Easy ways to work on your own mental health

Following Mental Health Awareness Day Thursday I wanted to offer some ideas of simple things you can do relating to fitness and nutrition to help improve your mental health (whoever you are) and perhaps even help manage depression and anxiety:

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 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

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?

Les Mills Launches Are Coming

For the Les Mills Instructors among us launches are coming!

One thing that keeps cropping up in conversation this week is how hard it is to keep on top of your training, nutrition and positive habits whilst also learning new choreography.

Here’s my ideas for getting through the next 10 days of cramming and still feel good about YOU:

1. If you can, meal prep once a week, that’s going to mean you have good choices ready to grab and stick in the microwave and reduce the chances of getting a takeaway when you are tired and busy cramming.

2. Same with snacks – have lots of good snacks to hand because learning chorey always makes you want to snack – FACT!

3. Another option for these two weeks each quarter is order a week or two of meal prep to completely avoid the stress of thinking about food yet stay on track!  If you’re prone to buying food rather than planning when you are busy leaning the new stuff this could actually end up more cost efficient anyway.

4. If you’re short of time drop out the cardio element in your training sessions and use your physical practice sessions as your cardio. Added bonus is that going all out at least once when practicing the new releases means you’ll be prepared for how it’s going to feel on launch day!

5. Don’t be an all or nothing person…

Do you know what positive habits you practice daily?  Perhaps you have a great morning or evening routine or drink a pint of water upon waking, maybe you always pack your bag the night before.  ALL those little things help add up to a positive mindset and approach to your health. IF you don’t train for a week or end up going over your calorie goal a few times you haven’t gone off the rails and lost all progress / fitness levels – keep up with those little daily habits and everything will still be in place for you post launch!

6. You are in control – one of the best ways to make lifestyle changes is to create systems. One systems could be to take some time to plan in appointments for when you will learn chorey and stick to those appointments. Feeling more in control of how you use your time can help reduce stress levels even if you’re still crazy busy!

7. Don’t create undue stress for yourself- you’ve got new stuff to learn. So the week or two before launch I like to go back to my go to tracks, the ones I know in my sleep- you haven’t got to add extra pressure to yourself by learning members requests or extra tracks for your current mix if you’re already feeling pressure (be honest the ones you know in your sleep are actually probably the members favourites anyway, hence why you know them so well!)

8. Sleep. Sleep helps you retain information – being tired doesn’t, so no matter what you need to let slide for a few days don’t make it sleep!

9. That being said don’t beat yourself up about letting the not important stuff slide.  You will know what is a non negotiable in your life.  Yes, you will need to keep balancing those plates, but everything else, well it will still be there on 7th July.

10. The week after launch can also be a tough week physically – all the adrenaline from learning and then teaching for the first time is draining and I often feel more tired and emotional the week after. So if that happens don’t beat yourself up, a few days off training can be beneficial in cases like that.

I hope some of the above ideas help, and if you aren’t a Les Mills instructor many of these ideas would also work for other stressful situations not just launches!

This blog is based on some of the principles we work on developing in Jump 4.2 – an 8 week online fitness, nutrition and mindset programmes designed specifically with group ex instructors and enthusiast in mind. If you want to find out more click the link below to get details for the next intake on July 1st.

Jump Priority List

Post Marathon Blues

Today’s blog topic is a request (possibly my first ever topic request!) and is focused on the Post Marathon Blues.

This doesn’t just need to apply to marathons, it could equally apply to people who have trained for any big sporting even (half marathon, 10k, big swim or cycle, triathlon, a show, a tournament- anything where all your focus for several months has been working towards being in your peak physical form and at the top of your game for one specific event).

How we feel after an event is not something we tend to focus on.  We put lots of thought into preparing for things and on the day itself and even on the immediate recovery in the hours or days after a physical event.

But many people report feeling a bit down in the weeks after a marathon or other big event.  Words like lost, aimless, flat, down, void, lacking in motivation come up in conversations.  It’s a lot like that feeling you get when you come back from a holiday and the realities of normal life hit you and now because the holiday has been and gone you don’t have anything to look forward to.

