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.
We find ourselves in the strangest of times. Without warning, we are now confined to our homes either in complete isolation or with a bunch of children who we love dearly, but suddenly require educating and entertaining. As our bodies and our brains are trying to compute what is happening, we need exercise and movement more than ever.
My personal wellbeing plan includes yoga, but when I suggest yoga to my counselling clients, some of them are sceptical. I understand why. Not everyone is comfortable with the spiritual side of yoga and there are so many different types of yoga that it can be hard to figure out where you fit in.
Evidence can be useful and I tell clients there are robust studies out there supporting the positive impact of yoga. In a series of clinical trials, Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk used before and after neuroimaging of the brain to prove that yoga is more beneficial than trauma medication. I find it fascinating and reassuring to know that activities such as yoga and mindfulness have been proven to reactivate the areas of the brain concerned with pleasure, control, engagement and trust. Simply put, yoga helps you feel more at home in your own skin.
But what about other forms of exercise? Yoga is very different to running for example, and yet both disciplines link back to the same benefit. They are both, in essence, a moving meditation. I asked Sundried Founder Daniel Puddick what it feels like to be ‘in the zone’ when running. He told me:
"I go running every morning and I find it's a great way to start my day. It gets my mind firing and allows me to go over anything troubling me, make mental lists, and plan the day ahead. It's a great way to get some 'me time' in away from the stresses of family life and allows me to completely concentrate and focus."
Believe it or not, brain scans show that meditation and running can have a somewhat similar effect on the brain; simultaneously engaging executive functions (giving you a feeling of control) and turning down the chatter of the default mode (giving you a feeling of being present and focused). So perhaps runners and yogis have more in common than we realised!
Exercise for mental health
For anyone who is thinking about adding yoga, running or indeed any form of exercise into their mental health toolkit, here are some suggestions to get you moving:
Choose a form of exercise you enjoy
If you don’t, you won’t stick to it. It will end up being a bit like a crash diet which puts you right back where you started.
Racing and competition
Do you thrive on competition or does it put you off? I prefer to do non-competitive sport, but I know my Sundried friends really enjoy beating their best time. Either way is OK!
Try anything twice
I remember going to a new dance class and being furious that it was so difficult. I was never going back. Now it’s the best part of my week. I just didn’t like the feeling of not being able to keep up but that passed after a few weeks.
Get a coach
Choose a coach or a teacher that you really like. I struggled through yoga classes at one point with someone who I really didn’t connect with. Why did I do that? There are loads of fabulous teachers who offer good quality AND enjoyable sessions.
The simple message in all of this is that now, more than ever, we need to keep moving. Whether it is an online yoga class in the lounge or a Joe Wicks P.E. class with the kids. Movement matters and we need to keep exercising during the lockdown. Your brain likes it and the quality of your mental health depends on it.
About the author: Natasha Wellfare is a qualified Mental Health Counsellor and Yoga Teacher at The Wellness Project. She helps companies and individuals improve mental health in order that people can be happy in the now.
Having your world turned upside down can affect your mental and physical wellbeing in a number of ways. Follow these 5 daily habits to make sure you stay healthy both mentally and physically during these testing times.
1. Stick to a routine
Humans are creatures of habit and there is nothing we love more than a daily routine. Now that we're not going into work every day or taking the kids to school, it can be hard to know what to do. By creating a new daily routine and sticking to it, you will soon find your brain has time to calm down and settle, which will take a lot of pressure off other areas.
When we follow a daily routine, it allows us to do things on autopilot which eases the workload for our brains. Once your new routine is in place, you will find it easier to focus on other tasks and chores. By doing things at the same time each day such as getting up, eating meals, doing certain activities, and exercising, you will ease a lot of stress and brain power.
2. Get up early (and go to bed early)
For a lot of people, not having to get up early to go to work or school is a dream come true and the temptation will be to snooze until midday then lounge around until bed time. This is not a healthy habit and after doing this for a few days you will soon find yourself feeling lethargic both mentally and physically.
Give your day purpose by getting up early and doing something productive, whether this be household chores or your daily exercise. Enjoy some downtime in the afternoon and go to bed at a sensible time (before 10pm if possible!)
3. Eat healthily
A lot of people are finding that by spending all day indoors, it's far too easy to snack constantly as the kitchen is always open. Feasting on a diet of sugar will inevitably lead to mood swings and fatigue, so stick to a healthy diet to make sure you feel at your best. Plan your meals in advance to take the guess work out of it and to prevent mindless snacking. You could even get the kids involved in planning a weekly menu to make things more fun.
Avoid keeping unhealthy snacks in the house and instead stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables during your shopping trips. This will mean you can snack on fruit instead of junk food which will help you to feel healthier and keep your mind clearer.
4. Exercise daily
The government have identified that being able to go outside for fresh air and exercise is imperative for both our mental and physical wellbeing, which is a huge benefit for everyone. Make the most of your exercise allowance by going for a walk, cycle or jog outdoors. Don't push yourself too hard as you want to keep your immune system fighting fit, but a one-hour walk, jog, or cycle will do wonders for both your mental and physical wellbeing.
