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Kick start your January

Today, apparently, is the day that we are most likely to kick start our exercise regime after Christmas, and if you are thinking about doing this, then have a read of some of the things I have found of great interest that act like a “carrot” to motivate me, and not a “stick” to beat myself up with ….

Earlier this year, a group of scientists (Smith 2021) looked the fascinating research behind the effect of exercise on mental health – in particular, depression and anxiety. I liked this study, because it acknowledges that whilst we all know exercise is good for us, sticking to it or starting it is often the issue. The paper examines the limitations of using exercise to improve depression and found 3 main sources.

1. How you as an individual responds to exercise

2. The critical importance of being able to sustain your exercise in order to gain the benefits

3. What exercise is the best to achieve this goal.

They narrowed this down in the end to the effect on the brain (neuroplasticity – growth of brain matter) and the learnt behaviour change. I find this both interesting, and reassuring, because this seems to be what I also see when I am coaching. Not in the deep scientific detail of course, but in my general observations of who gets the most benefit from exercise – by making that behaviour change and by doing that, enabling the ability to keep exercising.

Time on your feet, rather than how challenging the exercise is (intensity) can therefore be seen as a greater predictor to a positive effect of exercise on depression and anxiety. Intensity does bring many benefits, and should not be overlooked, but I find it can also put some people off, especially if they are new to exercise.

Stick to the ACSM’s recommendation at a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. By sustaining a regular form of exercise, you then seem to get the huge benefits to the neuroplasticity element, which is then key to being able to keep going – a whole exercise circle of life.

This study looked at both aerobic and weight training and found both to be effective. I liked this. Aerobic exercise is accessible to many – with a walk being sufficient. But using weight training can be useful if you have mobility issues, are injured, are stuck in the house, the weather is awful, or that you just like doing this. You can start with body weight, but please do look at investing in some weights to help. Dumbbells are a good start, but then look to getting a bar etc.

The researchers state that “exercise is one of the few behavioural processes that appears to increase neuroplasticity” – and this neuroplasticity is key to good health and improved mental health. It can increase dopamine (our “excitement for the day” hormone) and improve connectivity and grey matter. Basically, every day of the week gives you something to look forward to, your memory improves, you can concentrate better, and you have less anxiety and depression.

I find that this type of science motivates me to get up and do some exercise - it is positive, it is doable, it is not body-shaming, it is exciting. The Happy Café Hapus - is named as such due to my drive to increase awareness of how exercise is key to enjoying life.

We all know that exercise is good for us. We get motivated by inspirational people on social media, and we look forward to getting “fit”. We know it is going to be great! But then another week passes by and we still have not started….sound familiar?

You are not alone. It is something that I think is even more difficult since Covid, when we have been used to our own company and staying at home more, maybe still feeling a bit nervous about being in a crowd etc. But motivation to exercise is well researched – and mainly because, as humans, we need to have a “drive” to do something.

Our “Drive Desire” kicks in when we have something to push us – for example a holiday, a wedding, a breakup, a competition, a charity event, a health scare, or even a full-length mirror….whatever the kick is, it switches on a light in our brain that gives us the extra impetus to get up and get going. So, how can we do this when there are none of those drivers there for us?

  • The examples above are all “goals” – which are often motivational for humans, so plan a goal of your own. It has to have an “end date” and a “goal” – e.g., in August I will walk 50,000 steps a week. You can sign up online for these types of goals and even get a medal! Or make your own prize. E.g. I can have **** as a reward for doing this.

  • Much like “Dry January” – signing up, making it public etc, makes you accountable. And science shows us that we are more likely to stick at something if we do not want to let another person down. So, singing up for the Café, or exercising with a friend, or doing a charity event, is more likely to make you stick to your exercise – this sounds a bit eye-rollingly boring, but it has been proven time and time again.

  • Fun is essential – so don’t try to do something you hate, or find a huge challenge. Start with the things you like doing – and if you are so fed up you can’t even think of anything you like doing….then start doing all of the things you hate, so go for a run, go to class, and discover what brings you “joy” – by the process of elimination

  • Time is often cited as a reason to put things off. What I discovered with doing the Café online was that even 20 minutes was a great way to start the day. Setting aside an hour can sometimes be a challenge, so find some little 15 minutes and just do something – lift weights, sit ups, press-ups, stretch, Pilates etc. Don’t even worry about being in sports kit. Grab the time - it all adds up.

