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.
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.
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
The rise of millions of fitness accounts on social media has led to the exponential growth and spread of misinformation when it comes to health, exercise, and weight loss. We tackle some of the most common health myths and explain why they could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
1. Myth: Healthy food is expensive
You've probably seen the above image in one format or another, especially if you frequent fitness pages on social media. The truth is, it's a complete myth that eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk food.
Have you ever tallied up exactly how much money you spend on food in a month? It's probably a lot more than you realise. Raw fruit and vegetables from the supermarket can cost as little as 50p and healthy canned goods such as kidney beans, chopped tomatoes, and chickpeas can be even less, only 30p per can at some supermarkets.
The myth that healthy food is more expensive than junk food derives from the fact that many prepared salads and fruit boxes are indeed expensive. However, this is because you are paying for the convenience, not the healthy food. If you cook all of your meals from scratch, you will save heaps of money and you will soon find that eating healthy is actually less expensive than junk food! A homemade salad could easily cost as little as £1 to make.
When have you ever only spent 99p at McDonald's? Yes, there are a couple of items on the menu that cost less than £1, but you'd be left feeling very hungry if that's all you ate. You have to be honest with yourself and really keep an eye on the money you are spending on food. It won't be what you expect.
2. Myth: You need to eat more to lose weight
One of the latest trends on social media is to tell women they are not losing weight because they are not eating enough. There's a heavy pressure on women to lift heavy weights and do zero cardio in order to 'tone up' and lose weight. Sadly, this is a myth. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.
If you eat 2300 calories a day, have a BMR of 1500 calories (the calories your body burns just to stay alive), and burn zero calories through exercise because you're not doing any cardio and live a sedentary lifestyle, you will gain weight because you are in a 800 calorie-a-day surplus.
This myth is propagated by the theory that you need to eat a calorie surplus in order to build muscle. While this is true to an extent, most of the general public live a sedentary lifestyle, sitting at a desk all day, and only exercise maybe 1 hour each evening. The average lifestyle does not allow you to eat 2300 calories a day because you won't be burning them off. You would have to lift a lot of weights and live a much more active lifestyle in order for this calorie surplus to be used to build muscle instead of being stored as fat.
It's important to remember that these Instagram fitness gurus do not live a sedentary lifestyle and therefore what works for them will not work for you.
3. Myth: Your friend is losing more weight than you/is naturally slim because their metabolism is faster
If you've been beating yourself up because you can't lose weight while your friend is sailing through their weight loss journey, don't worry, it's not what it seems. While it is scientifically possible to have a slightly faster or slower metabolism than someone else, it would not be enough of a difference to mean you are 10lbs heavier than your friend even if you eat the same.
People who are 'naturally' slim are this way because they eat less and do more activity. If you were to pay very close attention to what your slim friend eats in a day, it is a guarantee that it will be less than what you eat, even if they claim they eat a lot.
Everyone has a BMR which is a Basal Metabolic Rate and this indicates how many calories your body burns just by being alive. This is affected by your age, your gender, and your current weight. Everyone also has a TDEE which is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This figure takes into account your daily activity, as someone who does a very manual job and moves a lot will burn more calories on a daily basis than someone who sits at a desk all day.
Everyone's BMR and TDEE will be different and therefore the amount of calories you need to eat will be completely different to that of your friend. It won't be because they have 'good genes' or are 'naturally slim', it'll be because their TDEE is higher than yours, meaning they burn more calories on a daily basis than you.
4. Myth: A juice cleanse/detox is a quick way to lose weight
You may have heard by now that doing a 'detox' is not really a thing, as your body naturally detoxifies itself daily anyway. If your body was full of toxins, you'd be incredibly ill and you'd certainly need more than a juice cleanse to help you.
The way juice cleanses or detoxes work is that your daily calories plummet and you lose water out of your muscles. You become very dehydrated and the number on the scale goes down. You may well lose some fat too as you are consuming so few calories, but it can't possibly last.
