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Monday Matters: Introducing the Wheel Of Wellness

A few weeks ago, I started a new course at my local recovery college. It’s something I’ve been wanting to learn about for a while now but I was waiting for the face-to-face courses to start again. Anyway, it’s all about exploring and assessing 8 different key areas of your life to make sure equal time and attention is given to each to try to achieve balance. This week, I thought I’d share some information about the concept of The Wheel Of Wellness and introduce the 8 aspects of life which we’ll be looking at in depth at our weekly sessions. If you are familiar with The Level 10 Life by Hal Elrod you will notice similarities, but this model is more related to mental wellbeing than achieving your best life. I hope you enjoy reading my series of Monday posts and my articles prompt you to reflect on your current lifestyle in relation to the dimensions of the wheel.

The Wheel Of Wellness model

There are lots of pictorial images of the Wheel Of Wellness online, some with more spokes than others, but the one I’ve chosen matches the life categories that I’m covering in my college course. As it’s a recovery college that I’m attending, the sessions focus on how each aspect relates to individuals who live with mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. However, I think the wheel is useful to anyone who has an interest in improving or maintaining their own wellbeing (which in my opinion should be everyone!).

The following example illustrates a wellness model with eight dimensions, namely emotional, physical, financial, intellectual, occupational, environmental, social and spiritual. All of the dimensions are interconnected and equally important for a well-rounded and balanced lifestyle and working on maintaining good mental health.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be taking each aspect in turn and considering ways in which they impact on life and also how your mental health can have an effect on that particular dimension. I also suggest some ideas for making improvements in that particular area of the wheel. For now, here’s a brief explanation of each which includes things we discussed in our introductory session and my own ideas which I would like to raise:

Emotional

How effectively you cope with life and its many challenges. Awareness and management of your different feelings. Self esteem, self confidence, compassion and resilience. How mindfulness can help. Creating positive and satisfying relationships with others. How your emotions affect your mood and mindset and strategies for managing this.

Physical

Diet, exercise and sleep and their effect on your wellbeing. The impact life stresses and a busy lifestyle can have on these. How physical and mental health can affect all 3. Ways in which you can care for your body and signs which suggest you might be neglecting to look after yourself well.

Financial

Living within your means and managing your money effectively. How mental health can affect money decisions. How financial difficulties can impact on your wellbeing. Making responsible choices to ensure a good financial future.

Intellectual

Work and leisure activities that stimulate your mind. Keeping your brain active to avoid memory loss. Staying curious and cultivating your desire to learn new things throughout your life. Problem solving. Listening to the ideas of others and showing respect for their opinions. Finding ways to expand your knowledge and skills. Recognising your creative abilities and finding time to explore them. Keeping up to date with social and political issues.

Occupational

Finding work that satisfies you and enriches your life. Seeking a career that is interesting, enjoyable and meaningful. Engaging in activity that contributes to society in some way. Other work related activities such as volunteering for a worthwhile cause or doing things for the good of the community.

Environmental

Ways in which we can look after and care for our immediate environment and our planet e.g. reducing and reusing, recycling, upcycling, assessing our carbon footprint and conserving electricity. Being aware of the spaces we spend our time in and thinking about positive changes we can make to our environment. Keeping your home clean and organised. Decluttering.

Social

The positive and negative impact of social media. Connections between you are your family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and anyone else in your life. Effective communication, feeling like you can be yourself with others, maintaining and developing relationships. Ways in which you can find out what’s on in your local community and how to get involved in projects in your locality.

Spiritual

Living a life which reflects your core beliefs and values. Ways to boost your spiritual wellbeing through gratitude, meditation, developing a mindfulness practice, self awareness and reflection, setting meaningful and fulfilling goals. Understanding your purpose in life. Consideration of your ethical or religious beliefs. Establishing peace and harmony in our lives.

