Ways to help your mental health

Some of my favourite things to do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve my mental health and help manage depression and anxiety that might also help you:

1) Drink water

Most of us don’t drink enough water at the best of time and if you feel low the chances are you will drink even less. Fill a water bottle and sip throughout the day. Dehyration causes fatigue and has been linked to feelings of depression so drinking water is a cheap, low effort way of helping you feel a bit better.

2) Vitamin D

This can help make you feel better natutally. You can buy supplements, a light box, possibly use a sunbed (with caution) or even better get outside and get some fresh air at the same time. Little effort required for a potential improvement in your mood.

3) Fish Oil

Omega 3 has been linked to improving symptons of mild depression. Make the effort to take a supplement each day – you can buy it in liquid form if you can’t swallow tablets (and are brave!). This was one simple habit that has worked well for me.

4) Eat regular meals

When you feel low eating proper meals at regular times can go out the window. Set an alarm for regular intervals and eat a small simple meal when it goes off. This will help stabilise your mood and create a feeling of routine and normality which can help when life feels like it’s crumblig around you.

5) Eat colourful food

Go to the shop and buy lots of different colourerd food. If you don’t feel like cooking buy prepared veg and fruit. Eating a variety of colours will mean your getting a variety of nutrients and will help improve your mood as well as your health.

6) Eat simple healthy meals

Eating healthy foods can have a dramatic affect on how well your mind feels. If I’ve had a bad week a simple healthy meal can help me feel more positive and in control of my own mind and body. It may sound stupid but when I eat well I feel like my body feels better and I’m looking after myself which in turn makes me feel brighter within myself. On days like this I won’t have the energy to cook a fancy meal so I go for a simple piece of salmon I can microwave or grill and a pack of microwave veg. 10 minutes to prepare a good quality meal.

7) Try some alternative meal prep

The holy grail of fitness freaks! Cooking is the last thing you want to do when you feel depressed. So if you find yourself having a good day make the most of it and prepare so batches of food that you can freeze. Then on days you just can’t face cooking you can defrost one of these meals and still eat something homemade.

8) Buy a slow cooker

Slow cookers allow you to make healthy tasty meals with little effort -and a casserole is brilliant comfort food. They are great for preparing a comforting meal without much effort and will make you feel better than turning to chocolate and other quick food sources that we often crave when we feel low.

9) Drink less coffee

Hardest one on this list for me! Adrenal Fatigue and depression / anxiety are linked. Too much coffee puts you at risk of developing adrenal fatigue – drinking less will help reduce stress levels. You could try a herbal tea instead which many people find helps then relax.

10) Walk

Getting outside helps you move more -that will help your mental health. Fresh air will help lift your mood. Being outside will help increase vitamin D intake. Walking can help clear your head. Walking is free. In short one of the best and most simple things you can do to help yourself fell more positive.

11) Exercise

As I said moving has been shown to help manage many mental health issues. You may not feel much like it but it can be in any form and doesn’t need to be for long periods of time to help. Start small and build up as you start to feel like you can.

12) Dance

Stick music on and just move to the music. Music can improve mood as can moving which makes thos fun activity a win win mood boosting activity.

13) Try group exercise

Nerve wracking and requires motivation. Sounds awful if you aren’t having the best day. But if you can push yourself to walk into the room you can find exercise, motivation, good music and social interaction in one place. It’s hard to leave a class not feeling at least a little bit more positive than when you walked in.

14) Join a team or club

Another nervewracking idea. Another idea which will allow you to exercise which will help your mental health and get to meet new people, another great mood booster. It can also help boose confidence which will help your mental health dramatically.

15) Try yoga

A chance to challenge your body and stretch along with a focus on breathing and mental wellbeing. You could try a class or find a free video on You tube. You could do an hour or even 5 minutes. Whatever you feel like at the start there is an option you could try out and you may feel more relaxed by the end of it.

Do you have any other tips for improving your mental health?

Back to Basics

As I’ve written recently I’m looking at going back to basics to get back into a routine.

Over the last week my training has been more consistent, my NEAT has been decent and I’m drinking plenty of water and nailing a few other habits. There’s two things I’ve struggled with though have been my nutrition and getting up in the morning.

I’ve not eaten terribly but I’ve not eaten what I’ve planned and as such have ended up going over my calorie goal. The reason? Stress.

It’s been a stressful week, work and personal stuff combined has meant I’ve been anxious at times and just generally strung out at others, feeling a bit like I was never going to fit everything into each day.

I wish I was one of those people who lost their appetite under stress. I am however a person who turns to sugar instead. Between snacking on sweet stuff and then opting to not eat the nice balanced meals I’d prepared and instead eat more carb based high calorie meals has meant that my nutrition just hasn’t gone to plan.