Not only this, fruit juice is full of sugar which could make you moody, spotty, and generally just a bit cranky. You won't be getting enough protein so you'll feel very tired and fatigued, and you'll be missing out on vital nutrients.
5. Myth: Everyone should lift heavy and eat more protein
You will have seen a lot of images on Instagram that propose lifting weights is superior to doing cardio and that everyone should be eating copious amounts of protein in the form of 'protein bread', 'protein oats', and now even 'protein yogurt'.
The truth is, it depends entirely on your personal goals and daily activity. If you are training for a marathon or triathlon, these are both entirely cardio-based activities. Of course you'll need to do cardio! Cycling is also a very cardio-heavy activity, but professional cyclists are far from skinny and unhealthy.
Most people do not need a sky-high amount of protein in their daily diet because they live a sedentary lifestyle and their body won't utilise it. Unless you live a truly active lifestyle and lift heavy weights or do strenuous sports 6 times a week, you don't need a ton of protein in your diet.
This new myth comes from a shift in attitudes towards body types and the new obsession with 'booty gains'. These days, being slim is seen as bad and everyone wants to look like the Instagram fitness gurus. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with cardio, and you probably do it more than you think. In fact, doing regular cardiovascular activity is vital for keeping a healthy immune system, lung function, and heart health.
We now live in a time where running a marathon just isn't enough and people are constantly striving for more. With more people participating in extreme endurance races than ever before, it poses the question: can too much exercise be bad for you?
How much exercise is too much?
Most of the population lives a sedentary lifestyle with 4/5 of adults in the UK working a desk job and sitting staring at a screen all day. For these people, there are multiple health risks associated with being under-active and not exercising enough. Someone who sits at a desk all day and then hits the gym for an hour or two each evening will not suffer any negative side effects from exercise.
However, there are now increasing numbers of people deciding to challenge themselves and shake up the monotony of everyday life by taking on extreme endurance challenges. There are now more ultra challenges available across the globe than ever before, with races like the Arch To Arc triathlon and Badwater Ultramarathon testing people mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. These events are not only taxing due to their length, but often the elevation demands and terrain are extreme too.
Not only do these events put the body under immense strain, the endless hours of training required to even get to the start line can have effects on the body too. A study published by James O'Keefe and Carl Lavie found that while people who exercise regularly do have lower rates of disability and a longer life expectancy, there is an upper limit to how much exercise is good for you before it starts having negative effects. O'Keefe and Lavie defined excessive exercise as running more than 5 hours per week.
To many, this will sound incredibly low, and there are plenty of athletes both professional and amateur who train 5 or even 10 times as much as this. Especially if you are training for something like an Ironman triathlon, you will probably be putting in well over 20 hours of training a week. But does this really mean you are reversing the positive effects of exercise and ending up as unhealthy as a couch potato? Thankfully the answer to that question is a resounding 'no'.
Dr Andrew Murray of the University of Edinburgh reassures us that while there is indeed an upper limit to the amount of running you should do, it would take a lot to make you end up as unhealthy as someone who does not exercise enough.
What are the symptoms of over exercising?
The symptoms of over exercising differ from person to person and if you feel you are suffering from one symptom, it is not necessarily an indication that you are over training. However, a combination of a few of the following symptoms of over exercising may denote a need to slow it down and take a complete rest day:
- Muscles aching for more than 3 consecutive days
- Not being able to sleep despite feeling tired
- Backwards progress in your training
- Reduced appetite and/or rapid weight loss
- Irregular heartbeat
Effects of exercising too much
There are several negative health implications that have been found to be caused by over exercising. A build up of calcium in the walls of the heart can lead to heart disease while exercise-induced asthma could be something you end up having to deal with if you run excessively.
However, it is very important to note that the vast majority of people do not need to worry about these effects of exercising too much. Most people do not exercise enough and the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle are far worse than those you might suffer from if you exercise too much.
In order to start suffering from over exercising, you would need to be training for several hours a day every single day, which most people simply can't do because they are at work for most of the day. So, if you are sat at a desk for 8 hours a day, you do not need to worry about the effects of exercising too much, and would instead probably benefit from exercising more.