Final words…

Now that I’ve shared the eight dimensions of the wheel of wellness you might like to consider which areas which you feel you do really well in and which do you think you could give greater attention to. I know for myself intellectual wellness is a big priority in my life as I have always been keen to learn new things and will often find ways to improve my knowledge of different subjects through reading and talking to others. I also like to explore my creativity and will always find time to engage in creative pursuits such as papercrafting, journalling, painting, drawing, handlettering, photography and jewellery making to name just a few! Physical wellness has also become very important to me at the moment and as well as finding different ways to be active including going to the gym and joining fitness classes, I’m also evaluating my diet and working on making healthier choices and trying out lots of nutritious recipes. The main areas I’d like to work on next are occupational wellness and socialization and I’m looking forward to deep diving into these as part of my college sessions.

It would be great if you could give this post a like if you are interested in learning more about the eight dimensions of wellness and I would also love to hear about areas in which you feel you thrive, as well as aspects of your life you’d like to work on in the future.

Posted in Bullet journaling, goal setting, Health and Nutrition, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: A mini guide to keeping a food journal to help with diet and weight loss

Earlier this month, I talked about how I might start a food journal to help me track my eating and drinking. Before starting, I researched the benefits of this practice and spent time learning about what I should include. A number of studies have shown that people who keep a food journal or diary are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. According to my reading, the simple act of recording everything that you eat and drink each day can help you consume less calories and make healthier choices which aids weight loss.

What are the benefits of keeping a food journal?

Writing down what you eat and drink and how you feel at regular points during the day can help in a number of ways including:

  • Increased awareness of what you eat
  • Shows you how much you eat and drink in a typical day
  • Highlights reasons why you eat and drink e.g. boredom, stress, mid-afternoon slump, feeling sad etc
  • Begin to see if you’re eating too little or too much
  • Able to roughly track your calorie consumption and make comparisons between this and calories burnt each day
  • Able to check hydration levels – some people mistake thirst for hunger
  • Increased mindfulness i.e. awareness of eating, drinking and any patterns
  • Able to see where you could tweak your diet to make it more healthy and balanced

What do I need to start a food journal?

As many of you will know, I prefer pen and paper methods so I decided to use my bullet journal to record everything. I kept it simple with a title and a bit of washi tape and I used double page spreads to give me plenty of writing room. Any notebook and pen will do but it’s helpful if it’s something you can take out with you in your bag so you can record on the go – recording everything at the end of a long and busy day is quite an onerous task!

If you prefer to keep digital records you could create journalling pages in Notion or MS Word on your phone or tablet. You could also set up a simple spreadsheet to include date, time, foodstuff and how you’re feeling. Another option is to use an app like My Fitness Pal which can help you measure calorie consumption – beware though that it will keep trying to persuade you to sign up for a free trial or pay a monthly fee! I tried logging things on My Fitness Pal to see if I liked it and I found it really quick and easy. You can scan the barcode on your food packets and it shows the calorie content. You can also see and record other nutritional information but some details are only accessible on the paid for premium version.

Tips for getting the most out of your food journal

  • Log absolutely everything you eat and drink even if it’s something small or very low in calories e.g. one biscuit, a square of chocolate or a single boiled sweet. In doing this, you’ll have a full picture of your current diet.
  • When you log a food or drink, consider why you are eating and how you’re feeling e.g. a glass of wine to wind down after a long and busy day, feeling shattered etc.
  • Make sure you record how specific foods are cooked e.g. boiled, fried, roasted, steamed etc.
  • Include information about dressings, sauces and toppings and the amount e.g. 2 tsps of French dressing on salad.
  • Think about adding information about where you’re eating / drinking and who you are eating with e.g. at the dining table with family, at my desk, in XX restaurant, in a cafĂ© with my partner etc.
  • Jot down what you are doing at the time e.g. watching TV, at the computer, having a catch up with a friend etc.
  • Be really specific about the type of drinks e.g. half a pint of beer, caramel macchiato, small mug, 200ml of orange juice etc.
  • Don’t forget to include alcoholic beverages and the amount e.g. one shot glass of vodka with 100ml of coke etc.
  • Think about logging the calories of meals at a restaurant if this information is on the menu, or check out the packaging of foodstuffs and drinks consumed at home.
  • Write down if you get any cravings and if you gave in to them or distracted yourself with an activity.
  • Note down how hungry you are when you eat.
  • Record your food and drink as soon as possible after eating/drinking so you don’t forget things. If you use a notebook or paper and don’t want to take it out with you, try making a quick note on your phone to transfer to your journal when you get home.

