Episode 61 – Physical Fitness and Mental Health with PT Ash Barlow

The Mind-Body Connection with Ash Barlow

In this enriching bonus episode, our host Sarah dives into a profound discussion with fitness expert, Ash Barlow, focusing on the compelling connection between physical fitness and mental health.

Beginning the dialogue, they unravel the science behind the therapeutic effects of exercise on mental well-being. At around 4:20, be ready to learn why physical activity triggers a positive sensation and contributes to our overall sense of happiness and fulfilment.

The conversation takes a practical turn at approximately 14:41, where Ash extends valuable advice for listeners looking to incorporate fitness into their daily routines. Discover accessible strategies and attainable habits to gradually introduce exercise into your life, irrespective of your current fitness level or schedule constraints.

Don’t miss out on this insightful episode shedding light on its profound effects on the body and mind.

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Follow Ash on Instagram – @ashbarlowmbp
Find out more about working with him – at wearefitnessinc.com

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This episode was written and presented by Sarah Rees. It was edited by Big Tent Media and Produced by Emily Crosby Media.

Sarah Rees  00:09

Welcome to Ask the Therapist, the podcast that invites you into the therapist’s room to explore the world of mental health with me, and your host, Sarah Rees. 

Sarah Rees  00:20

Hello, and welcome to this bonus episode of Ask the Therapist. It’s lovely to have you here. Today we are talking to Ash Barlow, who’s a personal trainer. And in fact, he was my personal trainer for about five years. I think I say in the, in the episode that I went to him to get really fit and lost lose about five dress sizes in two weeks, which was, of course, completely unachievable. I used to hate going to the gym, it was never my thing. But when I hit 40 and came down with a thyroid condition that affected my metabolism, the gym was the only thing that stabilised my weight. And I had to learn to change my relationship with the gym for my physical and my mental health. And Ash helped me do that. And back in January, I interviewed Jenna McEvoy, a personal trainer and that episode went down so well. We are six months into the year now. And I thought I bet we all need a bit of a reminder to get going with our physical health or keep going with it. And I know lots of therapists listen to this podcast and we sit down for a living, which is as bad as smoking 20 cigarettes a day I hear, so we all need to get moving for our physical and our mental health. So Ash, today in this bonus episode is going to talk through why it’s so important for our physical and mental health to keep ourselves moving. I hope you enjoy it.

Sarah Rees  02:00

 Hello Ash, thank you so much for coming on and doing this episode with me.

Ash Barlow  02:05

Hi, thanks for inviting me. Really nice to see you.

Sarah Rees  02:08

It’s a pleasure because we worked together and I came to you for about I was going to see you for four months get in shape for a holiday and five years later.

Ash Barlow  02:18

Even through the lockdowns we still cracked on anyway.

Sarah Rees  02:21

We did I never you know when the gyms were shut, that would have been my out but you never gave me an out, you kept me going every week.

Ash Barlow  02:30

Fantastic. No, I’m glad I helped, I really am. It was a tough time for everyone.

Sarah Rees  02:35

Yeah, because when, I think when I met you, going to the gym, I’d got to it because I had a thyroid condition. And I was putting on weight and exercising was the only thing that was keeping me well and it was keeping stabilising my weight so had, like before you I was not an exerciser. And I didn’t like the gym. And now I’m still gyming and exercising.

Ash Barlow  02:59

There we go that we’ve made that switches I suppose part of your lifestyle now, isn’t it?

Sarah Rees  03:03

So it’s just what I do. So thank you for that, big tthank you. 

Ash Barlow  03:07

No, no, you’re more than welcome. 

Sarah Rees  03:09

But can you tell us about your journey into becoming a personal trainer, how that came about?

Ash Barlow  03:15

Yeah, so I mean, he was many, many years ago. So I’ve been doing this for 13 years now. 

Sarah Rees  03:19


Ash Barlow  03:20

All started off with me going through a number of jobs, being made redundant, but always been in sport. So you know, I was always involved in karate, kickboxing, boxing. Then I heard this announcement one day to go and quiet about being a personal trainer, due to private pay toss when required, saved up five grand, went and did it, you know, 13 years later? Here I am, it was the best thing I ever did.

Sarah Rees  03:49

Was that what type of clients do you say? 

Ash Barlow  03:51

I see quite a vast range of clients, different age groups, and different capabilities. You know, some people have injuries, some people with like bad illnesses that I try and help them get through training to help because it does help that and then you know, some people that are just looking to generally change their lifestyle and just be better, you know, getting stronger.