  • Finally, find the joy in being happy in your own skin. Try not to use exercise as a way to beat yourself up about your “failings” but more as a way to love yourself. Exercise brings us so many health benefits – both the physical, and mental, and once you start to do things, the change in your anxiety towards more relaxed state is the best motivator going xx

Our diet plays an important part of helping not only our physical health, but also our mental health and wellbeing. Following the Happy Café Hapus talk, many of you requested more information regarding food and what to include in your diet.

There are many studies that point out the link of food choices that are associated with a reduced risk in depression among adults. Further evidence lies in the link between food, mood and brain health that look at how what we eat can help our neurotransmitters and support mental wellbeing. A healthy pattern between eating fresh fruit and vegetables can be positively associated with happiness and inversely with depression. With this in mind, we need to be thinking about including food that looks to reduce inflammation in the body (often associated with depression) and include food that is anti-inflammatory and will help our health – both mental and physical.

It is often daunting when thinking about making changes to your diet. Diet and what we eat are often linked to our upbringing, comfort, routine, time of year –Christmas, Birthdays, etc. Our gut has got used to certain foods and sometimes you will get a reaction if you make big changes. I would like to suggest that you think about changing one thing in your daily diet.

Think about making a swap or think about including some of these items onto your shopping list and start to incorporate them into your daily or weekly diet. It is good also to have positive images of food, or why certain food is good for us, pinned to the fridge or door to the kitchen! And maybe keep the high fat, high sugar food in a separate drawer with a warning label. Out of sight and out of mind is a proven way to help reduce cravings….

Then think about food not being a “treat” for a bad day, or low mood. Get to the Happy Café Hapus – start a conversation, go for a walk, remember why you want to feel better, have a bath, read a book. ANYTHING to take your mind off it. Don’t watch adverts with their “tempting delights”…. Have a Naughty Day, but not every day. Have a REALLY HEALTHY day one day. It will take time to change. It is different eating food in other people’s houses, so think about being kind to yourself and making slow, but progressive changes to health.

I get really down in the dumps with weather that does not create light and shadows. I’ve already mentioned that sunlight, especially in the morning, can control feelings of hunger, and to be honest, a 10-minute stroll outside just makes you feel good.

And, whilst we must take care to how we expose ourselves to sunlight, from time of day, length of time in the sun and the application of sun cream as well as covering up etc, we should not discount the huge benefits that sunshine brings to the body via Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is key to bone density – and remember, that this is a significant factor if you are also going through the menopause – by keeps calcium within its normal range to maintain cellular function and mineralise the skeleton to keep it strong. Vit D deficiency has also been linked to increased chances of cancer, cardiovascular disease, MS, arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes. So sensible sun exposure, along with a diet that has fish, eggs, a small amount in meat and wild mushrooms, plus taking a supplement if these are not part of your current diet.

As someone who suffered from chronic pain, I craved sunlight, and it seems that Vit D also plays its part here too – in a study in 2017, by Helde-Franklin they found that people with low levels of Vitamin D had increased pain and a resulting increase in pain-relieving medicine to help. A simple 10 minutes in the sun can help reduce pain and increase feelings of well-being.

Happiness is a huge field of science at the moment – and the Café examines how the body responds in a “pleasurable” way to exercise and how our dietary choice has an impact on our mental health, memory, concentration, and physical health from the point of view of inflammation of the gut, making choices to be ones made of making you feel good about yourself and not using food as a punishment nor any kind of body shaming.

So, my Kick Start to Fitness includes the following:

1. Start the day with a 10-minute walk outside

2. Eat food that is anti-inflammatory and good for your memory and concentration.

3. Drink plenty of fluid to help the body go through all the internal processes with ease.

4. Aim to do 3-5 sessions of sustain exercise for about 30 minutes that include a mixture of cardio and weights.

5. Spend time at the end of the day to write a diary, sit quietly and reflect on your day.

6. Make a social connection with at least one person to help your emotional well-being. Be the initiator for this, and include kindness to others.

May 2022 bring you much joy and happiness x

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