Analysing your food and drink log

Once you’ve recorded your food and drink for 5 days or so, consider what it tells you. So, for example:

  • Am I getting my five portions of fruit and veg each day?
  • How healthy is my diet overall?
  • Does my diet include wholegrains?
  • Does my mood affect my eating and drinking habits?
  • How balanced is my diet – am I eating too much or too little of something?
  • Do I have snacks and how healthy are they?
  • Am I paying full attention when I eat or am I often busy doing something else? (how mindful am I?)
  • Which areas of my diet could be improved upon? e.g. I could eat more vegetables, I could cut down on takeaways and try to do more cooking from scratch, I could eat a piece of fruit as a snack instead of a chocolate bar in the afternoon etc.

Setting some healthy eating goals

When you’ve identified areas for improvement, you could have a go at setting a couple of healthy eating goals for yourself. I recommend using the SMART framework for this so you can measure your progress easily. So, for example, when I was depressed, I struggled to eat breakfast and got into the habit of having a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes each morning as they’re easy to eat. When I started to feel better, I continued to eat this cereal as it had become a habit and one which I enjoyed. My husband suggested I try eating a healthier cereal every other day so I’m now having a portion of Shreddies four days a week. Here’s how it looks using the SMART goal system:

S = specific. Eat a wholegrain cereal every other day – a portion of Shreddies (or possibly Weetabix as an even better alternative according to someone in the know about healthy eating)

M = measurable. Does my food journal show that I’m doing this consistently?

A = achievable. Start small, do it every other day for the time being. Eating wholegrain cereal every day will make it a lot harder and I might start craving the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and give up!

R = relevant. Does it fit with what I want in my life? Yes, I want to break the habit of eating a sugary cereal each day. I also want to tweak my diet to make it more healthy.

T = timely. Do the above consistently for two weeks to meet the initial goal and then increase to wholegrain cereal 5 days + a week.

Other goals include breaking the habit of having a packet of sweets every Friday / Saturday and finding alternative and less calorific desserts for during the week. I intend to work towards a couple of goals at a time so that I don’t feel that I’m denying myself too much.

Final words…

Although keeping a food and drink journal can be really helpful for improving your diet and eating more healthily, I wouldn’t recommend keeping records in the long term as it can be a time consuming habit to continue and you don’t want to feel like it’s a huge chore with no benefit. After 3 or 4 days, you should start to see patterns and be able to identify a few tweaks you could make to your diet to aid weight loss and ensure better balance between the different food groups and recommended consumption of foods in the different groups such as fruit and vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. For further information about your daily eating and drinking habits, you might want to consider logging things for a couple of weeks and setting yourself some mini goals to work towards.

I had a meeting this week with one of the weight management team ladies and she suggested some ideas for tweaking my diet to increase my success. She also mentioned that she didn’t advocate calorie counting or weighing food in the long term, instead she suggested educating myself about different foods and drinks using the traffic light system on packets and developing better understanding about portion size.

Nutritional information on the Shreddies packet

Let me know in the comments if keeping a food and drink log is something you’ve done in the past, considered doing or something you definitely want to try. If you’ve given it a go, I would love to hear about your experiences whether positive or negative.

In the end, I decided that I actually prefer using the My Fitness Pal app for recording as it’s much quicker than writing it all down. I’m still learning how to use all the features but so far I’ve managed to sync my Fitbit with the app and I’ve found that you can search for recipes you found online and retrieve the nutritional information (although you can’t include any changes you made to the ingredients.