Sarah Rees  04:14

And we all know physical exercise is good for our mental health.

Ash Barlow  04:19


Sarah Rees  04:20

How? Tell us about that. Tell us a bit more about

Ash Barlow  04:24

There’s a lot of science behind it. Which I’m sure people have heard. You know, doing exercise helps lift endorphins, you know which it does, which then can instantly make you feel better. But the thing the whole thing around fitness, training, is that once you build into a new lifestyle, where you are exercising regularly, you are training, you’re looking after yourself, you’re generally gonna feel better anyway about yourself. Because you’re going to look better. You’re gonna feel better about what you’re doing and hitting small goals, which then leads to bigger goals. And I think that is a massive boost for mental health, because you’re looking after number one there, aren’t you? And that’s why I do it. I train myself, mainly for my mental health because it keeps me going. You know, it keeps me feeling positive. I feel great.

Sarah Rees  05:14

Yeah, I remember, I mean, I think you used to laugh at me because I used to use like a two kilogramme kettlebell didn’t I? You soon knocked me into shape and that got heavier. But I’ve when I physically got strong, I did feel mentally stronger. I don’t know how that works. But I did. I felt like because I’ve never felt strong in my body before.

Ash Barlow  05:34

Right? I see, I suppose. Yeah, many clients gave me feedback over the years, and, you know, a lot of them said to me, you know, from getting stronger, definitely, and, you know, getting fitter. People have said that, you know, they feel a bit more resilient in themselves, and they can just, like, handle a bit more. You know, if you’ve got, like, a bit of pressure upon them to do something, or they got, you know, like physical things that they need to do, rather than being stressed, they do feel capable, and they do it.

Sarah Rees  06:03

Do you see people’s psychology change from when you start working with somebody to, you know, down the line?

Ash Barlow  06:10

Absolutely, absolutely. You know, I’ve worked with, you know, a good number of people over the years that have been, you know, say on antidepressants, for example, who are like super stressful work, don’t sleep, you know, take sleeping tablets, to get them to bed, to help, take antidepressants, to like get them through the day. And, you know, through coaching, you know, regular contact, you know, showing them what they can actually achieve through fitness, through training, and the boost it gives to their mindset. You know, I’ve taken people off antidepressant and, you know, switched the lifestyle around to where they’re feeling constantly positive about themselves because they’re making themselves better.

Sarah Rees  06:52

When people are like depressed or burnt out, sometimes they’re knackered, aren’t they? Like, they can’t do anything. How would you get somebody like that moving?

Ash Barlow  07:02

So, so if somebody approached me, and they were on like absolute burnout, the first thing I would focus on is sleep. Absolutely, you know, everything we could do to improve somebody’s sleep, that’s got to be number one, because with sleep, it gives you better hormone balance. You wake up in the morning, generally just feeling better, because you recovered. And then we look at how we can, you know, change their day slightly. So, you know, to help with energy levels, you’re looking at the nutrition, because that’s massive for energy. You know, keeping energy levels balanced more than anything, and then look at I suppose other stresses in the lifestyle to see how they can change things around to make their lifestyle a little bit easier. And then I’d say once somebody is past that stage, where they’re not in burnout anymore, is then start looking at exercise. So sleep number one.

Sarah Rees  07:53

Yeah, for people that sometimes are a bit depressed, but low in energy, they’ve got to get moving. And then the feelings follow. People generally wait to they feel better, don’t they? And then start moving. But sometimes you’ve got to move.

Ash Barlow  08:07

Sometimes it’ll just take, just get out the door, and just go for a walk and just start there. Yeah, absolutely. If somebody’s like, you know, rock bottom, just start somewhere, as small as it is. Just start somewhere. You know, it could just be a 10 minute walk around the block. Once a day. But then you start doing twice a day, you start doing three times a day, next minute, you know, you’re hitting 12,000 steps a day, and then you start exercising. One thing leads to another.

Sarah Rees  08:38

Yeah, I remember, you used to get me to do little runs for 10 minutes. I think you tricked me into doing more and more exercise. And before I knew it, I was doing quite a lot. But you know, you’d think 

Ash Barlow  08:49

oh, gosh, yeah.

