A new course will equip Riverina fitness instructors with tools to help gym goers with their mental health.
With research showing almost a third of those who go to the gym use exercise to aid their mental health, NSW TAFE Wagga Wagga has incorporated a mental health elective unit – ‘Working with people with a mental health condition,’ as part of its Certificate III in Fitness.
The elective will be run via virtual classroom two nights a week, with monthly face-to-face skills workshops at TAFE NSW Wagga Wagga’s fully equipped gym.
The elective unit will focus on different types of mental health, the benefits of exercise for those with mental health issues and how fitness instructors can refer their clients to the best possible health professionals.
TAFE NSW Wagga Wagga fitness teacher Jared Kahlefeldt said the fresh focus on mental health training for fitness professionals was in response to the changing needs of the industry.
“The current research shows that the number one reason people attend gyms is to see improvements in their mental health,” Mr Kahlefeldt said.
“Local gyms are crying out for TAFE NSW graduates, but it’s important we prepare them to work effectively in the industry and make a real difference.
“This is a holistic qualification in an incredibly rewarding role because you’re helping guide people on their health and fitness journey.”
As the owner of Workout Wagga Gym, Jared sees people stepping away from training all the time.
“There’s those people that are extremely consistent … and consistency is the key to it all,” Jared said.
“It’s great to see people come in short bursts … at least they are doing something.
“However, they do fall off the wagon, and it can be really hard to get back on.”
Jared emphasised consistency was the key to maintaining steady progress without having too many ups and downs.
“Trying to turn up three or four times a week is perfect rather than going hard for a month and then going missing for three months,” he said.
“It’s harder to stay on track that way.”
Wagga mum and former TAFE NSW sport and fitness teacher Helen Fisher knows how much fitness can help one navigate one’s mental health.
Taking on a new role last year left Helen desk-bound, which meant she spent less time at the gym.
“I took a hiatus from going to the gym, and things were happening throughout 2023 in my personal life … and I felt it towards the end of the year my mental health was going downhill,” Helen said.
“I was determined 2024 was not going to be the same year … my new year’s resolution was that I would improve.
“I go to the gym five days a week and walk every morning.”
While Helen has taken proactive steps to better herself, there are days when she finds it difficult to drive to the gym or meet someone to go for a walk.
“I always say to myself as I get into the car after being at the gym, ‘How good do I feel now compared to what I felt driving to the gym?’
“It is always a 100 per cent more improved … week six of consistently going to the gym has allowed me to be much more productive at work and home.
“There are still issues there, but my mental health and how I deal with those has well and truly improved.”
AusActive CEO Barrie Elvish, a vocal advocate for the benefits of exercising for mental wellness, welcomes TAFE NSW’s decision to include mental health in its fitness course.
“Physical activity is just as important for our mental health as it is for our physical health, and most people work or get active to feel better rather than look better,” Mr Elvish said.
“Understanding mental health and the benefits activity has on our mental fitness from the start of someone’s career journey into fitness will ensure future generations of fitness professionals have the right skills and qualities to benefit their clients.”
A recent 20,000-person AusPlay survey found 31 per cent of respondents were motivated to exercise to maintain mental wellness, a figure that has almost doubled in the past five years.
TAFE NSW Wagga will offer Certificate III in Fitness in 2024 with the elective unit, Working with people with a mental health condition, which was included after consultation with industry.
The Certificate III in Fitness qualifies graduates to become fitness instructors, a profession set to grow 9.8 per cent over the next five years, according to Jobs and Skills Australia.
Those interested in enrolling in the elective can get in touch with TAFE NSW.