Screenshot of my diary on My Fitness Pal

Thank you for reading,

Posted in art, bullet journal, Bullet journaling, creativity, fitness, lifestyle, Planning and journaling

Setting up my Bullet Journal for May: Geum flower theme

It’s the 1st of May and yesterday I finished creating my main spreads for the month in my bullet journal. Again, I decided to take inspiration from our garden and spent some time sitting with a coffee in the sunshine contemplating and idea creating. There’s lots of shades of green outside and we have a plethora of tulips in full bloom, but the flowers which caught my eye the most were the pretty and delicate geums. We have two varieties, one a semi double-headed variety in bright red called Mrs J Bradshaw and the other, a pretty orange called Totally Tangerine. I took photos of both with my new Samsung phone and was impressed with the quality of the camera. I loved the different shades of the second and decided to have a go at sketching a flower stem for my front cover. From there, I decided to create more simple flowers to use for my other pages. I hope you like my layouts and feel inspired to have a go at a floral theme in the future.

‘Totally Tangerine’ Geum looking beautiful in our garden

Front cover

Using the above photograph to help me, I sketched out the stem and flower head and added a bud and another stem. It took me a long while to get the sizing right as I needed the flower to be the focal point. I found drawing the leaves to be the most difficult bit and I’m not entirely happy with them but I eventually left them alone after erasing a few times too many! With the sketching complete, I inked in the flower using a 0.2 Pigma Micron in black. I debated whether to use watercolour paint or pencils to add the colour and in the end, I trialled both by photocopying the image onto watercolour paper and thick printer paper. The only problem was, printer ink isn’t waterproof like my Pigma pen ink so it bled into the orange watercolour paint – I thought it was such a good idea too!

May 2022 front cover Geum theme

Calendar pages / Month at a glance

The calendar layout is my usual 6×6 dot boxes drawn using a Pigma Micron in 03 with the numbers done using a Pilot V5 Hi-Techpoint 0.5 pen in black. The brush letter May was created using a mid-green Faber-Castell Pitt Artist brush pen which I found easier to use than the Tombow ABT for this size lettering. I have no idea where I got the washi tape from but it was a great purchase as it goes with just about everything!

For the flowers, I changed to a face on view of the heads which was much simpler to draw in a larger number to fill the spaces around the calendar. My only real disappointment with these pages was due to way the spine was glued as it created an ugly crease on my title spread which spoiled the look somewhat. So far I’ve been happy with my dot grid notebook from Notebook Therapy but just a few pages do not lay flat without super annoying creasing.

May 2022 month at a glance

Fitness – Activity Tracker

Last month, I drew up a spread which documented the kinds of workouts I was doing each day. I mentioned then, that in the future I might like to record my workout times so I can see how many active minutes I’m cramming in each day. I did a quick search on Google and discovered some simple, colourful and helpful spreads on this blog. I adapted one of them by making a double page layout with my own exercise types and a larger scale for the minutes of exercise (in April, my highest total was 148 minutes in one day but I’m going to add a plus sign on the end if I go over 130). The extra space also meant that I could include a motivational saying at the bottom. Although this one is quite American in its choice of words (the ‘cute’ bit), it’s particularly pertinent as, by the time I’ve finished a gym session or a cardio class, my face is all red and sweaty and my hair has become a frizzy mess – not a good look!

Fitness tracker / workout record

By the end of the month, I’ll be able to see how I spent my active time in a bright and colourful visual representation of all of my workouts. I’ll also be able to see how regularly I’m doing each form of exercise.

Final words…

That’s all of my initial spreads for the month of May – just 3 at the moment but I’m contemplated adding a weekly food diary so I can assess my eating as well as how active I’ve been each day. This will probably be just a very simple record of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks so it’s not really something to share.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my pages for May. I’m looking forward to seeing other Bujo themes and have already watched quite a few plan with me videos on YouTube (I like to cast them to the TV screen in our living room so that I get a nice big view). Let me know in the comments if you have any special plans for this month or if you are working on something particular – I love to hear what everyone is up to!

