Peloton instructor Kendall Toole considers her mental health diagnosis part of her power

Peloton instructor Kendall Toole started her mental health journey at an early age. At 11 years old, doctors explained she had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which she learned to manage. Then, in college, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

"It's something I consider to be part of my power, I can help try to take that stigma away, as it affects so many individuals," Toole explains.

Toole learned to work on her mental and physical health at the same time. As an avid boxer and cycling instructor, exercise became a one-two-punch prescription that has really helped her over the years.

She's also become a mental health advocate with National Alliance on Mental Illness. And living through this global pandemic has given her the opportunity to look at all aspects of her life and dig deep, do the internal work and continue to look at her mental health.

According to a September study published by Boston University's School of Public Health, 8.5 percent of adults reported feeling depressed before the pandemic hit the United States. During the pandemic, that number climbed to nearly 28 percent.

Peloton gives Toole a platform to tell her story and share her struggles but also allows her to destigmatize mental illness and be a part of the system that helps others. Part of that is reminding people that exercise is a big part of being able to stay mentally fit.

"The beauty of having the platform that I have is being able to help try to take that stigma away from something that is a day-to-day part of my life," she says.

Dr. Nina Vasan, founder and executive director of Brainstorm: The Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation thinks exercise is a magical tool in working toward good mental health.

"It's because exercise releases dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, all of these neurotransmitters in our brain that we know help us feel better. And so just like an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication, that is literally what exercise is doing for you," Vasan says.

Toole agrees any amount of exercise, whether it's meditation, yoga or just getting your body moving is helpful. And remember your mental health journey is your own and one you have control over. As Toole likes to say at the end of her classes: "They can knock you down, never let them knock you out."

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