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.
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.
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:
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:
- The Body Coach: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheBodyCoachTV
- Zanna Van Dijk: https://www.youtube.com/c/ZannavanDijk/playlists
- Cat Meffan: https://www.youtube.com/c/CatMeffan/playlists
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:
- The NSC website: https://msr.gov.im/news/activ8-news/online-sessions-2021/
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!”
Lulls in motivation are completely normal and to be expected. It’s no secret that we can all struggle with our motivation that bit more in the winter months – it’s colder and darker, there’s more wind and rain and we likely want to ‘hibernate’ rather than being productive and getting outside. This might not be too bad under normal circumstances when we’re still able to go to the office or social with family and friends, but remove that freedom and things start to get tricky and our motivation might wain.
So how can you help yourself with your motivation in a winter lockdown?
This is perhaps even more important during the winter months because as we mentioned above, our motivation is likely to be less than in the summer months. Simple little things like grabbing a hot water bottle to keep you warm while you’re working from home, treating yourself to a hot chocolate at the end of the day or taking hot bubble bath can all help to maintain your motivation levels. This also means keeping ourselves healthy and making sure we’re eating a balanced and healthy diet. Staying hydrated and getting enough sleep are also really important factors at any time of the year, but very much so during lockdown. Listen to your body (it usually knows what it needs) and take regular breaks when you need too.
This might be as simple as tidying or cleaning a room, redecorating, going through your wardrobe or make-up collection and having a bit of a clear-out (decluttering can help us feel motivated), hanging that picture you’ve been meaning to hang for months, or sorting through some old photos . Spending just 10 minutes on these each day could mean that by the end of lockdown you’ll have accomplished so much and you can enjoy more free time.
Use Screens Wisely
Right now, it can be easy to spend all our time on one screen or another – we are all guilty of it to some extent, but it can make us feel tired and demotivated so know your limits. Try using one screen at a time, take a regular break and make sure you are using screen time for the right things – to inspire and make you feel good – because this will likely help you with your motivation. You can find out tips for this here.
Maintain your Sense of Routine
Try and create your own ‘wind-up’ and ‘wind-down’ routines; doing certain things to wake us up and help us relax can put us in the right mindset and give us increased feelings of motivation. Check out our tips for Maintaining a Routine in Lockdown here.
Get Outside & Get Moving
Getting yourself up and moving can be that bit harder in the winter months, add a lockdown into that and it’s really no surprise we might lack motivation that bit more. A 10-minute walk outside can really help with motivation, maybe walk for as bit longer, by doing so you are getting fresh air and vitamin D which will make feel much more prepared to tackle the rest of the day. If you can’t get outside, try a home workout – or perhaps do it via FaceTime to make it fun or have some extra encouragement.
Talk It Over
Talking about things that are worrying or stressing you is always a great tool when you are struggling, this includes motivation. You can ask for tips and try them out yourself, and sometimes just talking and hearing another opinion can help you to refocus and find that motivation again.
Change Your Perspective
When you’re lacking motivation try and focus on what you have accomplished or what you can do to help to feel more motivated. You could try writing it down, or plan something to look forward to. If you find you’re having a lot of negative thoughts, try telling yourself that the thoughts aren’t helpful so I’m going to focus on something that is.
Stop comparing yourself to other people! We shouldn’t do this anyway, but especially right now – we’re amid a global pandemic and there is no expectation to spend all your free time being productive. Do what feels right for you. This also means separating your free time from study time or work and setting boundaries around your relationships too. It will be easier find the motivation when your boundaries are right!
Do Thing Badly
This might sound a little odd, we know! It’s better to have tried to have done something and failed than to not do it at all! It could help you understand that what you were doing wasn’t quite right for you, or it might give you the motivation to try again and do more. So, whatever it is you’ve be wanting to give a go – knitting, a home workout or cooking a new meal, why not give it a whirl!
There are so many ways in which you can help yourself to feel motivated and some of the above are a great way to get you started right now. We’ve much more information and resources to help you during lockdown as well as in more normal times so take a look at our website, social media or YouTube channel.