Posted in goal setting, Health and Nutrition, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 5 main barriers to eating healthily and ideas to overcome them

As regular readers of my blog will know, I’m currently signed up to a weight management programme, where, for 12 weeks, I have free access to my local wellness centre including the gym and fitness classes and also receive tips on developing a more healthy lifestyle through exercise and diet. I was already quite active and have now upped my exercise levels significantly so that I’m burning more calories due to more steps and more active minutes each day. I’ve made some changes to what I eat but I need to continue to work on this so I thought that for today’s Monday Matters, I’d consider the barriers to eating healthily and ways in which they can be overcome.

Information overload

There’s so much information online, in magazines and in books about diets and ways to lose weight that it can seem really overwhelming and leave you feeling like you don’t know what to do for the best. There are a great number of ‘fad diets’ which promise super quick results in terms of weight loss with little scientific evidence to back up their claims. They’re also often very restrictive encouraging you to only eat at certain times or to dramatically cut down or cut out certain foods. Then there are adverts for diet pills and meal replacement drinks which make all sorts of claims about awesome results and feature images of slim, smiley, glowing women to go with the emotive and persuasive language used in the words.

Realistically, your goal should not be to lose weight at a rate of knots, but instead, should be about making gradual changes to your diet to make it balanced and more healthy. Here’s some ideas to help you:

  • Ignore ‘fad’ diets and read reliable information from reputable sources such as the government or the NHS (in the UK).
  • Check out a healthy eating plate like the one below to establish how much of each food group to should be eating.
  • Avoid listening to dietary advice from friends or family members, unless they’re a registered dietician or expert nutritionalist!
  • Remember that even diets which sound healthy, like vegetarian or vegan can still be highly calorific if certain choices are made e.g. eating lots of cheese and butter or consuming too much soya milk and other dairy alternatives.

There’s a wealth of accurate and reliable information provided by the (UK) government which includes a PDF version of the above and a comprehensive guide to eating well. Click here to go there now.

Lack of time

It takes time to develop a healthy lifestyle, including eating better and ensuring you have a balanced diet. Many people lead very busy lives and if improving your health isn’t currently one of your top priorities, you may feel that you haven’t got the time or energy to devote to making dietary changes.

The first thing I would suggest doing is spending about half an hour considering the different areas of your life and assessing which you’d like to focus on more. I use Hal Elrod’s Level 10 life sections to rate the different aspects of my life. The following aspects are given a score out of 10 (with 10 being near perfect and 1 being an area which requires lots of work):

  • Family and Friends
  • Personal growth and development
  • Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Career/business
  • Significant other/romance
  • Fun and recreation
  • Contribution/giving
  • Health/fitness
  • Physical environment (home/office)

If you figure you could make improvements in the area ‘health/fitness’ then it’s a good idea to identify some small changes you could make to your life to enable you to work on some related goals e.g. preparing a healthy packed lunch to take to work each day, cooking from scratch more often so you can enjoy the benefits of home cooked meals or creating a meal plan so that you can work on having a balanced diet with healthier snacks.

When most people say ‘I haven’t got time’, what they actually mean is that they don’t want to dedicate time to a particular venture, that they are actively making a choice to do something else or that the particular thing that they ‘haven’t got time for’ isn’t important enough to them or high enough up their agenda.

If you want to eat healthily but need help with motivating yourself to start changing your eating habits, you might want to do a little research on the benefits of a healthy diet and record your findings. I created a spread in my Bullet Journal as a great reminder of why healthy eating should be a priority.

A motivational page from my current bullet journal

A few time saving tips:

  • make twice the amount when cooking a favourite dish and save the rest to enjoy quick and easy leftovers later in the week
  • buy canned pulses so you don’t have to remember to soak them
  • have some pre-cooked packets of couscous, rice and grains to accompany your dishes
  • if you can afford it, buy pre-prepared veggies when you’re super busy
  • do a quick weekly meal plan over coffee on a Sunday morning and then make a list of groceries for the supermarket shop
  • have some frozen veggies in your freezer e.g. petit pois, spinach, green beans, mixed pre-chopped veg etc
  • batch cook and freeze soups and stews

Lack of confidence with cooking

Pre-prepared dishes or ‘ready meals’ as they are known, make it easy to enjoy a main meal but often these items are highly calorific and contain lots of sugar and salt. They’re also usually seriously lacking in vegetables which, as shown on the food plate above, should, along with fruit, make up a large portion of your daily food.

