Opinion — 21 August 2014

As Australia’s most renowned personal trainer Michelle Bridges knows what can come from exercise.

She is the picture of health with a washboard stomach, muscular thighs and perfectly taught arms that show no signs of tuckshop flab, but Australia’s favourite fitness fanatic says she’s not really in it for the abs.

“Everybody is always like, ‘Oh I want to get skinny’ or ‘I want to lose weight’ or, ‘I want to get into my jeans,’ blah-dee-blah,'” Michelle tells The Weekly. “But no one really talks much about how good [exercise] is for you mentally.”

As the official ambassador for the Black Dog Institute’s ‘Exercise your Mood’ campaign this September, The Biggest Loser trainer is less focused on pushing healthy habits for the body and more for the mind.

“There’s just so much research out here, on depression, exercise and mental health, and how good it is for you,” says Bridges.  “You don’t have to have any specific condition to not feel the amazing and wonderful benefits of exercise and how it can really elevate your mood.”Michelle Bridges

Following the tragic death of actor Robin Williams last week, depression has become a hot topic and the message from the Black Dog Institute is to encourage all Australians to get active and improve our national mental health.

The BDI’s research suggests that regular exercise may increase the level of brain serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, sleep, libido, appetite and other functions so regular physical activity can assist in alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Bridges says carving out 20 minutes a day needs to become a priority if you want to get the best from yourself.

“I know of so many people who have extraordinarily large diaries, like myself, who are advocates for exercise because they literally say, ‘If I didn’t exercise I wouldn’t be able to do everything that I can,'” says the 43-year-old.

“It’s my moment to just clear my mind and a moment for me to have some inward time for myself.”

Getting time to herself doesn’t seem to be an easy feat for Bridges. With TV commitments, brand endorsements, book deals and her 12 Week Body Transformation program generating big business you could forgive the Sydneysider for curling up at the end of the day with a packet of Tim-Tams.

However, the committed fitness guru says it’s exercise that helps her cope with such a busy plate.

“It’s amazing what exercise can bring you in terms of just changing your perception and decompressing you,” insists Bridges.

“You know, when there is a lot of stress or a lot of anxiety or pressure, exercise just decompresses all of that. It doesn’t make the problems or the stresses go away but what it does do is it changes your perception around it.

“So you’re looking at a problem, or you’re looking at an issue with a certain set of eyes, when you go and do a training session you go back with a different set of eyes – I guarantee it.”

One stressor that the motivated trainer could do without is the constant breakup rumours that surround her relationship with fellow Biggest Loser trainer, Steve ‘Commando’ Willis, and the whispers that Bridges’ high salary demands have forced her to walk away from the show she’s been a part of since 2007.

“People just love to throw those hand grenades up,” Bridges says of the idle gossip.

She even took to Twitter last week to say there isn’t any truth to her leaving the show.

“Honestly I just don’t know where that could have come from because seriously the conversations about the show haven’t really even started rolling,” Bridges tells The Weekly.

“I love how people will just jump in and I guess when it comes to that kind of journalism, and I use that word very loosely, it’s like the first casualty is actually the truth.”

So what are the plans then for next year’s Loser?

“The truth is no one is 100 per cent green lit with the show yet but I love that show. It’s something that I have always loved doing and I think it’s one of the most inspirational shows on TV,” says the trainer.

If Michelle does once again lead the red team in 2015 it will be her eighth season on the reality show, so will there ever be a good time to step away?

“It’s not really something that is in my mind right now,” insists Bridges.

“I kind of finish the show and then I get on with what’s happening next so I’m pretty much going from day to day and working on the next project which is either going to be Blackmore’s or a book or DVD’s or whatever it might be.”

To find out more about the Black Dog Institute’s Exercise Your Mood campaign see the website.

If you or anyone else you know is struggling with mental illness contact Lifeline.

This article first appeared on The Australian Women’s Weekly on 20 August 2014.

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