get stuck in a way of thinking which then dictates how we act.  If we are stuck for long enough thinking in a certain way, we affect the body and brain physiologically and then we are stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Social pressures impact on our feelings at every level.  We all know someone who has been subject to bullying whether in school or in the work place.  Stress, road rage, negative thinking and ‘keeping up with the Jones’ are also social pressures.  The feelings we experience have an impact on how we think; if we are stuck in that mind set for any length of time, the psychological impacts on the physiological and the cycle continues on and on.

So how can exercise impact on any of these fields?  

When physiological changes to the chemical composition of the brain happen, exercise can have a limited effect, in my opinion.  Once the body is out of balance, medical help should be sort to help determine what needs to be done to bring the body back into balance.  

Saying that, for some conditions, the release of endorphins (the body’s natural happy hormones) may be sufficient to help offset the physiological changes.  

But the body does not work in isolation.  As mentioned above, all three fields interact on the body as a whole and you need to work on identifying the causes of the problem to find a balanced (and holistic) solution.

For example, when someone has an injury (physiological change) – and is used to training – stopping training can have massive impact on their feelings (psychological change).  By keeping training – in a safe and effective way – they can continue to enjoy being in the gym (social), continue to train (psychological) and start to see the injury getting better (physiological).

On the proviso that there are no (or few) physiological triggers, then the psychological and the social triggers can be affected by how we are thinking and feeling.  

Over time, we have all learned our behaviour and how we act in any situation.  Our parents had an early influence; school, friends, families and other external forces all mould and shape our personality.

By changing how we think and feel in any situation changes how we act/react and, therefore, the effect we have on our brain.  

Psychiatrists, psychotherapists and using Nuero-linguistic programming (NLP) and/or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help us change how we think and feel.  However, the most difficult step is usually the first step – which is recognising that we need to make a change.  

For most of us, there are usually external factors which cause internal triggers to kick in. Recognising what those are can be half the battle.  Then one needs the courage to make changes – and change is something that can scare the strongest of us.  

There are tools and techniques which can be used that help us make the changes needed to take us to a different outcome.  By changing how we react in a given situation (social or external trigger), we affect our actions which impact on how we think or feel (psychological or internal trigger) and this has a massive impact on our mental well-being.

We can all get stuck in a way of thinking or way of behaving, irrespective of how we got there. Danny and I are one of a few NLP Fitness Coaches in the UK and have been incredibly lucky to have used the NLP techniques we have learnt on our clients, ourselves and each other!

Having used NLP on myself in both my personal and my work life, I am a great believer in its effects and the effectiveness of the techniques.  There are a number of places you can get help if you are looking at alternative ways of thinking – or help on changing how you behave in any given situation.  I have a listed a few below that you may useful.  I have also listed the sources for this article and I would like to thank those people for their dedication and work in this field.

So long as we are physically ok (and there are no physiological reasons why we are thinking or feeling what we are feeling) then we all have the ability to change the way we are thinking and feeling – which will benefit us in our daily lives.  

I am not saying it’s easy to change.  I know from experience that it isn’t but, if you don’t like the road you are, who says you have to stay on it?

You can’t always change the situation, but you can always change how you react in the situation.

Paul Folan

NLP Fitness Professional Coach

Support and Information:

NHS Direct – www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk 0845 46 47

Mental Health Foundation – www.mentalhealth.gov.uk 0207 803 1121

The Samaritans – www.samaritans.org   08457 90 90 90

The British Assoc. of Counselling and Psychotherapy – www.psychotherapy.org.uk  0207 014 9955


Mental Health Foundation

Debbie Lawrence and Sarah Bolitho – REPs Journal Issue 20

FitPro – various and numerous articles

Sharon Jones – Mind Body Solutions Ltd

NLP for dummies

Exercise – Are we mental to do it?

How Exercise Can Affect Our Psychologically Health

20 March 2011 Written by Paul Folan

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