This is due to both physical and psychological reasons.

Physically the day itself will probably have left you feeling extremely tired, a cumulative effect of weeks of training hard and the extra effort of the day itself and you may have picked up blisters, bruised toenails and niggles which don’t help make you feel great about yourself.  Your endorphins will have been high during the event and as you settle back into normality this can have an effect of how you feel as you struggle to replicate the high you felt in that moment again.

Mentally, you no longer have the event to focus on and that can leave you feeling like life has no meaning or focus after months of everything you do revolving around training (can’t go out Saturday have a long run on Sunday morning, can’t eat that as I’m in training and so on).  It can make it harder to you to motivate yourself to eat well or train as you no longer have that reason for doing so.  Many of us thrive on routine and having something meaningful to us to work towards and once you reach your goal where do you go from there?

Thankfully, these feelings tend to only last a few weeks and people normally spring back to their normal self but there are things you can do to help yourself feel better in this situation and feel the positivity you probably expected to feel after your big achievement.

Celebrate

Plan to do something nice to celebrate your achievement – a massage, spa break, celebration meal.  Take time to congratulate yourself for what you achieved so it doesn’t feel insignificant now.

Book something nice

Similar to above, you could consider booking a weekend break or holiday- something to focus on that is nice and not exercise.  This is bound to improve your mood

Reflect

Think about what you achieved, all the positives and even what you would have done differently in hindsight.  Think objectively about whether it’s something you would like to repeat or if once was enough.  That way if you choose to train for the same event in the future you know what pitfalls to avoid and if not you know you can confidently say once was enough.  Sometimes reflecting on your feelings can give you more ownership on how you feel and help you both make decisions and manage your emotional responses better.

Recover Properly

Get a sports massage, continue to eat nourishing food (and enough of it) to help the body recover, stretch, get some good quality sleep and take some time to just sit and chill.  Any sporting event which take a toll on your body requires some proper mindful recovery in the days after to help you feel better physically which in turn will help you feel better mentally.

Do some low impact exercise

Don’t feel like you need to be back training he day after.  A week or two off could be exactly what your body needs.  If you feel the urge to exercise though try and stick to low impact options which place less strain on your CNS.  You may want to try some yoga or similar during this time.

Don’t run for a couple of weeks

Similar to above, a couple of weeks not doing the exercise you have just trained hard for can be beneficial, both in allow you to physically recover but also give you that little bit of excitement when you do go back out for that first run after a couple of weeks.

Find a new challenge

After a couple of weeks when your rested and refreshed this could be the time to think about what comes next.  Another run of the same distance, a step up to the next distance (Ultra anyone), maybe looking at trying something new instead.  Setting your next goal will give you a renewed sense of focus.

Above all, don’t stress about feeling a bit blue after a big event.  It’s human nature and being sensible and kind to yourself is the key to letting it subside.

Equally, if you suffer from depression anyway, don’t let the idea of post event blues put you off training for an event.  Research has shown that having something to aim for and the training and self care associated with that training can be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of depression and as long as you are mindful that you might feel a bit down immediately after the event and have your coping strategies in place this should have a generally positive impact on your mental health.

This Person Can

Due to a new partnership with Les Mills I’ve seen lots about the ‘THIS GIRL CAN’ campaign this week.

Encouraging more people to take part in sport / exercise, encouraging people to exercise regardless of their hang ups and celebrating the fact that a variety of body shapes and sizes can be fit and healthy  – all a tick for me.

Using the word girl as opposed to woman – issue for me, somehow I can’t ever see a This Boy Can campaign being conceived in any boardroom out there.

That being said there are lots of PEOPLE who for various reasons don’t exercise, who could benefit from the encouragement of such a campaign.

Below are my tips for anyone looking to start exercising.