Sarah Rees  08:51

Small goals and small gains

Ash Barlow  08:55

Yeah, small goals, which are, you know, for the client, you know, achievable. Like you don’t want to overwhelm them with some you want to give them something that’s like, right, here you go. That’s definitely achievable. Let’s do it. And then let’s do more regularly.

Sarah Rees  09:08

Yeah, I think one thing that is done very well in the world of personal coaching and not so well in therapy is that you focus a lot more on consistency. Whereas we as therapists, should probably do more of that. How do you get somebody to be consistent in what they’re doing? I mean, coming to a personal trainer kept me consistent because I’d keep your appointment but if I could miss a gym class, I probably would.

Ash Barlow  09:35

So consistency. So I think having a coach definitely gives you more accountability. You know, a good coach that will support you regularly, not just in the session but outside the session. So you know, catching up with you, say dropping a message so you know, how you feeling? You know what you’re up to today? Have you done this? Have you done that? So that kind of accountability, which Yeah, least consistency. I suppose setting people little tasks, things, you know, things to do. You know, I do that for the client, because it does make them more consistent, you know, and being on the phone, just to make sure that they’re doing it.

Sarah Rees  10:10

Picking people up a lot more and kind of in giving them prompts, which we probably don’t do that much. 

Ash Barlow  10:17

It could literally be, Sarah, just like a message just to say, How are you feeling today? And their response could be Oh, yeah, feeling really good. Or, you know, actually, I should do this, because I think a chance to do it yesterday, or you know, and then it gives them that accountability. And once they’re aware of something, they will become more consistent. And then I suppose when people start seeing results in their mindset, and they’re feeling it then spurs them on to want to do more.

Sarah Rees  10:44

Do you think it’s more about how they’re feeling or how they look, which has the bigger motive?

Ash Barlow  10:48

Feeling. Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. 100%. From the feedback that I’ve gotten of my clients over the years, it’s how they feel. Because that’s what spurs them on, and then you start seeing the big changes in how they look- the aesthetics—so, feeling. Absolutely.

Sarah Rees  11:07

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Because people might start the journey thinking, I want to look completely different. But actually, the initial powerful thing is how they’re going to be feeling is going to be…

Ash Barlow  11:19

Yeah, 100% 100%. Yeah, yeah.

Sarah Rees  11:23

I feel like I rely on it now a bit more for my mental health, where as I didn’t, well, I, you know, I think it’s improved how I feel. So I, you know, I probably do it more for how I feel actually, have not thought about that.

Ash Barlow  11:34

Yeah, it’s like, you had a bad day at work or, you know, busy period, and you just want to get yourself on a bike or go for a walk, you’re always gonna feel better after doing it, aren’t you?

Sarah Rees  11:47

If you’d like to learn more about life behind the scenes of private practice, why not join us in our Therapists Corner Substack Community. Therapists Corner on Substack offers an exclusive look behind the scenes of the business of therapy. Bringing together diverse perspectives and exploring the how and why at the business of therapy. Visit therapistscorner.co.uk to sign up or for more information. 

Sarah Rees  12:14

People that you work with that get to their goals, wherever they are, and keep really consistent, what’s different about those, compared to the ones that just drop off the radar a little bit?

Ash Barlow  12:27

I suppose people, the difference is people that dropped off the radar maybe aren’t ready to, you know, start making commitments to me, or to anything else that you know, is going on in their life. They’re just maybe sometimes just a bit more all over the place. And they need to fix a few things before they can start committing to themselves. It’s not necessarily, you know, the training is committed to themselves to to do stuff. When people are in a good place, and you know, we’ve set them small targets. The difference, like you say, is like, they would never go back to being that person that’s been all over the place. They get organised and they make it a priority to do something.

Sarah Rees  13:11

So routine, you’re talking about routine there, like if you can commit to having it in your routine, and then it’s just what you do.

Ash Barlow  13:19

Absolutely. A lot of my clients have said now that they couldn’t live without it. 

Sarah Rees  13:23


Ash Barlow  13:24

You know, it has to be part of their, their week, the part of their lifestyle. 

Sarah Rees  13:28

How long does it take from you hating to go to the gym, not wanting to go to do it, they love it, and they want to do it? How long do you think?

