Move the mind

Turn to any news media platform, on any day, and a topic that is likely to be mentioned now is mental health.

Turn to any news media platform, on any day, and a topic that is likely to be mentioned now is mental health. Internationally, it has become a significant health issue, with the World Health Organisation determining that by next year depression will be the second-leading cause of disability in the world.

Prince William was reported as raising the issue during his recent visit to Pakistan with the Duchess of Cambridge, while just last month our Government announced a $6-million funding boost for mental health services at 22 general practices around the country.

Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are not isolated conditions, however – the connection between mental and physical health and wellbeing is widely recognised, not only by health professionals, but also by practitioners in the exercise and wellness industries. Offering a range of programmes and facilities, these practitioners say if people take advantage of them they can improve both their physical and mental health, leading to happier, more fulfilled lives.

Owner/operators of three 9Round franchises in Christchurch, Paige and Ellis Powerman, believe 90 per cent of people that go to the gym do so because they are feeling down, and are unhappy with their physical fitness. For many, the hope is to lose weight by going to the gym, as they think that will make them feel happy, Paige says.

“But losing weight has got nothing to do with being happy,” she says. “It’s the sense of empowerment people get from learning new skills and letting go of the stress that produces that feeling of happiness and wellbeing. Rather than focusing on the weight loss, their focus needs to be on being happy, on how they feel.”

She adds: “Exercise is the best form of anti-depressant you can have.”

Several times a year 9Round runs six-week challenges, which take a holistic approach to weight loss, combining mental, social, physical and spiritual aspects.

“The challenge is not about losing weight, it’s about changing behaviour to get people back on track. The goal is to change people’s mental state,” Paige says.

Both women say that unfortunately there is a stigma around six-week challenges, which they are keen to dispel.

“We also share challenges we have had in our lives,” Ellis says, “and that helps people’s confidence, knowing that, even though we are their trainers, we have faced challenges too.”

Body mechanic Wayne Armour, who owns and runs NZBMA with his mother Dawn Armour, a remedial specialist, and partner Danual Cattermoul, a stretch specialist, says people get into exercise for two reasons – to lose weight, or to escape.

“Often, it’s a coping strategy when they are experiencing stress in their life,” Wayne says, “and a core benefit of exercise is the relief of mental tension. The endorphins, or ‘happy hormones’ that are released by the body following exercise produce a natural ‘high’, relieving stress and anxiety. It becomes addictive.”

We all know that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach when we are worried about something. As Wayne explains, that is because our abdominal muscle (iliopsoas) is connected to our emotions. If the situation is ongoing, having a specialised massage treatment will release tension in the abdominal muscles and consequently the feelings of stress and anxiety will be relieved, he says.

In situations of extreme stress or trauma, a person will often adopt the foetal position to protect the vulnerable abdominal region, Wayne says.

Someone who is feeling stress or anxiety will often talk about it with their therapist, which Wayne says is also an important aspect of their treatment.

He also notes that anxiety can cause a person to hunch their shoulders creating tension in the neck muscles.

“When this happens, you need to change your position and relax your shoulders as the tension can also affect the alignment of other muscles,” Wayne says.

“We believe it’s about people being educated on how they can improve both their physical and mental health. It’s said that knowledge is power. But it’s what you do with that knowledge that’s the real power.”