Let’s call it my THIS PERSON CAN Tips:

  1. Pick something you enjoy doing – Don’t enjoy running? Try swimming, dancing, cycling, yoga, classes, netball, football, rugby.  If you enjoy doing it you are more likely to stick to it.
  2. Wear something comfy – You don’t need to spend lots on new gym gear or trainers.  Just wear something you feel comfortable in and allows you to move.  If you need to buy some gym kit to get started Primark and Sports Direct are great places to look for cost effective kit.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for / accept help- Join a team or class there will be a coach or instructor to guide you, join a gym and you will probably be entitled to an induction / plan as part of your membership.  Instructors and coaches are there to help (and want to) so accept the help offered to help you as you get started.
  4. You don’t need to be an expert – If you lift enough to challenge you it doesn’t matter if it isn’t what you consider ‘heavy’, if you sweat in a class it doesn’t matter if you’re a bit off the beat, if you walk for bits during a run that’s alright, if you join a team and aren’t brilliant that’s fine.  You don’t have to be brilliant at something to enjoy it or keep doing it.
  5. Females can lift / Males can do Zumba- There is no such things as gender suitable training so move as you see fit and do not worry about how this is perceived.  Generally the fitness world is less judgmental than people tend to imagine, everyone started somewhere so you will find most people to be supportive of others efforts.

The Ten Best Chocolate Bars

They say you should write about what you know, and I have years of experience in eating chocolate so here you go the ten best chocolate bars in order of brilliance.

10) Maltesers – The lighter way to enjoy chocolate apparently.  Basically feels like you didn’t even eat them, good for letting melt in your mouth.

9) Galaxy – Smooth and silky chocolate, makes you feel like you might be a grown up eating it.

8) Double Decker – Part chewy, part crispy – good for those of us with slightly erratic mood swings who never really know what we want.

7) Wispa – If you put a piece of this on your tongue all the bubbles will start to melt.  Downside is one rarely feels like enough and they should come in double packs really.

6) Flake – The most seductive of chocolates, that it really does flake makes it both great and annoying in equal measure.  Wins extra points because you can have little ones in a Mr Whippy Ice cream.

5) Smarties – I like bright things, also they have a lovely mixture of crunchy and smooth at once.  Shaking the tube builds anticipation which makes eating them better,

4) Kit Kat Chunky – You can work out if someone might be a serial killer by how they eat a Kit Kat.  Everyone knows you have to nibble all the chocolate off first.  If you start dating someone who just bites into one, dump them quickly because it will never work.  Added bonus when they have a peanut butter filling.

3) Twix – A solid chocolate bar.  Biscuit, caramel, chocolate in one.  I like the fact you get two fingers in a pack- size matters.

2) Snickers – You’re not you when your hungry and Snickers always fix that.  Peanutty and chocolaty in one, they just feel like the most substantial and reliable of chocolate bars.  I would like to meet the man version of a Snickers bar.

1) Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut- Obviously.  If you are feeling a bit sad, on your period slobbing on the sofa, having a brew, watching a good film, imagining you’re Bridget Jones or pretty much any other occasion – this is the chocolate bar of choice.  They also come in decent size bars, apparently for sharing but we all know portion sizes on products are always unrealistic.

Of course this does not take into account biscuits or cake which are equally as important food groups, and fully deserving of a blog int heir own right.

Things I’ve Learnt – Re-Blog

I wrote this six months ago- all still remarkably true and relevant.

  1. You aren’t perfect.

I think I’m like most people in that when I start something new I want to be 100% perfect or I feel like I’ve failed and need to start again.  But it’s impossible to never have slip ups on a long term plan.  Getting out of the cycle of deciding a whole week was a write off become of a bad day or bad meal was one of the biggest factors to starting to see results.

  1. Day 30 (or 60 or 100 or 200) is harder than day 1.

People always talk about Day 1- and in some ways Day 1 is tough, it’s the starting something new, the first step in making changes. But by the same token, Day 1 is exciting – it’s the start of something new, when you feel all positive and hopeful.  Sticking to something once the novelty wear off or once results start to slow is the real challenge.

  1. Consistency and steady progress is boring.

Everyone loves a Facebook status or Instagram post where they can show their before and after pictures demonstrating dramatic results.  Realistically though long lasting changes take time and progress isn’t always immediately apparent.

