When we had the chance to speak with popular health coach Massy Arias recently, she was just coming off of a brief break from the many things she has in the works that are keeping her occupied. She has a program called Elevate to help care for the mind and body. She’s working with her well-known clients (including B. Simone) on a top-secret project to promote her supplement line. And her baby right now, aside from gorgeous daughter Indira, is her upcoming subscription-based web app launching at the end of the month. Aside from having her coveted workouts on it, she plans on bringing on fitness trainers who are experts at other modalities, as well as enlist everyone from physical therapists to those with background in mental health to share their expertise and get to the bottom of health and wellness issues.
“I really want to make a space in the community that caters to Black and brown people and everyone that wants to come,” she adds. “This is a multicultural brand. I know that I’m making an impact, and I’m never going to stop continuing to make an impact in my community, for people who want to follow me, for people that understand my message. I really want to make history [laughs]. I want to make history!”
Arias says that she couldn’t have foreseen this huge community and business she’s created, the name she’s made for herself, and the ability to do it all successfully as a single mom, back when she was suffering with crippling depression. Years ago, she was stuck in a room for eight months, wasting away.
“People experience depression differently. Some people overeat, some people like me, I was undereating,” she says of that tumultuous time. “I lost my interest. I quit school. I quit my job. I quit everything.”
A much younger Arias found herself at 110 pounds with her body and mind turning on her.
“My body started to destroy itself. When you’re not giving your body what it needs, your body starts pulling from the reserves,” she says. “My gums started receding. I started losing my hair. I became so scrawny and so small you could see my ribs. It was just a very unhealthy period in my life.”
She turned to fitness at the recommendation of a loved one, going public with her journey back in 2012. There was no turning back. She went from thinking her body wasn’t good enough (a toxic relationship at the time contributed to that), to no longer feeling mentally and physically weak.
“It had a huge impact on my mindset,” she says. “The physical strength gave me a different mindset, and my physical strength, it had a positive impact on the way I felt. I felt strong.”
It became her message, working out for mental health, then performance, with the physical changes being an added bonus. That idea of using fitness to care for the mind is one that, during this National Minority Health Month, many of us would be smart to adopt. The pandemic has impacted the mental health of many in the last year. According to the CDC, studies found that Americans experienced “elevated” adverse mental health that they associated with the virus’s impact. People of color were one of the groups who experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, and in some cases, increased suicidal ideation. While exercising may not be the sole answer to dealing with this of course, it can make a substantial difference. It certainly did for Arias.
Movement and a healthy diet has helped her keep mental health issues at bay when life events, including pregnancy, divorce, and the pandemic (including contracting the virus), took a toll.
“I never stopped, and even after getting COVID, it was movement and my healthy choices that got me back up and got me at this level,” she says.
So Arias is using her message to remind people during these complicated times that motion creates a healthy state of mind. That, coupled with nutrition makes an even bigger difference in how you feel mentally. For those who are interested in getting moving, she recommends starting off slow and working your way up.
“When I first started to move, I didn’t have the strength to do a push-up. I have exercise-induced asthma so it isn’t like I’m running marathons,” she says. “I had to have a sustainable approach that matched my fitness level so I was able to accomplish certain things.”
Instead of thinking you need to hit the ground running, doing the types of complex workouts she does effortlessly on her social media, she says when you’re getting started, it’s all about setting up a plan that is sustainable for the individual. Don’t start weight-lifting with no prior experience, and don’t do too much to soon because you could hit a wall, hard. The best way to begin instead is by going for walks five days a week.
“That was something you were not doing before, therefore your body is going to see change,” she says. “Say you start jogging the next week, now you’re progressing. The next week you may be running. The next week you may start exploring different movements.”
Supplement your new movement routine by also prioritizing a better way of consuming food. That, however, doesn’t mean going crazy quitting different things cold turkey in the process.
“A lot of people make mistakes thinking, ‘Well I’m going to take out an entire food group’ based on everything they see out there. They fall into these crash diets where ‘I’m not going to eat carbs, I’m not going to eat this. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to teach you how to sustain that for the rest of your life,” she says.
Instead of cutting out food groups, she suggests you start by simply making better choices. Ease up on fast foods and sodas and eat at home more. Keep it simple when you cook as well, focusing on loading your plate with a cut of meat, two servings of vegetables, and healthy carbs. The combination of starting to move and eating better will make all the difference in overall mental health. And if you want a brownie or a sweet occasionally, don’t be afraid to treat yourself — as long as you’re not indulging all the time, every time.
“What matters most is what you do on a regular basis, not what you do from time to time.”
Arias wouldn’t be at this point in her life, professionally, physically or mentally, had she not taken the suggestion of working through her pain by channeling it into exercise. The benefits have been immense for her, and they can be for you, too.
“My message has been about movement. This is my lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that has kept me mentally healthy and I use exercise as a positive outlet to cope with sadness and anxiety and depression,” she says. “It’s something you’re battling daily. I’ve honestly found my medicine and my medicine is movement and it’s the healthy choices that I make on a regular basis.”