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ePublication of Australian Fitness Network

We need to help clients see exercise as the magic elixir it is, capable of doing so much more than simply making them look better, writes performance and productivity coach Andrew May.


  • Many clients work with PTs and attend gyms in order to make themselves look better, but putting all their focus on this one aspect is not healthy
  • As a fitness professional you can educate clients about the numerous other benefits of physical activity and help them develop a holistic view of exercise and wellbeing
  • Benefits include improved mental performance, energy, happiness, social lives, personal relationships, and inspiring children to live active lives.

Despite what a million fitspo influencers may suggest, physical fitness has nothing to do with the way you look. Fitness professionals and fitness consumers alike know that regular physical activity improves our body shape and helps us get back into the little black dresses or budgie smugglers we bought before life ‘caught up’ with us. But focusing solely, or at least predominantly, on the aesthetic side effects of exercise is to do a disservice to the multiple other life-enhancing benefits it facilitates.

Instead of thinking about having chiselled pecs or slender legs, why don’t we advertise how fitness makes you smarter, improves memory, helps increase energy levels and reduces the risk of brain deterioration and dementia?

We need to help the population see exercise as the magic elixir it is, capable of transforming the way our brains function, and of keeping us healthier and happier throughout our (longer) lives.

We can’t deny that the reason that many people come to us for our services is to look better: we’re visual creatures, and the desire to look a way that we deem to be physically appealing is undeniable. Once these individuals have become training clients with us, however, we have the opportunity to take their relationship with movement to another, deeper level. By educating them about the following seven key benefits of working out – and continually, subtly reinforcing them as they train – you can help your clients develop a holistic view of exercise and its positive effects on every aspect of their wellbeing.

1. Physical activity makes you smarter

Fact: regular exercise helps you grow more brain cells. Recent research shows that exercise helps prevent age-related decrease in brain matter, enhances cognitive flexibility and reduces therisk of developing dementia.1 But simply having more brain cells isn’t enough. They need to be connected and in communication with other parts of the brain in order to be useful. A good way to pull these new neurons into the brain’s superhighway is to learn something new – maybe a language, or a musical instrument.

Once you have those extra neurons firing, you need to make them nimble. This is where exercise helps again, improving the connection of the neurons by increasing levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). Most brain changes occur from cardiovascular exercise, like walking or running, but all forms of physical activity provide benefits. So, whether you’re training for a marathon or walking to the shops, the message is clear: getting moving will improve your brainpower.

2. Physical activity boosts your energy levels

Fact: exercise builds more mitochondria, which are responsible for producing energy in the body. When you feel foggy and fatigued at work, the last thing you feel like doing is exercise. However, even a small burst of activity, as little as 20 minutes, will dramatically boost your energy levels. A University of Georgia study reported that sedentary people who normally complained of chronic lethargy increased their energy by 20% and decreased fatigue by as much as 65% by participating in regular, low-intensity exercise.2



3. Physical activity helps you retire

Fact: exercise improves the quality of your life post-retirement. Way too many people neglect their health for years and then retire and are unable to do simple things like play a round of golf, play with their grandkids or go on a cruise.

Sedentary living speeds up age-related declines in muscle mass, lung function, strength and aerobic endurance. Exercise can attenuate this decline, resulting in reduced risk of cardiovascular and other diseases. Keeping yourself fit as you age also helps you complete the activities of daily life with ease, keeping you truly independent for longer.

4. Physical activity inspires your children

Fact: overweight parents have a much higher likelihood of having overweight children. I received a fair bit of blowback on social media for having the audacity to talk about this on ABC News Breakfast.

Although there are many causes of obesity, parental weight and lifestyle habits influence the weight of their children. Obesity in fathers is associated with up to a fourfold increase in risk of obesity at the age of 18 years in both sons and daughters. With mothers, up to an eight-fold increased risk of obesity has been observed in daughters.3 So, not only is getting active is good for you – it’s also an investment in the future of your children. In fact, evidence suggests that changing parents’ behaviours is more effective than solely trying to change children’s behaviour.

