Physical exercise has an enormous effect on my mental well-being and I am sure that's the case for a lot of people reading this too. It allowed me to stop taking anti-depressants and instead of relying on a pill each day for endorphins, I decided it would be better in the long run to replace them with natural and simple exercise.
I reinforce this with other things; practising mindfulness, not rushing, going to bed early, and eating more vegetables! But overall, I feel happy that this is a better way for me to cope with my depression and anxiety. It’s important to talk and I find that being open about my experiences encourages others to do the same. It’s too easy to hide issues away and forget they exist, but that’s not healthy and at some point down the line they will resurface and be even more difficult to deal with.
The knowledge we have of the benefits of physical exercise has grown and a quick search through research papers shows just how much evidence there is to suggest that exercising can be seen as medication or therapy in its own right. Even Sport England now has mental well-being ‘at its heart’ of its current strategy. Doing any kind of physical activity, whether it be yoga, climbing or running, is proven to improve mood, reduce stress, better your self-esteem and help to manage or even prevent depression and anxiety.
So it’s a no-brainer right? It should be. But with all the knowledge in the world, it can still be hard to make the time or find the motivation to get your heart-rate up.
So what can we do to help ourselves not skip out on mental health therapy? I struggle when it’s early morning, dark, cold and I’m in bed, but here’s what I find helps me:
- I’m an independent person but I can feel isolated at times. Having like-minded people to support, motivate, and exercise with me is good for me. Therefore, I choose to be around those people and limit my time around those who do not fit this ideal.
- I highly value having a goal and a step-by-step plan of how to get there. For me, that means sitting down with a flipchart (plus bright pens) and writing out a triathlon training plan for my bedroom wall. Without one, I’d be stumbling around in the dark mentally and probably physically too. Being able to see the progress I make fills me with motivation each day.
- I’m more interested in new experiences and opportunities that will aid my personal development and ultimately enrich my life. However, I take care not to take too much on and I’m okay with saying no when things get too much. So if anyone needs a kayaking buddy, I’m itching to try it and maybe enter a cool adventure race!
It’s a no-brainer to help yourself and others who may struggle with mental health, but I think we can do it better, even in the most simplest of ways, and sport provides us with a huge platform to help make more of a difference and to put our health first.
About the author: Alister Brown is a coach with Tri Energy Triathlon Club and an advocate for mental health awareness.
Whether you’re an avid runner, a recreational lifter, or a lifelong tennis player, you know that what you eat is key both for optimal performance as well as recovery. However, some people are so enthusiastic about fuelling their workouts with the right ingredients that they neglect the equally important role of their recovery. After all, this is when all of your muscle growth happens and the effects of your training take place to help you advance.
In addition to your macros, which are always vital for your health and well-being, taking care of your micro-nutrient intake will help you recuperate faster and restore your energy more efficiently. One mineral in particular deserves more attention for improving your post-workout healing – magnesium!
Magnesium’s main roles
Just like every other essential micro-nutrient, magnesium is a meddler – it plays many vital roles in numerous metabolic processes in the body. This minuscule mineral takes part in over 300 biochemical reactions, from how your body generates energy, how it utilises other micro-nutrients you eat in your food, all the way to protecting your very DNA.
Your vital organs such as you brain and heart heavily depend on your magnesium supplies to function properly every day. However, it’s also the building block of your bones, just like calcium, and it balances your cholesterol levels, allowing your muscles to relax and recover from physical strain. Even with just these several functions, it’s already clear how crucial magnesium is for everyone who leads an active life, since your energy and performance are based in magnesium availability, as much as any other essential macro and micro-nutrient.
Deciding on your needs
The general guidelines when it comes to this handy mineral state that an average man requires approximately 400 to 420mg of magnesium per day, while women need slightly less, in the realm of 310 to 320mg per day. However, these numbers fluctuate depending on your lifestyle, any pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, how active you are every day, what your diet consists of, and whether you are pregnant.
Then again, athletes – and endurance athletes in particular – may need more magnesium to help their bodies cope with muscle soreness and cramps as well as arduous routines. You don’t necessarily need to be a competitive athlete to find yourself depleted of magnesium, since you may need a higher dosage than someone who exercises significantly less in terms of both intensity and frequency – which is where your doctor should step in and check if you should up your intake.
Sources of magnesium
This crucial mineral is as hard to come by as it is essential to your well-being, making it one of those elusive dietary requirements that is hard to meet, especially through diet alone. Nuts and seeds such as almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and dairy as well as dark greens such as spinach and broccoli have high amounts of magnesium, although its bio-availability may vary. Typically, your body will absorb as little as 30-40% of the eaten magnesium, which often leads athletes to rethink their diets.
For those who exercise vigorously, it’s often recommended to take magnesium supplements in order to improve their energy levels and recover faster. They are designed to be absorbed more easily without causing any harm to your digestive tract, increasing your daily intake without increasing your calories through magnesium-packed foods.