In reaction to this though I’m not going to do anything drastic. I’ve got food planned for the coming week and I’m hoping for a quieter week so I won’t be as tempted to reach for a high sugar stress release.

The key here I think is to not beat yourself out when the week doesn’t quite go to plan, not react by going on some drastic campaign to make up for it and just focus on starting again the next day.

So I’m taking the same approach to my mornings too. Last week I snoozed my alarm a lot, this week I’m reverting back to a cheap old school alarm in the next room so I have to get up to turn it off. A few bad mornings last week don’t need to define the coming week and other than trying to make a few small adjustments to improve my morning routine I don’t need to do anything crazy.

Dear Diary

I’ve been a bit of a cross road recently.

I’m not where I was fitness or physique wise pre Covid. I’ve written about this a little in previous blogs and I’m not kicking myself over it, but at the same time it’s really hard.

Honestly, pre Covid I thought I was out of shape. I felt like I wanted to lose a few pounds and up my training. Since then though, well. Obviously Lockdown hit and gyms closed, then I went back to teaching but my 14 classes a week became five which meant I was just moving a lot less (but eating the same because, well, I like food). I started taking antidepressants again (including some new medication with which weight gain is pretty common), which have always affected my weight. My dad became ill and mentally holding down both a job and a teaching schedule wasn’t what I needed so I took a break from teaching which meant I was moving way less. Then, a couple of days after he passed away I ended up with second degree burns across both legs (long story) which meant I couldn’t walk for a while and then couldn’t train. So overall I ended last summer about 10kg heavier than before, barely able to run and being able to lift around 50% of what I could.

The hardest thing I found was my own pride. I felt like, as a fitness instructor I should a) have not got myself to this point and b) should be able to just spring back. But I couldn’t, I didn’t want to do any quick fixes or fads, cut foods out or go on and all out mad period where the only thing in my life was training. I tried to be sensible, eat a little bit of everything, train at the level I was at and just build up. I tried to do it quietly, slowly and steadily, but I’ve been frustrated with progress and feel like I’m two steps forward, three steps back. I felt like I couldn’t talk openly about the struggle I felt because it wouldn’t send the right message out or sound positive enough, because of that I’ve held back from trying certain things for fear of looking weak as a fit pro and because of all this I’ve kind of ended up with limited structure and a feeling that I’m not really getting anywhere.

Of course I don’t actually have anywhere I ‘have’ to be. I don’t need to be a certain weight or size (although I can’t really afford a whole new wardrobe so being my old dress size would be useful!), I don’t have to lift a certain amount or run a certain speed and I’m fit enough to teach my classes so I could in theory just be as I am. Except I don’t feel good where I am, I feel less confident and less in love with my body (I did like the way my body looked – like honestly, I looked good naked!), I am signed up for a half marathon in a few months and right now I really don’t know if I can do it, and the idea of doing 100kg deadlift is currently laughable. So I want to lose weight, I want to feel fitter, I want to lift more because I know these things will make me feel better in my skin, stronger, more confident. I want to be at the start line of my half marathon and be excited not filled with dread.

So I’ve decided I need to separate current me from fit pro me a little bit. I know what I need to do and what others could d to progress, I have the knowledge and me currently being in a bit of a slump doesn’t mean I’m rubbish at my job. Equally, knowing alone won’t help me fix where I am right now, so I need to lose any ego and be a beginner, let myself struggle at something, fail in the gym and if people want to judge me, let them. My aim is by October (my birthday) I want to be at a size / shape and fitness level I’m happy with, where I’m confident and love going to the gym again, so running plan is in place, lifting in the gym starts now and eating less like an unsupervised kid in a candy store begins here.

Patience

One of the hardest things about starting out on a new goal is not seeing immediate results.

Due to a mixture of lockdowns, personal events, medication and injuries I’ve put on a lot of weight in the last two years, more than that my body has changed shape with it.  You know that point when you look at old photos you took as ‘before’ photos and you think wow I’d be happy with that now?  That.

But I’ve made positive changes recently, I’m training and eating better.  The thing is that at the moment it’s not showing much difference when I look in the mirror.  The truth is I know I need to be consistent for a few more weeks before it will.  It’s hard to be consistent though, when you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere.  It’s that age old catch 22, where if I saw changes I’d feel more motivated to keep it up but I won’t until I have kept it up for a while. 

I guess this is why some coaches and plans start people off with a bit of a crash diet.  That way you see a quick loss and feel motivated to continue.  Starting steady means visible results take a bit longer and that means keeping faith for a while.  If you can however it will invariably bring much better and more sustainable results.

