Emily Bunton from EMD UK

Emily Bunton

Emily Bunton from EMD UK, the national governing body for group exercise, discusses how instructors can help to make a difference to the nation’s mental health. 

With the days getting shorter, darker and colder, sometimes we can end up in a place where we don’t quite feel ourselves. Alongside Christmas cheer and festivities can be increased feelings of loneliness, isolation, worry and sadness. As we find ourselves in December already (how did that even happen?), it seems rather apt for us to look at how we, as instructors, can help to make a difference to the nation’s mental health.

Teaching group exercise is a very public-facing profession and so the likelihood of you being in regular contact with people struggling with their mental health is high. Statistics now say that one in four adults will experience a mental health problem in any one year1.

Emily Bunton

from EMD UK, the national governing body for group exercise, discusses how instructors can help to make a difference to the nation’s mental health.


When relating this to our world, that’s seven people in a class of 28, and if you teach 10 classes a week, that’s potentially 70 people. Stats like this shouldn’t be ignored and therefore highlight the opportunity for us to make a positive impact on the lives of so many.

From the occasional down day that we’ve all had, to longer-term conditions, let’s look at the ways we can recognise, alleviate, and protect ourselves and our participants from the effects of, or the factors that can lead to, a mental health condition.


Instructors are naturally observant (I hope!), so use this skill even more effectively by observing your class holistically. Take note of par- ticipants’ behaviour, actions and appearance, before, during and after the class. They may seem less interested or motivated, quiet or with- drawn, or share different thoughts or opinions than usual. They may seem tearful or more prone to losing their temper, or share feelings of guilt or worthlessness. They may also show physical signs such as tiredness, lack of energy/strength, changes in weight, or complain of stomach pains or headaches. Whatever the warning signs, if you think someone’s not quite themselves, ask them how they are. They may not give you an honest answer, but you’ve opened a line of communication that you should be proactive in maintaining.

Alleviate and protect

A 2011 study by the Department of Health, Start Active, Stay Active2, found that being physically active can reduce your risk of developing depression by up to 30% and should be one of the rst interventions recommended by doctors. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance is to take part in exercise of a moderate intensity for 45 minutes, three times a week. 


We can be positive that we are already supporting the national recommendations by providing a group exercise class, but how can we take this a step further?

Lead by example

Being healthy and happy in your personal and professional life should always take priority, so make sure you don’t neglect yourself in the rst instance. Remember, when you feel good, this has a positive impact on the people around you, and your positive energy will project on to your participants. Don’t underestimate the effect you can have as an instructor; your participants look up to you.

Be obvious and convenient

For people who are prone to feelings of anxiety or depression, there are many triggers that can cause worry, panic and nervousness. Changes in class timetables, cancellations, or arriving late to teach can lead to a participant feeling uneasy and may even lead to them not coming back to your classes at all. When it comes to you and your classes, include as many things as possible. This could be anything from listing your classes on relevant websites such as Class Finder, registering your venue on Google Maps, or putting direction signs up, in and around your space. Remember, try to make it as easy as possible for people to attend your classes and always be on time.

Communicate and follow up

Regularly communicating and checking in with your participants will improve their experience and increase the likelihood of them continuing to exercise, and exercise with you. Make yourself available for a chat before and after your classes, and use your online channels (social media, websites and email) to give class updates/changes, welcome new participants, ask/answer questions and share any other content they’ll nd valuable.

Create the right environment

Turning your class into a friendly, welcoming and judge-free commu- nity provides a safe and positive place for people to escape, let go, have fun and share any problems they may have. You could introduce a buddy system, organise socials, run themed classes or events, or set up a Facebook group, and be sure to always lead by example.

Teaching approach and technique

Be mindful of how and what you deliver in your classes. If you felt stressed out, sad, lacking in con dence or worried, how would you want a group exercise class to be? Provide a good introduction to you and the class, highlight any key or tricky moves, allow time to cue in new exercises, and be encouraging and give positive feedback throughout the whole duration of your session.

Provide a mental workout

Exercising and relaxing the brain is great for mental well-being. Playing around with directions or applying a game element to your session is a fun way to give their minds a workout and can lead to bene ts such as increased memory capacity. Your class may be the only time your participants have for themselves, so why not nish off your session with some chilled-out tunes, stretching and meditation.

Be honest and open

Today’s digital world places a huge strain on us to achieve perfection and this can leave us feeling inadequate or like a failure. As an instructor, you have a duty as a role model, and the best role models are open about their imperfections, troubles and barriers. If you’ve overindulged, had a bad hair day or are battling some demons of your own, share it. Your participants will feel so much better knowing someone they look up to is just like them.

From supporting you throughout your professional life, to providing you with tools to take these suggestions further, EMD UK, the national governing body for group exercise, is passionate about improving the physical and mental well-being of instructors and participants. EMD UK is proud of its partnership with Mind, the mental health charity, and together they are leading an initiative that enables workplaces to access brand new group exercise programmes designed to improve both physical and mental health. This exciting partnership has the potential to grow and allow more people to lead and maintain a healthy and happy life through group exercise. fp

To keep up to date with EMD UK and to find out how you can be involved:

Visit: emduk.org/stay-in-the-know Like: exercisemovedanceUK Follow: @EMDForLife Instagram: @exercisemovedanceUK

If you work for or own a business that would be interested in Workplace Health, visit emduk.org/workplace-health-programmes

To find out more about Mind and the support it offers, visit mind.org.uk


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