Hot Topic interview:
fitness for mental health
Jodi Becker is the creator and founder of "Fitness for Mental Health", a non-profit organization and evidenced based program, dedicated to delivering fitness as a treatment and as an integral part of the mental health journey.
What’s your story: how did Fitness for Mental Health (FMH), come to be?
We were founded in 2016 as a response to the mental health crisis in Canada. After receiving an Anxiety Disorder diagnosis, I was researching treatment options and stumbled upon research around physical activity and mental well-being. I always knew that exercise made me feel better, and I was an athlete - but I also realized that exercise as a treatment was not really widely discussed. Nor was it available to the masses. We go to the gym to look differently or to get “fit” , but where are the gyms that help you feel better? FMH was born.
What is the mandate and mission of FMH?
We are here to change the way mental health is treated in Canada.
What are some of the ways in which movement and fitness can benefit mental wellness?
Initially, most of the research we founded our programs on spoke to this prescription of “30 mins of medium to high intensity physical activity performed 3 times per week.” What we’ve learned over the years though, is that for some people, walks in nature help. For others, one session of fitness per week is a great start. There’s no "one-size-fits-all "approach.
Many young Canadians are struggling with high levels of anxiety and depression right now, how can a fitness program help?
Physical activity creates chemical changes in the brain. Lately, as we are all stuck inside with the remaining external pressures of school and work, we are lacking that opportunity for an outlet. Exercise helps to release stress and leads to better sleep, which also supports mental well being.
There are many young people who don’t identify as “athletes” and/or don’t necessarily have a strong interest in sports. Some have never been very active in the past. How can they get started?
One small step at a time. Starting with a 10 minute stretch on day one. Working your way up to a 20 minute yoga practice after three weeks. Maybe then doing something to introduce cardio. Find something that interests you; Maybe it’s swimming. Maybe it’s shooting hoops outside or jumping on a trampoline. You don’t have to be “sporty” to move your body and to receive the benefits of exercise. While we are indoors, there are also a lot of great free resources on YouTube to get you started.
What are some ways to stay active during pandemic lockdowns/restrictions?
It’s hard. Especially when it's cold. Setting aside the time and committing to 10-15 minutes of movement is a great way to start. When I don’t feel like doing yoga, I commit to doing 20 laps of my staircase holding my baby. For youth, this could mean filling your backpack full of books and wearing it while doing laps on the stairs. Watch how quickly your heart rate goes up!
What are some of the programs you offer?
We have been lucky to shift our services online during the pandemic. Right now for the general public we offer 30-minute virtual sessions for individuals and small groups. Additionally, we are running programs for inpatients at hospitals.
Can you share any specific examples/stories of how FMH has helped people?
Where to begin?! Often just being open to having the conversation around mental health can really start to break down the stigma. We’re learning a lot as we go... initially the research around physical activity was only around supporting depression and anxiety but we are now starting to see benefits in people who are experiencing symptoms of psychosis as well. Very empowering stuff.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We’re here and we exist because we understand that not everyone has the motivation and willpower to do it alone. We understand that we are a part of people’s journey and that everyone has to find the right treatment mix for them. Our services are offered on a sliding scale to try and provide equal access to all.
For more information on FMH, visit their website at: fitforthemind.ca