January is the time when we are all thinking about getting in shape and losing some of those Christmas lbs.
Gym memberships apparently increase by 40% during January as people realise that they need to get moving. However 80% of those new members will have stopped going by the second week in February.
I’m sure there are similar statistics about healthy eating and reducing alcohol consumption too.
We all start the year feeling fired up and wanting to improve our health and slowly lose momentum if we’re not careful.
Does it matter though?
So we don’t lose that bit of weight. Maybe we don’t fit into that pair of jeans we were hoping to.
Well, we all know that there are more important reasons to look after ourselves than vanity. Our physical health can be in serious jeopardy if we don’t stay physically active.
What we don’t always think about is how it can impact on our mental wellbeing
I’m not talking about low self esteem because we don’t look the way we want to either.
The “science bit”
When we exercise our body releases endorphins which make us feel happier and even reduce pain. This is why when we force ourselves to go for that run or even to take that walk that we really can’t be bothered to we feel so much better afterwards.
It’s more than that though.
Exercise also reduces our cortisol levels.
Cortisol is the stress hormone which we release when we feel scared, angry or anxious. When cortisol levels build up in our body it can inflame and ultimately damage our organs, particularly the heart. Increased cortisol levels also make us short tempered, can cause us to gain weight, affect our skin and much more.
I’m sure you will agree that we need to ensure that we keep those cortisol levels as low as possible.
How much exercise do you need to do to reduce your cortisol levels and improve your mental wellness?
Surprisingly little actually. I have been known to get to bedtime and realise that I haven’t moved enough during the day and literally run up and down the stairs 4 or 5 times. Something as simple as that can make a huge difference.
I am not naturally sporty. I never have been. But I do like to try to keep in shape, but I tend to exercise in waves, I’m enthusiastic and then it wanes.
I have a rowing machine in my office which I use regularly to make sure I don’t spend too much time sitting working. I also do yoga, although not as often as I know I should.
This week though I have found something I think may really help me to hit my fitness and mental wellbeing targets this year. I have just bought myself a kettlebell, similar to this one. It really does work for me. It isn’t too time consuming and is really having an impact.
I am realistic though. I know that I need to make sure that I keep momentum but I always find that easier when I can feel a difference early on. Change is a great motivator isn’t it?
When we make small meaningful differences we can make lasting change
It is ALWAYS better to make a small change which lasts than a grand gesture that is short lived. If you want to make a difference to your diet it is better to commit to smaller portion sizes or cutting out biscuits, rather than going from fast food to veganism overnight.
The same is true with movement.
Commit to going for a walk every day or doing an exercise class once a week rather than going to the gym for 2 hours every day.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a sport or class either.
Maybe you love gardening or cleaning, these can be great exercise too.
When you do any exercise pay attention to the messages the body is sending you too. Listen to when you feel you can push yourself a little more but equally ensure you stop if you feel any pain.
The important thing is to keep moving, and moving doing something you enjoy. Happiness and pleasure will amplify the mental wellbeing benefits of exercise so get the most out of every moment.