  1. The loudest people in the gym often don’t have a clue.

When I started venturing into the free weight section alone I used to feel so inferior.  All these people claiming space and equipment and confidently broadcasting their strengths and opinions on how things should be done.  I tend to assume that if someone is loud and forward with their opinion they must know their shit- and yeah, some do.  Get comfortable in the environment and take time to look and you will see however that many do not!  Go in, do your own thing with confidence and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing in terms of training or weights.

  1. You need to eat more.

I used to try and keep my calorie intake low – the bigger the calorie deficit the better.  Really, this makes you tired, makes training harder and will eventually stop you getting results.  Stick to a sensible calorie deficit and results will come and will be easier to maintain.

  1. There is no such thing as an ideal diet.

And by ideal I mean those diets you see advertised in magazines- ‘Eat all the cake and still lose weight’ ‘Drink all the Gin and still lose weight’.  We would all like that magic diet which would allow us to eat as much of our favourite foods as often as we like and still loose 10lbs per week.  Essentially, though, if you look at them, all these diets still involve some form of restriction – eat low calorie meals through the day and allow yourself cake everyday in moderation (i.e. a small slice).  You therefore have to accept that you can eat what you want within reason but if you also want to stay within a calorie allowance and hit your Macros you will need to balance that out with sensible options for other meals. I have 4 pretty strict days to allow me the freedom to have 3 pretty relaxed days and stay within my goals.  That means for 4 days a week I sometimes have to say no to things I want in return for that relaxed weekend.

  1. Some days will be shit.

Not all training sessions will be fun, not all will bring PBs, sometimes you will feel like you have made no progress.  If every session was a great session they would just be your normal sessions.  Accept that even a tough session will bring benefits to you and don’t sweat it.

  1. Rest is important

When you start it feels like you will get more results if you keep on going and do as much as you can.  Rest allows your body to recover and prevents over training though and in the long term will improve your results.

  1. You can’t do everything.

It’s tempting to try and master as many things as possible.  Realistically though unless you are naturally talented at something the chances are you will need to devote time to things to master them.  Therefore trying to win a Strongman competition whilst also training for a marathon is probably not going to work.  Pick your thing and focus on that.  I wanted to run a second marathon but with teaching classes around my full time job I had to accept that finding time to fit the training in would not be possible and as I didn’t want to take a break from teaching I put that aim on the back burner.

  1. Weight is a bad indicator of progress.

Muscle weighs more than fat, your body is full of water blah blah blah.  At first you may be able to monitor your weight- eventually you will need to go off clothes size or pictures if you don’t want to feel completely demotivated.

Ten ways to get ‘fitter’ in 2019

  1. Work out how many calories you burn a day on average and eat this many (to maintain weight) or 20% less (to reduce weight)
  2. Swap one of your sugary snacks with a healthier replacement (e.g. a piece of fruit) each day. And yes I know fruit has some sugar in it but a banana over a Mars Bar will help you cut calories and provide less of a post sugar slump.
  3. Stop having cheat meals. Cheat meals create a restriction / binge / food as a reward mindset.  Eat whatever you want whenever you want within reason without viewing food as good and bad.
  4. Eat protein. Aim to eat 1g of protein per kg of body weight. Will help you feel satisfied without overeating.
  5. Drink at least 0.033 litres water per kg of your body weight each day (so if you weight 60kg drink two litres a day).  Fat loss, performance – hydration is so important to your health.
  6. Don’t exercise at all at the moment? Aim to complete a 30 minute session every week for a month, two 30 minutes sessions a week the next month and three 30 minutes sessions the following month. Boom = Exercise habit created.
  7. Increase your NEAT. However much you exercise aim to increase your non exercise movement by at least 10% each day (i.e. walk more)
  8. Get more sleep. Enough sleep every night will help with weight loss, stress, energy levels.
  9. Learn something new. Want to learn to do a handstand, swim, play netball? Practicing towards mastering a skill will get you moving without exercise being the main goal itself.
  10. Set yourself a challenge. Run in a race, do a Tough Mudder, compete in a swimathon. Setting a challenge can give you the incentive to get to your training sessions and maintain focus.