Home cooked meals might require a little more effort, but, you can find a range of simple, healthy recipes online or in cook books and if you specifically look for those which contain minimal or basic ingredients or label themselves as ‘one pot’ or ‘quick and easy’ then there’s no excuse to give it a go. You could also treat yourself to a few new tools and gadgets such as a set of cooks knives for speedy dicing of veggies, a food processor for chopping, mixing, grating and shredding, a blender for soups and smoothies or even a slow cooker for setting the dinner off at a simmer whilst you’re busy working so it’s ready to eat when you return home or get back to your kitchen.

My husband and I have found that each time we make a tasty and healthy dish we appreciate our efforts and the positive feelings it evokes prompt us to try more new recipes and boosts our confidence in the kitchen. We’re now more willing to try new ingredients and will give anything a go.

Feeling deprived

When you start working towards leading a more healthy lifestyle, you might give up some of the foods you like such as chocolate, crisps, salad dressings, sauces, ice cream and Friday night takeaways. Doing this may make you feel like you are being deprived of all of your favourites and can lead to lack of motivation to continue. Eating healthily doesn’t mean you have to stop eating everything you love. You just need to moderate the amount of sugary, fatty and highly calorific foods you have so that you eat then in small amounts and less often.

A popular way of achieving a healthy diet without feeling deprived is to apply the 80/20 mindset. This means that 80% of the time, you eat ‘clean’, choosing foods that are natural, whole and unprocessed e.g. fruit and vegetables, wholegrains such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa and wholemeal pasta, nuts and seeds, no-calorie beverages such as water, unsweetened tea. For the other 20% of the time, you can enjoy less-nutritious foods and treats. For example, on one day during the week, you might have an ice cream on a particularly hot afternoon or cake and coffee for a friend’s birthday etc. If you have several snacks a day over the period of a week, 11 or 12 of them would be healthy choices such as fruit, unflavoured nuts or low fat cheese on a wholewheat cracker, and 2 or 3 times you could enjoy a favourite treat such as a cookie or a small amount of chocolate.

Difficulty changing unhealthy or unhelpful eating habits and beliefs

Changing your eating habits to make them more healthy can be incredibly difficult, especially when many of them were established a long time ago, sometimes as far back as childhood. Some examples of unhelpful habits include:

  • eating whilst watching tv / YouTube videos etc (eating whilst performing other tasks)
  • piling your plate high with food at the buffet table (eyes bigger than your belly anyone?) because it all looks good / is free etc
  • eating a dessert even if you’re already full
  • emotional eating e.g. when bored, agitated, angry, stressed, upset etc. as a form of comfort
  • making your portion size the same as your partner who may have a much higher recommended daily calorie intake
  • believing that you have to eat everything on your plate, otherwise it’s wasteful
  • eating late at night, especially snacking just before bed
  • giving in to sugar cravings
  • believing you are hungry when really you’re actually thirsty
  • skipping breakfast
  • eating far too quickly

Even if you’ve had the same eating habits for years, it is possible to make improvements. I would suggest that the first step is to take time for some reflection. Consider what you good habits are e.g. always ensuring you get your 5 a day and your not so wonderful habits e.g. having a highly calorific dessert each evening after your main meal. If you’re not exactly sure what your habits are, try keeping a food diary, recording everything you eat and drink throughout one week. Also, think about what triggers your unhealthy eating such as a stressful day, a mid-afternoon energy slump etc.

Following your reflection and analysis, give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back for your healthy habits and then choose one of your bad habits to replace. So, for example, you might choose to focus on ‘eating too quickly’ and work on a plan to replace this with eating slowly and mindfully. Just as a bad habit does not evolve overnight, new and improved habits take time to develop too. But if you work on cementing one healthy habit at a time and continually reflect on how things are going, you can get there as long as a) you’re patient with yourself and take it one day at a time and b) you remember that there may be slip ups along the way and this does not mean that you’ve failed and should give up.