Symptoms of a deficiency
Although some of the following symptoms are very commonly associated with other health issues and they can be seen as mere reactions to a stressful situation, it’s important to listen to your body and notice if these symptoms persist:
- General fatigue
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Trouble sleeping
- Carb cravings
- Numbness in your hands and feet
- Irregular heartbeat
If you feel that your workouts are becoming increasingly difficult even though you’re resting properly and not increasing the intensity of your workouts, chances are that you are starting to experience a magnesium deficiency. It’s best to talk to your physician and do a few tests to confirm if you have this particular issue in order to find the best solution – your body will thank you later!
Key perks to expect
Finally, as difficult as it may be for some to believe that this one micro-nutrient is so priceless for your muscles, bones, and energy, you can begin by getting a deeper insight into how you’ll feel when you actually provide your body with enough of this mineral.
- Improved muscle gains – Since magnesium is one of those vital ingredients in the process called muscle protein synthesis, which occurs well after you finish your workout, it stimulates your muscles to repair and build new tissue. Without it, your muscles cannot repair and recover properly, making it very difficult to advance in terms of improving your physique with lean muscle.
- Better carb and fat metabolism – Yes, this little rascal also plays a key role in how your body uses carbs to generate energy, and how efficient you are at burning fat. So, if your goal is to improve your body composition and replace those love handles with lean muscle, magnesium is your body’s best friend.
- Quality sleep – As the third pillar of a healthy lifestyle, right next to diet and exercise, sleep is connected to your magnesium levels. Enough of this mineral helps your body relax after training, reduces inflammation in your body, replenishes energy stores, and soothes your entire central nervous system to sleep.
There can be no muscle protein synthesis, or restored energy without sleep, so magnesium is the ingredient that closes this recovery cycle and turns it into a powerful bodily process you need to advance in your athletic endeavors and stay healthy.
About the author: Luke is a fitness and health blogger at Ripped.me and a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. He follows the trends in fitness, gym and healthy life and loves to share his knowledge through useful and informative articles.
Working full-time in an office can take its toll on your health. Sitting for 8 hours a day, colleagues bringing sweet treats and other temptations into the office, and going out for work drinks can all mean it feels impossible to be healthy. We give you all the tips and advice you need to stay healthy when you work an office job.
Workout at work
There are lots of creative ways you can workout at work without affecting your performance (or ticking off your boss!) You could go for a run or a brisk walk at lunchtime or do exercises at your desk. If you can burn more calories at work, you stand a good chance of living an overall healthier lifestyle as chances are you spend most of your day at the office.
There are a lot of reasons to workout at work and living a sedentary lifestyle by sitting at a desk all day can be very bad for you, even if you regularly exercise outside of work. Incorporating it into your day can make a huge difference to your lifestyle.
Bring homemade lunches
One of the most difficult parts of staying healthy while working an office job is all the temptation. If it's someone's birthday, you can expect cake and treats, and then there are working lunches and meetings. If you're hungry, this means you are far more likely to cave so being prepared and taking your own homemade healthy lunch and snacks will stop you over-indulging.
Don't drink your calories
One of the easiest ways to over-indulge without realising is by 'drinking your calories'. What this means is drinking juices, smoothies, sugary teas, and soft drinks throughout the day. Even supposedly healthy drinks like smoothies and diet soda are bad for your health. Try sticking to water by taking a BPA-free, reusable water bottle to work with you which can sit on your desk and remind you to stay hydrated throughout the day.
In a busy world filled with stress and anxiety, more and more people are looking to meditation and mindfulness to help them relax. But what are the benefits? And what's the difference between the two? We explore meditation.
Where meditation originated
It is widely understood that the concepts of meditation and yoga are thousands of years old. There are arguably different types of meditation, such as trance and chanting. These are both ancient rites that our ancestors would have partaken in regularly. All of these different concepts are widely associated with world religions, and the one that is most often credited with the birth of meditation is Buddhism.
According to Buddhist teachings, one can achieve an 'awakening' or 'enlightenment' by practising extensive meditation. While this was first taught well over 2,000 years ago, it is still widely practised today by people all over the world.
Meditation only really moved to Western civilisation in more recent times. Improved transportation and communication meant that the far-reaching corners of the world became more easily accessible and thus concepts such as meditation spread across the globe. Now in the present day, mindfulness is everywhere, from mindful eating to being more aware of our impact on the planet.
How meditation helps sleep
Studies show that mindfulness and meditation really do have an impact on our sleep, which is good news if you struggle to rest easy at the end of the day. Meditation can help our sleep in two ways: both physically and mentally.
One of the main causes of poor sleep is stress and psycho-related issues, causing over 70% of insomnia cases - this is the mental factor. If you live a busy and stressful life with a hectic work-life balance and come home each day to kids running around the house, chances are your stress levels will be through the roof. On a mental level, you may well lay awake at night thinking of all the things you should have said to your boss and all the things you shouldn't have said to your kids. This is where meditation comes in. By spending some time each day allowing yourself to drift away from reality and collect your thoughts, you will not be frantically thinking about everything as you fall asleep and therefore will sleep better.