5. Physical activity improves your mood

Fact: physical activity has been proven to be as successful as some antidepressants in treating mild forms of depression.4 According to Beyond Blue, in any one year, around a million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.5

The good news is that depression can be treated in many ways, including by psychological counselling, medication and exercise. One study tested exercise against the antidepressant Zoloft in treating depression, and found that either, or a combination of both, were equally effective in reducing symptoms – and the benefits continued for those who kept up their physical activity after the study finished.6 The major advantage of exercise over medication is that there are no nasty side effects. Being physically active also helps regulate the systems affected by depression, improving sleep, boosting your mood and increasing your energy levels. (As with all mental health issues, though, it is important to consult a medical professional before changing treatment.)

6. Physical activity improves relationships

Fact: research has demonstrated a relationship between exercise and social cohesion.7 Over the years I’ve developed friendships through my fitness activities. I have an eclectic mix of ‘fitness mates’ with whom I do weights, swim, yoga, run, play tennis, paddle, kick the footy, cycle, and go dragon-boat racing and skiing. Through all these fitness activities, I have sustained old friendships and grown new bonds.

7. Physical activity improves your sex life

Fact: pumping in the gym improves the quality of ‘pumping in the bedroom’. Come on. If the first six reasons haven’t fired your client up, this might do the trick! Staying in shape improves circulation and boosts testosterone. Exercise also improves your self-esteem.

These seven compelling reasons for making physical activity part of everyday life have nothing to do with the way your clients look. If you could sell your clients a potion that achieved all of these benefits, they’d pay you thousands of dollars. But there is no potion – just putting one foot in front of the other and moving whenever they can. And the bonus? Regular fitness training will change their body shape and make them look better. But they should consider that an added benefit, not the main reason why they should make training a lifelong habit.

This is an edited extract from Andrew’s book MatchFit ($35.00), now available from good book stores and at


  1. P. Heyn, B.C. Abreu & K.J. Ottenbacher (2004) ‘The Effects of Exercise Training on Elderly Persons with Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: A Meta-analysis’, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 85 (10), 1694–1704; L. Bherer, K.I. Erickson & T. Liu-Ambrose (2013) ‘A Review of the Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise on Cognitive and Brain Functions in Older Adults’, Journal of Aging Research, 2013, 8.
  2. Puetz T, W, Flowers S, S, O’Connor P, J: A (2008) ‘Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Aerobic Exercise Training on Feelings of Energy and Fatigue in Sedentary Young Adults with Persistent Fatigue’, Psychother Psychosom, 77:167–174.
  3. Agras, W.S., & Mascola, A.J. (2005) ‘Risk factors for childhood overweight’, Current Opinion
    in Pediatrics, 17(5), 648–652. doi:10.1097/01. mop.0000172818.87261.ab.
  4. Blackdog Institute, ‘Exercise and Depression’, accessed 31 March 2019
    Mayo Clinic (2017), ‘Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms, available at:
    depression-and-exercise/art-20046495, accessed 21 March 2019.
  5. Beyond Blue (2019) ‘Statistics’, available at:, accessed 10 March 2019.
  6. M. Babyak, J.A. Blumenthal, S. Herman, P. Khatri, M. Doraiswamy, K. Moore, W. Edward Craighead, T.T. Baldewicz & K. Ranga Krishnan (2000) ‘Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at 10 Months’, Psychosomatic Medicine, 62 (5), 633–638.
  7. C. Yip, S. Sarma & P. Wilk (2016) ‘The Association between Social Cohesion and Physical Activity in
    Canada: A Multilevel Analysis’, Population Health, 2, 718–723.

Andrew May
Andrew is recognised as one of the world’s leading strategists on workplace performance and wellbeing. He presents inspiring keynotes around the globe and is the author of MatchFit. Andrew is coach and confidante to a number of Australia’s leading CEO’s and executives, elite athletes and performing artists.

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