Ash Barlow  13:39

I think a matter of weeks, you know, if they’re doing what’s right for them, 

Ash Barlow  13:45

matter of weeks. Could be after the first actually to do something that they find I actually really enjoy. You know, that they feel like capable of doing it. It’s like, let’s go, you know. I had a guy last week, never doneexercise before like new strength training, boxing, you know, just a little bit of golf here and there. Had him in last week, you know, do like a bit of an MOT with him. And he’s like a super busy guy. And I managed to like, get hold of him, you know, get him in. But you know, once a week, and we did some new types of exercise that he’s never done before, but you really enjoyed it. And straightaway, he was like, I can’t wait to do this next week.

Sarah Rees  14:22

That’s amazing. So you’ve found what’s right for him. So you have to find your thing?

Ash Barlow  14:27

Yeah, yeah. And it, you know, strength training might not be for everyone. You know, they might want to go and do like a dance class or a spin class or just go and walk in, you know, outside. It’s finding what works for you.

Sarah Rees  14:41

Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And if somebody was listening to this, I think at all my listeners are quite active, but if there was a real couch potato that was like starting from scratch, what would they need to do? What do you think they need to do?

Ash Barlow  14:55

So absolutely beginner, set small achievable goals. It could be 10 minute walk a day. 

Ash Barlow  15:04

Which I think for a couch potato is definitely realistic. And you said to someone, you need to go and do a 10 minute walk around the block.

Sarah Rees  15:12

You might think, what’s the point? How’s 10 minutes gonna help?

Ash Barlow  15:16

Thing is though it’s accumulation. And again, consistency. If something is achievable, somebody will be more consistent with it. So if I said to an absolute beginner, I want you to always do 10 minute walk a day, you know, they’ve done over the week, you know, 70 minutes of walking, so, you know, just over an hour, and then we go, okay. Yeah, yes, it’s a lot of steps compared to doing nothing. If someone’s doing absolutely nothing to doing just over an hour’s walk each week that’s spread out through the week. You know, it’s quite a lot. And then you slowly build on that. 

Sarah Rees  15:50

Yeah, yeah, 

Ash Barlow  15:51

That’s where I would start. Small achievable goals that are not overwhelming.

Sarah Rees  15:57

Yeah. And there are lots of therapists that listen to this as well. But um, as for a job we sit down, that’s really bad for us. Isn’t that?

Ash Barlow  16:05

It is. Yeah, it’s bad for anybody. Like, yeah, I mean, eighty per cent of the population sit down working. Yeah, for far too long. So get up, in between work, and move regularly. You know, say every hour, you set yourself a task just to like, you know, walk around the house or something or go and do like a little job, do some stretches on the floor next to you, do some desk stretches.

Sarah Rees  16:29

If we weren’t doing that, and we were like seizing up a little bit what, what can happen? Do we just have backache or what? 

Ash Barlow  16:39

Yeah, so it’s more the accumulation of it. So you know, you might start off being a little bit stiff at first, but then over time, it can lead to postural issues. It can lead to joint being, you know, worn down like your lower back in a bad way, your hips going that tight, it’s causing this discomfort in your hips, or your lower back. I’ve had people with like severe neck pain, you know, from my street and the magdalenian forwards when they’re on the laptop. So don’t ignore it. You know, as soon as you start feeling, you know, a little bit uncomfortable, a bit tight. You know, get on top of it straightaway, you know. See a physio see a coach, start doing some basic stretches, and just generally just, you know, move around more. 

Sarah Rees  17:23

Yeah, yeah. So that’s, it sounds like if we could set the target or being every hour get moving?

Ash Barlow  17:29

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Every hour, and it could be for like, literally a couple of minutes, every hour in between calls, you know, work, whatever you’re doing. But that little bit of movement will just stretch the joints, stretch the tissue and stop it from all seizing up.

Sarah Rees  17:45

Do you notice when you go on holiday? Maybe you don’t know, you probably just exercise, do you on holiday?

Ash Barlow  17:51

I do. Yeah, guys, of course. Not as much as we would do our home, you know, but I’ll still trying to do a little bit. Like I just got back from Spain, I did, I think two 30 minute workouts, which I set myself to do. And the rest of the time, I was just busy. You know, I’d be walking around, you know, I’d be in the swimming pool. So, you know, I won’t be sat down much.

Sarah Rees  18:14

Yeah, yeah. So you’re really good at keeping yourself busy and what is exercise done for you, do you think?

Ash Barlow  18:20

I think over the years, its just helped switch my mindset, you know, just to be a more, I suppose, positive person, because I’m looking after myself and, you know, I had a tough childhood. And I think exercise in a way and doing this job has saved me because it’s told me something about myself. It’s you know, from that I can teach other people and I love helping people.