Remember that with fitness and nutrition, genuine results are not immediate.  If you put weight on over the weekend, that’s not true weight, it’s a fluctuation.  In the same way if you want to lose weight it’s not going to happen overnight or with one super good week.  Start thinking longer term and be patient.   

Do the basic things really well

How are you feeling about your nutrition right now?

It’s really tempting when you aren’t feeling on top of things to look for radical solutions. But what we really want to do at times like that are revisit the basics.

If you’re currently feeling a bit lost think about

– Your TDEE

– Macros / proteins

– Your calorie deficit

– Your habits and anchors that make you feel better

Remind yourself of the most important principles.

You don’t need to drastically cut calories or change what you’re eating just remind yourself of the basics. Once they are in place you can think about more in depth aspects of your nutrition, but until then you will likely be sabotaging your own results by ignoring the foundations in an attempt to build the house quicker.

Do the Basics Well

Successful people do the basics well and consistently

Sometimes it’s easy to look at things and think- they’re too simple there must be more to it than that. The reason I’m not getting the results I want isn’t that I’m eating too little or too much it must be how my body responds to certain foods… and so on.

Now the truth is there are lots of variables to our health and fitness. But, you can take account of all these things and yet if you don’t nail the basics it won’t be effective.

Think of your fitness and nutrition like levels in a game- to get to level two you must master level one. Each level acts as a foundation for the next level. You’ll often hear of things like the nutrition pyramid – that’s the same concept, you need to establish a solid base (in nutrition that’s getting your energy balance right as we discussed yesterday) before looking at macro and micro nutrients, meal timings or supplements will be useful- you basically don’t want to build on a shoddy base!

It’s human nature for us to want to look into the specifics, the idea that little tweaks will be the things that makes everything fall into place for us is tempting. But it’s the little tweaks at the basic level that will first make the difference. Once you’ve cracked those then feel free to move onto looking at the specifics of what and when you eat if you still want to- although you might find that you feel less of a need to.

How to get started with Les Mills Body Pump

  1. You don’t need to start heavy. I mean you want to use challenging weights for you to get the most from the class but that doesn’t mean matching regulars plate for plate in class one, it’s about lifting what you can and seeing how you progress, so don’t be put off by looking through the window and seeing lots of people lifting more than you think you can.
  2. If you can get to the class at least 10 minutes before you will have a more enjoyable experience as you will be able to get set up without rushing, including time for that last minute nervous wee!
  3. Say hi to the instructor. Tell us you are new to Pump and we will help you get set up and make sure you’re ok during the class.
  4. As a general rule you will need: a bar, clips, a variety of weight plates, a step and a mat every release. The only things you actually need to bring with you are some water and perhaps a towel.
  5. It’s ok to be confused at first. There’s lots of moves you may not have heard of or done before, the beat can be fast and we have pretty short changeovers between tracks. Your instructor won’t mind (or call you out) if you take a bit longer to grab some water and change your weights or don’t quite get things straight away – all of us have felt that first class confusion!
  6. There is a thing called Smart Start. If you get to the back track (track 4) and you have done as much as you can that’s ok – you can leave (no need to put equipment away the instructor will do it at the end of the class). Just give the instructor a nod or a wave so we know you are ok and then next time try and stay for one extra track until you feel ok doing the whole class.
  7. Alternatives are there for a reason. If we say you can drop the weight if you’re struggling we really mean it. Doing the moves well in a modified position will bring greater results than trying to do a move with a heavy weight but poor form.
  8. The music is a huge part of Body Pump. Not only does singing along help you power through a workout but the tempos we use allow us to work our muscles in different ways across the class, so when the instructor tells you to slow down or encourages you to follow their rhythm they aren’t just an OCD maniac – they’re trying to maximise your results!
  9. You will feel it the next day. You do a lot of reps in a Pump class so don’t worry if DOMs hit the next day – it does get easier over time.
  10. It’s a fun class. Don’t feel nervous about starting, turn up, smile, do what you can and enjoy the music whilst giving something challenging a go.

Your First Group Cycle Class

Group Cycle, often known as spin. There are other variations such as Les Millls RPM too. One of the most inclusive classes in a gym. Also the one that in my experience people are most scared to try. I can see why- it looks tough (for good reason – it is) and everyone looks like they know what they’re doing (they don’t, honest) and it looks technical (you have to set up a bike – this was my biggest fear at first).

So if you’ve ever wondered about trying a class but aren’t sure if it’s for you here’s the low down (from my perspective) for first timers on how to get the most out of the class.