Allow your mind to focus on other things while you are exercising and enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of the endorphins and runner's high. If you're someone who usually has to squeeze a workout in after work in the dark, make the most of the day light and Vitamin D from the sun by going at lunchtime instead.
5. Keep your mind active
Staying at home all day will inveitably lead to boredom for a lot of people and inside the same four walls there can be a lack of stimuli for our brains. Keep your mind active by doing crosswords, puzzles, quizzes, and stay connected with friends and family.
Thanks to modern technology, you could even organise a nightly 'pub quiz' with friends and family via video chat or play games together. Just be wary of getting out that dusty game of Monopoly as we all know how that often ends!
Most of us will feel stressed at one time or another, but in these modern times more and more of us are suffering from stress chronically. It's not only bad for you mentally, it's bad for your physical health too. Sundried take a look at 4 easy ways to manage stress on a daily basis in order to protect your health.
1. Go hiking outdoors
Fresh air will boost your immune system and energise you with fresh oxygen. Getting a healthy dose of fresh air each day will help to combat stress and alleviate the related symptoms. People who work in office jobs tend to be chained to their desks and it can be a struggle to get any fresh air or even daylight from day to day, especially in winter. Going for a hike outdoors is a great form of exercise and can be great fun too. Not only is it good for your physical health, you'll end up finding new places and exploring parts of your local area you never even knew existing, boosting your mental health and well being too.
2. Go for a long run
Sometimes stress follows us home from work. Perhaps your stress is stemming from family or home life and you just need to get away. It's not practical to get up and run away, but going for a long solo run is the next best thing. The exercise will give you an endorphin boost and help to melt away your stress, which can harm your health if you suffer from it long term. It can also help you to manage your thoughts and process everything that's going on in your life at any given time. It'll give you time away to be alone with your thoughts and allow you to make plans and come up with ideas that you might not be able to otherwise.
3. Practice yoga
It's no secret that practising yoga and meditating is great for battling stress. It has even been found that certain types of yoga can ease the suffering of cancer patients. Taking 10 minutes out of your day to meditate and relax will do you a world of good and can be an ocean of calm in an otherwise hectic day. If you're not sure what to wear to yoga, Sundried have a handy guide you can follow. However, you don't need to go to a specific class in order to practice yoga; you can find a quiet space at home and listen to a guided meditation.
4. Make exercise fun
If your workout or training session is something you can look forward to each day, you will be more likely to stick to your training plan and not skip sessions. Having a fun and enjoyable training session planned for after work or at lunchtime will mean you have a goal and something to look forward to. It may help the day go quicker and will keep your spirits high throughout the day. Exercise can be your time with no distractions and no one asking anything of you.
They call the third Monday in January 'blue Monday' because it seems that the poor weather, debt accumulated over Christmas, failing our New Year's resolutions and low motivational levels can leave us feeling at our lowest ebb. Here are 5 things you can do right now to pick yourself up and instantly feel better this January.
1. Get moving
It may seem obvious, but regular exercise will always be at the top of the list when it comes to getting out of a slump and making yourself feel better. The wonderful thing about exercise is that it releases 'happy' hormones known as endorphins and so even if you're working on 4 hours sleep and feeling rotten from a common cold, doing some exercise – even just something light – will instantly make you feel better.
Get out and go for a jog or a walk to brush off the cobwebs and get your heart beating. You'll enjoy that famous 'runner's high' and it will also help to relax you and work off any frustrations you may be holding on to.
Read more: Benefits Of Outdoor Training
2. Call a relative
Many of us don't enjoy being forced to spend time with relatives over Christmas, but January can end up being a lonely time if we distance ourselves from everyone around us. Give your parents or siblings a quick phone call to check in on them; if you're feeling low, maybe they are too and hearing your voice will pick them up. We often take our close family for granted, so it's important to check in from time to time.
3. Eat your vegetables
All of the sugar, fat, salt, and alcohol that you've consumed over the festive period won't be doing your physical or mental well-being any good and chances are you haven't been keeping up your fruit and vegetable intake (Brussels sprouts aside). Make a conscious effort to eat more fruit and vegetables throughout January to top up your micro-nutrients and give your body the best chance at recovering and helping you feel good.
Read more: Which Vitamins Should I Be Taking?
4. Take a Vitamin D supplement
On the same note as the previous point, keeping your Vitamin D levels topped up is vital throughout winter months. Taking a Vitamin D supplement can help to boost your mood instantly as well as reducing the likelihood of catching common colds and the flu as it will give your immune system a well needed boost.
How often do you take time to slow down and focus on yourself? Getting back to work after the Christmas break can be a real shock to the system and suddenly you have a million things back on your to-do list and 250 unread emails in your inbox. Add this to the stresses of home life and you've got a recipe for disaster.
Take some time to meditate, whether this is 5 minutes in the morning or 20 minutes in the evening before bed, it will all make a difference.
Read more: What Are The Health Benefits Of Meditation?