Sarah Rees  18:44

How did you find if you know, because it’s quite a healthy thing to do? You know, if you’re having a tough time in your childhood, and then you latch on to, you can latch on to bad things, I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say. But you got into sport, how, how did that come about?

Ash Barlow  19:04

I was always in sport. And then I just, I mean, I went through a bad time with like jobs and redundancies. And as for me something I may still that’s just going to get me going again, you know, get a bit of fire, you know, in the engine. And I just went to inquire about you know, being a coach and being a personal trainer and a chat to me, like this is what’s going to happen otherwise, you know what I’m just gonna go for it. It was literally that impulsive. I just went for it. 

Sarah Rees  19:31

A positive mindset then. You need to really move things forward.

Ash Barlow  19:36

Yes. And when I started to learn about myself and about the human body and what I could actually achieve, you know, the potential I had with training exercise and what it does for you, I was like, oh my god, this is amazing. And I was in the gym every single day. 

Ash Barlow  19:52

Oh, yeah. You know, when I was younger and that your life early 20s, when it first started out, I was in the gym every single day. Just learning just like figuring out, you know what it could do.

Sarah Rees  19:52


Sarah Rees  20:03

And getting to know yourself.

Ash Barlow  20:05

Exactly, yeah. And, you know, it was more the feeling that I got from it. Because I was doing something positive for myself. You know, I just felt better.

Sarah Rees  20:18

Because lots of us are not reaching our potential our way we’re in like jobs where I suppose we are sat down, like, our lives are geared up to being sat in a car, sat in front of a computer…

Ash Barlow  20:29

Yeah, people accept it, you know, people accept it. So, you know, I think people should experiment more. Yeah, absolutely. Especially people that are quit sedentry, experiment, you know, go and join a class, you know, go speak to a coach. Go do some walking somewhere, you know, learn new things, because it’s good for the body. It’s good for the brain, especially as we get older.

Sarah Rees  20:51

Yeah, yeah, keeps the brain going. We need it for kind of keeping ourselves sharp, keeping the blood flow into the brain isn’t it?

Ash Barlow  20:58

Yeah, you know, it can prevent things like, you know, Alzheimer’s and dementia from coming on, you know, we keep this busy. And that’s what you want, you want to keep the body busy. Because, you know, you don’t want to get down the line and you start getting things like arthritis, osteoporosis, that can really affect you as you get older. So training, generally just looking after yourself, prevent them.

Sarah Rees  21:19

Yeah, doing something for yourself. I think this has been so useful, because we had Jenna came on it that in January and kind of talked about some people getting started for the year, and then we’re kind of six months in now. And I think this is everybody’s reminder to keep going.

Ash Barlow  21:34

Oh, fantastic. Good. Well, you know, I really hope it helps.

Sarah Rees  21:37

I’m absolutely sure it will do. And one question that I asked all everybody that comes on is if you could go back to your 15 year old self, what would you say to him? What advice would you give to 15 year old Ash?

Ash Barlow  21:50

Get support. Go, you know, speak to people, ask for advice, ask for support. Whatever it is that you’re lacking, ask, because there’s people out there that will help guide you and guide you in the right direction. And that’s one thing that I should have done sooner, like a lot sooner as a teenager.


Sarah Rees  22:09

Yeah, but it’s difficult for teenage boys, isn’t? They’re kind of programme to keep it all in and be tough. Do you think you’re better at it now?

Ash Barlow  22:17

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

Sarah Rees  22:21

And if people want to follow you and kind of find out more about you, where are you most active?

Ash Barlow  22:28

Yeah, so the best place to find me is on Facebook, on Instagram. And that’s where I’d say I’m definitely more active on social media at the moment.

Sarah Rees  22:36

Yeah, amazing. And I shall put all the links in the show notes so people can find you. Thank you so much Ash, because you do share some very useful information and that kind of a good reminder you share.

Ash Barlow  22:49

So yeah, yeah. And I’m always happy to give out advice to people if they contact me. Absolutely.

Sarah Rees  22:54

Fantastic. Thank you so much. 

Sarah Rees  22:59

Thank you for listening to today’s episode of Ask the Therapist. I’ll be discussing all you’ve heard in this episode and, moreover in the Therapists Corner community on Substack. Just click on the link in the show notes to join me there. Until next time, take care of your mental well-being as you continue to become the best version of yourself.

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