Tackling negative core beliefs about food and eating e.g. once I start eating, I can’t stop, I need to eat to make myself feel better, food is just fuel etc. can be extremely difficult. In this case, it is usually best to seek the help and advice of a trained professional such a dietician or a CBT therapist. These can be accessed via your GP.

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s blog post and it has helped to explain some of the main barriers to eating healthily. If you are planning on making changes to your diet, it’s best to make small changes rather than doing anything drastic. It might also be a good idea to do a little journalling and reflection on the process, for example, recording any improvements you notice such as clearer skin, better sleep and feeling more attentive when working etc. You could also reward your progress by giving yourself little treats (non-foodie ones preferably!) such as a bath bomb, a gorgeously scented hand cream, new stationery or a potted plant for your room.

Posted in depression management, Health and Nutrition, mental health, self care, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Why Exercise is Good for your Mental Health

We all know exercise is important for maintaining physical health but working out is also extremely beneficial for your mental health. As someone who regularly struggles with depression, I have a really good understanding of how important exercise is to help me manage my symptoms. In today’s Monday Matters, I thought I would discuss some of the reasons why regular exercise is so great for your mental wellbeing.

Boosts your mood

An energetic workout such as a brisk walk, a dance class or cardio at the gym releases endorphins AKA the feel good hormones into the body. These chemicals help to boost your happiness levels and can be great for alleviating anxiety and depression and any physical aches and pains you might have. Exercise also gives us something positive to focus on and can be a useful distraction from negative and anxious thoughts during periods of difficulty.

Increases energy levels

You might think that exercise will wear you out and make you feel tired, but the reverse is actually true. According to my research, moderate exercise helps to increase the level of mitochondria cells, which are directly responsible for producing energy. Also, a good workout boosts the circulation of oxygen in your body which makes you feel energised. Although you may feel worn out at the end of your exercise session, a few hours later, your energy levels should have picked back up, leaving you refreshed and invigorated for the rest of the day.

Fatigue is a common symptom of depression so by getting some exercise each day, even if it’s just a short walk or ten minutes of housework, you can combat the constant feeling of tiredness.

Promotes better quality sleep

As well as increasing your energy levels, exercise also helps to improve the quality of your sleep. You should find that you fall asleep more quickly and get more minutes of deep sleep, leaving you feeling refresh in the morning. It should be noted, however that you should avoid exercising for at least a couple of hours before bed as the production of those endorphins I mentioned earlier will leave you feeling buzzing, unable to switch off and struggling to sleep.

Improves self esteem

Self esteem is all about our perception of ourselves and how much value we place on our personal characteristics and qualities. Low self esteem can have a negative impact on our emotional wellbeing causing feelings of worthlessness and lack of self love. Exercise has been shown to have a really positive impact on our self esteem. As well as helping to put us in a more positive frame of mind which can make us feel better about ourselves, regular exercise can also boost our self esteem by:

  • improving our body image
  • helping us to feel more physically competent as we become stronger and more flexible
  • giving us a huge sense of achievement as we create new habits and stick to them
  • encouraging you to build friendships with others who are on a similar fitness journey or enjoy the same kinds of exercise
  • helping us to feel more healthy as we observe the effects on our body and mind

Can combat social withdrawal and isolation

Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia can make us feel very lonely and cause us to withdraw from social situations such as talking and meeting with friends, going shopping, family get togethers etc. Even if you are struggling a little at the moment and don’t particularly feel like socialising, pushing yourself to take a walk in your local park where others are exercising or going to the gym when it is relatively quiet can help you feel a part of the community. Joining a class with other likeminded individuals can help combat feelings of isolation. I’ve attended a few yoga classes recently and although I felt really nervous about going, I met some really lovely people and felt super proud of myself for making conversation both with class attendees and the instructors.