  • Everyone is welcome- all fitness levels. Yes it will be hard but you really can go at your own pace
  • Every instructor’s class is different. So if you don’t like mine try someone elses – there will be a style you like / format you enjoy / class with music you love out there- shop around! I sometimes teach rides where we work along to the music other times I teach HIIT style tabatta, some people do races and competitions. I won’t be offended if you try my class then I see you at someone elses next week!
  • One thing to note, trade marked classes such as Les Mills RPM will be similar in every gym / with every instructor. They are pre- choreographed and so you will always get the same format – even if you go to a class in a different country. This really suits some people, especially if you like routine.
  • Get there 10 minutes early and say hi to the instructor. Tell them you are new, tell them you are nervous. They will be nice, they will look out for you and they will show you how to set up your bike.
  • There will normally be modifications or different levels you can work at and the instructor will always offer these different options throughout the class- take the ones that suit you. Never tell yourself you are doing the easy option. They are just different and people take different options for all sorts of different reasons.
  • Put some resistance on the bike – going too light sounds like a good idea (especially when you feel like you are going to die half way through!) but it will mean you bounce – this will hurt your bottom, believe me. After my first class I walked like a cowboy for a week.
  • Always make sure your feet are strapped in – loose straps are dangerous. Dangerous is bad.
  • There is normally a brake on the resistance button. Normally by pressing down on it you can stop the feet dead. It’s useful to remember just in case! The instructor will tell you about the bike if you introduce yourself at the start.
  • Don’t be afraid to add resistance when asked to. If you add too much you can always take it off. You’re there to get fitter – challenging yourself is the way to do this. Noone will laugh if you get stuck!
  • Take water – you will sweat, you will get thirsty.
  • Maybe take a towel- I refer you back to the sweat!
  • Taking recoveries is fine. You are meant to work hard- if you push so hard you need to take a moment then well done. The instructor won’t shout at you – just sit on the bike, keep the legs spinning and come back in when you are ready.
  • When you are new it can seem like everyone else is faster and fitter than you. Remember they may have been doing this a long time and have conditioned themselves to last the full class. They will not have been like that in their first class so don’t beat yourself up. Try your best, try and enjoy it and just focus on giving your best effort. Nobody is there to compete with anyone else so just work at a level right for you. Nobody is going to judge you.
  • Cycle classes are meant to be hard- the great thing is as you get fitter you can go faster and at a heavier resistance so it stays effective and never gets to the point it feels ‘easy’
  • Above all Group exercise is meant to be fun so relax and smile – the music and other people make it more interesting than just sitting on a bike in the gym!

DOMS

If you’re new to training and have just joined a gym you might be experiencing a little muscle soreness after your workouts right now. We call this Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS and it’s nothing to worry about, it’s your bodies reaction o doing something new. Here’s a few things to remember:

  1. DOMS are temporary — depending on how intense they are you will feel OK again in about two to four days without having to do anything (if you don’t feel better by then it might be an injury).
  2. Make sure you warm-up and cool-down. Making sure your muscles are prepared for exercise and safely recover from physical stress can help reduce the likelihood of DOMs (they won’t guarantee you won’t get them though).
  3. Build up the intensity of your training slowly. If you’re brand new to any type of training and don’t build up your weights / distance etc. your body will react more dramatically to the stress (plus you increase the risk of injury).
  4. If you’re suffering from DOMs try gently massaging the area affected (tip getting a deep tissue massage will not make you feel less sore!). Likewise using a foam roller to gently roll out your sore muscles may help.
  5. Keep moving whilst you have DOMs. Not really intense exercise, allow your muscles to recover – but getting the blood flowing and muscles moving (walking, easy biking, swimming) can help you feel better.
  6. Drink lots of water – drinking water makes everything feel better!

Should you train over Christmas?

Should you train over Christmas?

It’s really up to you. One the one hand if you want to take a break, relax and do nothing that’s perfectly fine. Equally if sticking to your training exactly makes you feel better there’s absolutely no reason you should feel bad about still training on Christmas. You just don’t want to get to the point where you are running a half marathon on Christmas Day because you feel like you should.

This is the thing about training on holiday / over Christmas / during celebrations. There’s a difference between doing it because moving makes you feel good and doing it because not doing it will make you feel guilty. I personally will do something over Christmas, I genuinely enjoy a little 20 minute run on Christmas morning, it sets me up for the day and the fresh air and movement just makes me feel good. I’ll probably go to the gym on Boxing Day or the day after, again because it’s my favourite time to train, I’m not in a rush to get somewhere else so can really focus.

I think that’s the sign that you train in a way you like. If the thing you normally so in the gym feel like a punishment that you deserve a holiday from maybe it is time to try some new things and do something that makes you feel good, you enjoy, you actually kind of want to do, even if you occasionally have to drag yourself to it initially.

Even then if you want to take a break over the holidays do it. See training as a complimentary thing in your life.