On a physical side, it is thought that as well as stress hormones being present in our body, there are also relaxation hormones which can have the opposite effect. 'The relaxation response' is a phrase that was coined by psychologist Dr Herbert Benson and goes some way to explain the way our brain signals our organs to slow down as well as our blood flow. It is thought that meditation and mindfulness can cause this reaction in our body, resulting in a much more peaceful night sleep and a much happier you!
Can meditation lower blood pressure?
If you suffer from high blood pressure, there are a surprising number of non-medical ways to lower it safely. You can do so by changing your diet and following a low-blood pressure diet like the DASH diet. Another way to lower your blood pressure is by practising meditation. Research has found that certain mindfulness techniques and meditation can reduce stress and produce significant results in lowering blood pressure in those who suffer from elevated levels.
That said, it has also been found that meditation may not be able to lower blood pressure alone, and instead is best done in conjunction with other proven methods that can reduce blood pressure levels.
Meditation vs Mindfulness
Mindfulness refers to an awareness of yourself and your surroundings. We live in a very fast-paced world and it's very easy to rush through your day and not realise what you're doing. You chug a coffee on your way to work and eat a breakfast bagel because it's quick and easy, not because it's nutritious and good for your health. Especially if you eat while scrolling through your phone or while watching television, you will not be eating mindfully. It is often the case that we say and do things without realising their true meaning and mindfulness steps in to try and put a stop to this.
By being mindful, you try to tap into what your body truly wants and needs and you listen to your inner self. Being mindful of when you're actually hungry rather than just eating because it's lunchtime is an example of mindful eating. This would also extend to stopping eating when you're full, rather than finishing what's on your plate just because it's there.
On the other hand, meditation takes more forms. You could say that mindfulness is a type of meditation. Meditation is a much more broad term and refers to trying to achieve a calmer head space and clearer thoughts. It can involve something as simple as sitting quietly in a room and being alone with your thoughts. It can also involve a practice such as yoga.
The importance of meditation and mindfulness today
We live in a world where 'lifestyle diseases' are rife and rampant, meaning that a lot of people who suffer chronic pain and are taking a lot of medication could significantly improve their health simply by changing to a healthier lifestyle. Illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are all completely avoidable if we live a healthy lifestyle and make mindful choices.
What this means is that meditation and mindfulness are hugely important in this modern world as they can help someone to reduce stress and be more aware of what they are putting into their body, therefore avoiding a whole host of diseases that have a high mortality rate.
Especially if your university accommodation is catered, it can be tough to stay healthy at college. Beat the Freshman 15 by following our tips for staying healthy while you study.
I have always loved cooking and adore being able to use fresh fruit and vegetables to make my meals. So, deciding to live in catered over non-catered halls was a tough decision, but eventually I gave into the idea of Sunday brunch always being ready for me. However, this meant I sacrificed a kitchen and also a lot of freedom over what I could eat and when.
The food in my hall was tasty but a lot of the time very unhealthy. Combinations such as pasta with gravy and fish and chips with samosas came up regularly. I found myself having to creatively avoid these options by becoming a part-time vegetarian. This worked most of the time, but I was still being served pasta a lot or puffed pastry with cheese…still not my idea of a healthy balanced diet. To my hall’s credit, there was a salad bar, but this was the same every single day and got very boring. I ended up ordering in food a lot, but even then, those options were also unhealthy with pizza and Chinese usually being the winners amongst my friends.
Eventually, I turned vegan as I realised there were only 4 other vegans in my hall and therefore the food was cooked specially for us and with a lot more care than to feed the other 300 students. Other than veganism (which was broken pretty regularly by the odd chicken breast or egg) I managed to learn a few tricks in order to stay healthy whilst living my best student life. I didn’t want to restrict myself and I still wanted to have fun. Drinking is also a big dilemma as a student as nights-out are unavoidably part of the experience.
Tips for staying healthy at University
The following are tips anyone can follow in order not to gain lots of weight without having to go vegan:
- Make the most of your university gym.
- Do not get a late-night McDonald's after a night of drinking. Instead, save yourself a banana and put it in your room so you can eat it when you get home.
- Try not to eat anything fried. Curly fries were often my weakness.
- If you know you’re going to get hungry after the gym, buy some carrots and celery to snack on.
- If your university's gym has a cafe, the food there is more likely to be healthier.
- Keep yogurt and seeds in your fridge so you always have a healthy start to the day.
- Take a hand-held food processor to university with you. This means you can whip-up smoothies (or even soup) without having a kitchen.
- Take a nice selection of herbal teas and make sure you have your own thermos - I love the Sundried eco coffee cup. Most cafes will give you a discount on coffee when you have your own reusable cup.
- If you’re going to drink alcohol (which I did) drink tequila or vodka with soda and lime as they contain fewer calories than drinks like wine and beer.
- If you’re going to order take away try to go for Thai, Vietnamese or Sushi (always better than pizza!)
By Siena Barry-Taylor