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‘If you are willing to move, your muscles will give you hope. Your brain will orchestrate pleasure. And your entire physiology will adjust to help you find the energy, purpose, and courage you need to keep going.’ – Kelly McGonigal

We all know that exercise is good for us. Not only does it keep our bodies fit and healthy; but it helps our mental health profoundly too. What better time to explore new (or old) forms of movement that make us feel better? There are so many ways that we can do this, without sticking to prescribed forms of movement – find what feels good for YOUR body. I have found that on the days where I have been more active physically, my anxious mind becomes quieter and my nervous system more relaxed.

Theory

We live in a society that seems increasingly drawn to the belief that comfort makes us happier. Convenience food, online shopping and technology are all party to this system. Why do we think that ease is the answer? Many of us spend our days sitting at a desk, leading stressful, yet sedentary lives and feeling worse for it. Humans are simply not designed to sit still all day; we are designed for movement.

Our physical bodies have evolved to keep us alive as hunter-gatherers, and our brains have evolved alongside to support and reward sustained effort. While this is no longer our reality today, we can still use this knowledge to enhance our wellbeing. Essentially, it is important to remember that we are wired to feel good when we move our bodies!

Regular exercise has an impact on the chemicals that our brain produces. Over time, the physical structure of the brain can be changed through exercise, becoming more receptive to joy and more resilient to stress and anxiety. While the ‘runners high’ is commonly talked about, the positive and euphoric rewards of exercise apply no matter what form of movement we chose, providing there’s a little challenge. In fact, it is better to undertake something that needs effort, yet can be endured for a longer time.

No matter what our current abilities may be, there is always a way of moving our bodies a little more, boosting the natural remedies we have inbuilt.

Ideas

  • MORNING / The best time of day to exercise is when you wake. At this time, our bodies have the most cortisol present (a stress hormone) and therefore, sweating it out when you first get up, sets you up for a better day.
  • MUSIC / If you’re struggling with motivation; try putting on a playlist of your favourite songs and let that inspire you to move in any way that comes naturally. This could be dancing, stretching, running, yoga or whatever you feel inspired to do: no rules!
  • PLAY / What did you love to do as a child? Try not to think about exercise for the sake of fitness, but become curious about how you enjoy moving. Be playful and creative!
  • NATURE/ Get outside if you can. This might mean a local walk, yoga on your patio or time spent in the garden. Nature can be both a healing and an inspiring environment. Use whatever motivates you.
  • BE PRODUCTIVE / Maybe you don’t find normal exercise routines are for you; you like to keep productive, and you would rather be doing something useful which naturally keeps you active. Some suggestions – gardening, foraging, DIY in your home.
  • GOALS / Having something to work towards will help with motivation. It doesn’t matter the scale of what you want to achieve; just knowing why you’re making that regular commitment should keep you moving. For example, setting a weekly mileage goal or a distance to build up to if running, walking or cycling. Or perhaps envisioning something you would like to create in your garden or your home. Goals are important, but at the same time, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day – listen to your body and do what feels good. Come back to it the next day and start again.
  • CONNECT / One of the benefits of exercise is connection with others. Of course, this is slightly more challenging (physically) in our current situation. But there are so many offerings online to keep us connected. Find a live streamed yoga / exercise / dance class near you – one that you can then join physically when things return to normal! When we take part in synchronised activities with a group, it helps us to form stronger bonds with those sharing that safe space.

Resources

Books

  • The Joy of Movement , Kelly McGonigal – I first heard Kelly talking on The Rich Roll Podcast. and as a result purchased this book, which talks further about ‘how exercise helps us find  happiness, hope, connection, and courage’. She is a teacher and lover of yoga, dance and exercise classes and is also a scientific researcher. She has written other books including ‘The Willpower Instinct.’
  • Born to Run, Christopher McDougal– a classic book about running for the joy of it, an exploration of an old running tribe who run barefoot – interesting to the non-runner too!
  • Eat and Run, Scott Jurek – Scott is an ultra-distance runner who documents his inspiring journey to becoming a ultra-champion. His first book is humble and infused with recipes to give you an insight into how his plant-based diet has allowed him to thrive as an athlete.

Podcasts

Online / Other

  • Yoga with Adriene– Free Yoga videos on YouTube
  • Many local Yoga studios are currently running live-streamed yoga sessions, so you can join in, all be it virtually, with a group. Look out for a local teacher who you can support.
  • Using Apps to connect with others and share your goals and achievements can be useful. An example would be Strava – used to record activities such as running, cycling, swimming etc.

‘It’s important that we don’t make movement an optional extra – something separate, that we can decide not to do on the days we feel too busy. It’s about weaving movement into every aspect of our lives.’

Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life

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Rebecca Mayes is an Ultra Marathon runner, Yoga Instructor and Artist. Check out her Instagram and Facebook pages for more of her musings.