Improves cognitive function

Cardio workouts i.e. those which raise our heart rate and get us sweating help to improve the function of the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain which processes and retrieves different kinds of memories. Moderate-intensity exercise can also boost other aspects of cognitive processing including thinking, problem solving, attention, language and learning. This can help us feel better about ourselves and increase our self confidence. Studies have also shown that regular exercise can also help to combat the cognitive decline associated with ageing.

Stress busting

Regular aerobic exercise has been found to be really effective at reducing stress levels. The production of endorphins in the brain can decrease tension, elevate your mood and generally make you feel good. Also, exercise that involves deep breathing, such as yoga and Pilates, can help you to relax by producing calming energy.

Feeling the benefits of being fully present

Certain types of exercise encourage you to be mindful by paying attention to the quality of your movements or holding poses. Yoga and Pilates may not get your pulse racing and endorphins flowing, but, as well as being great for improving strength, muscle tone and flexibility, the level of concentration required takes the focus away from your low mood, stresses or worries about your current circumstances and negative self talk associated with anxiety or depression. As one of my yoga teachers once said, you’re enjoying the benefits of a mini mind break or a mental holiday.

Ways to get active every day

There are so many great ways to increase the amount of physical activity you do each week. In order to stay motivated, it’s best if you choose things you enjoy and which easily fit into your daily life. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Be active around the house and in the garden by doing moderate exercise such as washing the car, cleaning the windows, doing some digging, mowing the lawn or vacuuming every room.
  • Arrange a fun weekly class to attend with a family member or friend. Popular choices include clubbercise, spinning (indoor cycling, often done to loud dance music), bums and tums and body pump.
  • Enjoy a weekend woodland walk, immersing yourself in the environment and forgetting about life’s stresses and strains.
  • Dust off your bike and head to a country park for a spot of cycling. Safer than riding on the roads or pavements and the paths often include some inclines to really work your legs!
  • If you’ve just got 10 or 20 minutes, try an online workout. There are plenty of short fitness videos on YouTube and you can choose which part of your body you want to work on such as legs, glutes, arms or tummy.
  • Try Nordic walking which involves using a pair of walking poles. Not only do your legs get a good workout, you will also be using your arms and engaging your core.
  • Join your local gym and ask a personal trainer to help you create a workout to suit your current fitness levels and target specific parts of your body you’d like to tone.
  • Put some fast tempo music on whilst you do a spot of dusting and dance your way around the furniture and various rooms.
  • Get off the train or bus a stop early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Search for local walks and hikes online and and pick one out each weekend to go on with your partner or a friend.
  • If you have kids or grandkids, encourage them to be active and spend time as a family doing something sporty such as having a kick about, taking some netball or basketball shots, riding a bike, playing frisbee or having a game of tennis in a nearby park. You could even pack a nutritious picnic for when you’re done!
  • Walk or cycle instead of taking the car.
  • Go for a swim – it’s a great full body workout, low impact and easy on your joints. Or, if you like being in the pool, but, like me, you’re not so good at swimming, try an aqua aerobics class.

N.B. Please bear in mind that the above are examples of ways in which you might get yourself moving and begin to enjoy the many benefits of exercise. I am in no way an expert on exercise and it’s best to consult with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise programme or upping your physical activity levels, especially if you have not exercised for some time or if you have a particular medical condition or concerns.

Final words…

Regular exercise can be quite costly if you join a gym and attend classes regularly. However, there are many inexpensive or free exercise options if you are on a tight budget. I’m currently signed up to a programme which gives me free access to my local gym and wellness centre for 12 weeks and I’m making the most of it by regularly working out at the gym and also trying out some of the classes which are available.

It might be a good idea to do some research online to see if there are any special deals or programmes on offer in your local community, Or, you could find out if there’s a recovery college nearby which might have some physical activity based courses to become involved in to help you manage mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety. Walking is also a free or inexpensive way of getting moving and if you are hoping to socialise with others, many towns and cities have local walking groups available to people of all levels of fitness.