Active Body, Active Mind

January 21, 2021  |  by Lynsey Christian & Erika Kelly

It can be difficult to consider the positives during a second lockdown, but could your relationship with exercise be one of them?   

For many, being in lockdown and being allowed outdoors for limited reasons, including exercise, has provided an opportunity (and the time) to discover new ways to get active or stay active. This could include anything from getting out to explore your local surroundings through walks, participating in online virtual classes or embarking on initiatives such as ‘RED (Run Every Day) January’ and the ‘Couch to 5k’ programme.  

It is well known that physical activity can have a direct impact on your mental health, and during extraordinary times like we are in now, keeping physically active is more important than ever. Exercising, in any form, causes the body to release endorphins and serotonin, which are the body’s ultimate ‘feel good’ chemicals, boosting our mood and helping to lessen feelings of stress and worry.   

Lynsey’s Story

As someone who has suffered with their mental health since their teens, I am only too aware of the impact exercise can have on mental health.  

My love for running started when I was a young child, being part of Northern Athletic Club. I loved the competitiveness, the discipline, and the fun. This carried on throughout my school life, taking part in all school sports. Throughout adulthood, I have taken part in many different exercise classes but my love for running was reignited about 6 years ago when I started with a running group – as someone who hadn’t run consistently for many years, it was a steep learning curve! 

After setbacks with injuries and a lot of perseverance, I took part in my first half marathon in 2017, something I never dreamed I would have been capable of doing. Since then, I have run several more half marathons, the Edinburgh Marathon, and various local races on the Isle of Man.   

Personally, running provides me with ‘me’ time even if I am running with others. It gives me the chance to consciously and unconsciously process the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life. When I am going through a tough time or when my mental health isn’t too good, running is what I go back to. It doesn’t matter how fast or capable I am at running, for me, the benefits to my mental health far outweigh anything else.  

This year, I am taking part in RED January to help kick off the New Year. Even though we are currently in a temporary lockdown, I am making sure I get out each day for a run or a walk with my dog Vera, visiting favourite places and exploring new ones, because now, more than ever, our mental health is key.  

Erika’s Story 

I’ve been very fortunate to grow up participating in a range of sporting activities, from Athletics to Netball, Judo to Hockey. However, it wasn’t until I took a few years away from sport to focus on A-Levels, that I was truly able to comprehend the benefits that exercise had towards my health and wellbeing. 

At the age of 21, I was struggling significantly with my mental health and looked to exercise to see if it could help. I set up the NHS ‘Couch to 5k’ app on my phone, committing to the full course – it was a really great way to develop some self-confidence and ease back into an active lifestyle, re-joining my old Athletics Club and a local running group in the process. By chance, I turned up to what I thought was a running session one evening, which turned out to be a race-walking group. Whilst initially not keen, I kept at it, and things seemed to progress very quickly. After a year dabbling in the sport, I ended up representing England internationally, and it was then that I realised there could be some potential.  

I had never been a very confident kid growing up but being part of a sport and feeling like I was bettering myself and achieving goals really helped. It enabled me to realise how much I could push myself out of comfort zones, learning that it was ok to hurt in training, for my lungs to feel on fire, and to have a heart racing at a ridiculous rate. I’d never pushed these sorts of boundaries before – essentially fearful of the efforts required and the pain I’d have to endure. It was eye-opening, insightful and incredibly empowering, and has been useful in applying to other areas of life – knowing that I can challenge myself when tasks at hand seem difficult, such as when studying or within the workplace. 

It was never my intention to compete at a high level, but I was heavily motivated by the feel-good factors and pure enjoyment, seeing the progressions first-hand and endless determination to overcome an eating disorder. It’s provided some incredible opportunities to travel and explore the world, including racing in Europe for Great Britain and at the 2018 Commonwealth Games – achievements I have become so proud of. 

It has encouraged a quiet confidence and a growth mindset to never give up and always try my best, no matter what the outcome.   

How you can get active during lockdown  

Whether you’re able to benefit from getting outside for a short period of exercise, or required to self-isolate in the confines of your own home, here are some ideas on how to get active during lockdown: 

Get outdoors
There are so many physical activities you can do outside including walking, running, or cycling. Maybe you could start a new activity you have been wanting to do for a while? Getting out for some fresh air, even if it’s only for a brief period, can be really beneficial in terms of promoting those feel-good factors.  

Exercise with family 
This is a great way to keep motivated and spend quality time with loved ones whilst getting creative, having fun and benefitting from physical activity. Maybe you could set up mini obstacle courses using household items, walk the dogs or go on bike rides together, explore your local surroundings, or teach a family member a new activity.   

Do some online exercise videos 
The internet is full of online exercise videos which you can access for free. Some examples include:  

Do a virtual class 
Lots of local gyms and fitness instructors provide online classes which you could access. This can help you to still feel connected with others from the safety of your own home. Check out:  

Set yourself realistic goals 
Setting yourself short-term and long-term goals can be an encouraging way to stay motivated and provide a sense of achievement. Maybe you want to up your running speed or walk for a goal of 10,000 steps in a day. Whatever your goals, remember to keep them realistic and not beat yourself up if you don’t achieve them. Rome wasn’t built in a day.  

It can also be useful to consider the benefits of a ’growth mindset’, especially if you’re considering participation in a new sport for the first time. This theory suggests that just because you don’t feel very good at something the first few times you try; it doesn’t mean that you will always feel this way. With practice and effort, learning new skills and developing your fitness does get easier. So instead of thinking “I can’t do this”, think “I can’t do this … YET!”  

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