Matt Boyles is a personal trainer and founder of a groundbreaking personal training programme created with gay, bi and trans men in mind. When Simon Blake OBE joined Mental Health First Aid England as Chief Executive, he turned to Matt for a more holistic approach to his health, where both physical and mental fitness are considered. Simon caught up with Matt to discuss the programme and the relationship between our minds and our bodies.

Who are you and what do you do?
Matt Boyles, founder of Fitter Confident You, the first online PT programme created with gay, bi, and trans men in mind. I realised that the fitness industry had always had a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone, when in fact, the different communities in which we exist do have different needs and requirements. Even more than that, I wanted to build mental health-supporting work into my programmes, as the rise in anxiety, stress, depression and worse has been impossible to ignore in the LGBTQ+ community.

What do you understand to be the link between exercise, well being and mental health?
For me, it's all as one. From personal experience, a concerted effort on balancing all three has been the most important thing I've learned to do. When I was younger, I focused pretty much solely on physical health, thinking that mental health was something other people had to think about, so it was a massive surprise when I got into some tough times, and had to deal with what was happening in my head. And since then I've understood the intrinsic link and hence why I build it into my work.

As a nation do you think we understand enough about the link what we eat, what we drink, the exercise we do and how we feel?
Absolutely not. We often use each of those separate elements to numb us or push away more important things we should be facing up to. I appreciate it's easier for me to sit here and say "oh you should bring all of them together and keep on eye on how you're relating to them, but I know it's tougher in practice; especially when you're working long hours with mounting stress.

When people think about exercise it can be off putting - how much, or how little do we need to do to feel the benefit of exercise?
Anything is better than nothing, and for someone starting out who really doesn't have time or headspace, even finding five minutes to go for a walk can completely change how you're feeling. I try to keep the image I project as realistic, so you won't see me squatting 120kg, as it's so far beyond the comprehension of most people, and completely unrelatable. Baby steps are always the best steps, so don't try to change everything at once. Build small, health-supporting habits in, week-by-week. Try drinking a bit more water, taking the stairs not the lift, meditating for three minutes while commuting, and take it from there, and most importantly of all, work on being kind to yourself - there is no deadline for this and no standard to meet. You doing what's right for you is the best way forward.

What would you say to anyone who says they don't have time to do some exercise?
I would sympathise and say I understand, as I've felt like that before - the last thing they need is a shouty PT telling them to get up before work to go for a run. I'd point them to the above habits I mentioned above and try to encourage small changes like that. Plus I'd ask them to keep an eye out for small wins, as they all add up to bigger success - it's just the bigger successes often seem so far off and insurmountable, so people don't start for them.

If you had one piece of advice to someone thinking about getting started what would it be?
Be kind to yourself in every way possible - you are absolutely enough in all ways, but with a few small changes, you could start to feel better than you might do now.

What do you do to look after yourself?
I meditate every morning for five to ten minutes, I (try to) limit my use of my phone, I go to the gym three or four times a week and do the occasional class too. Thanks to my training and experience as a PT, I have a decent understanding of nutrition, so keep try to keep that front of mind. I'm the opposite of a chicken and broccoli man, as food is a joy and there to be enjoyed, so I eat a balanced diet. I know when I have overdone it for a few weeks and will make a few changes to get me back to where I like to be with my body.

Check out Simon's blog on body image and physcial wellbeing for Mental Health Awareness Week.