Mental fitness

Exploring the Mental Fitness Continuum

Just like physical fitness, mental fitness also operates on a continuum. Paul and Carly Taylor explain.

As a fitness professional you’ll most likely understand our concept of mental fitness, which is pictured below. Because, just like physical fitness, mental fitness also operates on a continuum – you can be low fit, medium fit or high fit. In order to move up the continuum, you have to put in the work; and if you stop doing the work, you risk moving back down the continuum.

There are influences from genetics in both continuums, but what you do is more important than your genes. The major factors that drive mental fitness are:


This has a powerful impact on gene expression and levels of important neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, endocannabinoids and endorphins.


Good brain function is heavily reliant on enzymes and co-factors from whole foods, especially omega-3 fats and plant polyphenols.


Good quality sleep, breath work and meditation are all excellent strategies for enhancing one’s mental fitness.


The brain is fundamentally a social organ, which means we need positive face-to-face interactions in order to have a healthy brain.


Dealing with the inevitable challenges of life requires us to have a 'challenge orientation' and 'control orientation'. The first is about viewing difficult situations as a challenge that you need to lean into. Doing so will help you further develop your character which, in turn, helps you manage stress. The second is focusing on what you can control, and refusing to invest your energy in that which you can't.


Ultimately, all the knowledge in the world is useless unless it is applied, so the focus should be to live a life of action that is consistent with your values, and takes you towards, not away, from the person you want to be. Having rituals in the above areas that are implemented regularly, will keep you on the path towards achieving high mental fitness.

This is a concept you can use with your clients, while also applying to yourself.

Is your client struggling with their mental fitness?

It’s not easy to pick up on signs that someone may be struggling with their mental health. Often, people hide their private experiences but there are some common signs that are easier to pick up on, if you know your client well. This can include things like trouble sleeping; waking up with racing thoughts in the early hours of the morning; cancelling sessions, as they start to withdraw from their usual activities; or you may get a sense that your client is disconnected or is noticeably nervous. If you suspect your clients could benefit from reaching out for support, the first point of call is for them to see their GP so they can get a referral to a mental health provider.

How to help

If you have a client who is struggling, it’s important to resist the urge to dive straight in and try to ‘fix’ them. Instead, it’s important to normalise any negative thoughts and uncomfortable emotions. You’re in the ideal situation to be able to focus on this and highlight the fact that your client is already doing something that has positive benefits for their mental fitness, even though they are struggling. Remember, it takes courage for some people to enter a gym, and this is especially so for people who are already battling with their mental fitness. The fact your client is in the gym exercising is a big tick, because we all know that exercise offers huge benefits for our mental health.

You can support your client by asking them if they would like suggestions for lifestyle changes. Always ask and never offer advice unless they want it. Things like staying hydrated, turning screens off an hour before bed, eating wholefoods, and keeping sugar to a minimum, are all healthy and helpful habits for enhancing mental fitness.

So too is having a ritual board because by ticking off those small daily habits you’ll release dopamine, which will help with motivation levels.

If your clients are not eating well, you could also recommend they get a good multi-vitamin to support their brain health (we recommend Hardy’s Essential Nutrients, which is the only clinically proven multi-vitamin for brain health – enter MBBP25 to save 25%)

Protecting your own mental fitness

To ensure you remain up the healthy end of the mind fitness continuum, it’s essential to protect yourself.

Burnout and mental health issues often sneak up on us, and given the ‘helping’ nature of your role as a fitness professional, it’s essential that you put measures and boundaries in place to ensure your own personal mental fitness remains intact.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, feel like your motivation is dwindling, or if you are struggling to find joy in your life, then these could be signs that something needs to change. Other common signs are uncontrollable crying, not wanting to socialise, or notable changes in your habits. Experiencing these don’t necessarily mean you have mental health issues; but they could be a sign that you’re potentially sliding down the continuum.

If you become cognisant that there could be an issue, it is important to take action as soon possible.

To do this, break your life into three domains: energy, work and connection. Then, get it clear in your mind, exactly what is important to you in all of these areas. What actions do you need to take? What strengths do you need to draw on? Improving mental fitness is not a linear process of just talking to someone about how you feel; the mind, body and brain are all connected, so you need to work as a whole on yourself or with your clients, in order to create lasting change.

If you are aware that a client is struggling with his or her mental health, here are a few things you can do to ensure you do not take on their burdens.

It is not necessarily your role to give advice or to counsel your clients, but you can provide them with a safe space to open up.

Firstly, set some intentions for yourself before you greet them for a session. To do so, take a few deep breaths and decide what your role is with this client: are you willing to give them space during the session to open up about their lives, and listen to them without judgement?

It is not necessarily your role to give advice or to counsel your clients, but you can provide them with a safe space to open up. When they do, however, notice the thoughts and emotions that show up within you.

You are human, so it’s natural to have a cognitive or emotional reaction to your clients and their experiences; but it’s critical that you are able to observe them without getting tangled up in them.

Between clients, give yourself the opportunity to recharge. You can achieve this by changing your environment (e.g., go outside); by doing a quick burst of exercise; making a cup of tea can even help clear your head. Doing this will ensure you are able to fully give yourself to your next client.

If you find yourself needing to get out of your head and into the present moment, using your senses is an effective technique. For example, look for different shades of the colour blue, wiggle your toes, or listen to the various sounds in your environment that can bring you into the present.

Remember also to avoid talking about the specifics of your clients’ personal lives to other trainers or people.

With so many demands on us these days, it’s more important than ever before that you look after your mental fitness, and ensure you have measures and processes in place, to help you remain in a positive position on the mental fitness continuum.


Carly Taylor

Carly specialises in coaching people to get ‘unstuck’ from their difficult thoughts and emotions, so they can live their lives based on meaning and purpose. She combines modern, Eastern and ancient wisdom through ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), Japanese psychology and stoicism. 


Paul Taylor

Paul is the Director of The Mind-Body-Brain Performance Institute, where he delivers resilience, leadership and performance workshops to companies such as J&J, Oracle, SAP, PWC, NAB, CBA, BUPA, and the Australian Military. He is the host of The MindBodyBrain Project Podcast and his latest venture is The Resilient Mind, an online program and App that has proven benefits for resilience, mental wellbeing and levels of burnout of participants. In 2023, Paul published his book called ‘Death By Comfort: How modern life is killing us and what we can do about it’.