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Stress & Exercise

Monday, 18th January 2021

Happy New Year? It can be if we get going…

No, I didn’t make a mistake with the question mark. 

2020 was a difficult year for many people. We became intimately familiar with the novel coronavirus, that in turn became the number one news story around the globe. People suffered because of it. Families, friends, students, teachers, just about everybody.

So, if you are like me, you would have been hoping for a fresh start in 2021. Understanding that COVID-19 still exists, but recognising how to live alongside it, and counting down the days until vaccinations tips the scales in the favour of normal life once again.

If you are like me, then the news of a new lockdown to start 2021 would have been a bit of a blow. Not because I wanted to go out to party, but because lockdowns can seem hard. They can make the world seem to shrink. It becomes easy to be irritated by those around you, especially when you are seeing the same people 24/7 (and believe me, I am irritating – just ask the students I teach and my colleagues).

About three months ago I asked the students I teach to take a board marker and write down what stressed them out the most in life. There was a range of answers, but the mainstays were:

  • Family (especially parents)
  • Money (and struggling to find a job)
  • Injuries (I teach the sport course, so this is a norm for some of the students I work with)
  • Life pressures (including too many demands on their time and peer pressure)
  • Naan bread (there is an odd story behind this, maybe one day I’ll explain it).

That list has some familiar stressors, I know some of them affect me too. I think most of us can also add COVID-19 to it.

I’ve always been sporty. I used to be a runner, now I cycle quite a lot. In the past, when I’ve been stressed, I used to go for a run. I still like to do that: it helps me clear my head (although if you see me running on campus, I am probably late for a lesson, or my train). I’ve been lucky like that; I enjoy running, some people don’t. Some people don’t have a bike. Some people hate to exercise.  So, when the college asked me to write a blog post that might help people with some healthy lifestyle choices that they can try during lockdown, I had to think a bit differently.

I kept coming back to the opinion that stress is the biggest factor of COVID lockdowns. Stress can be really damaging to your health, so with the new lockdown rolling in, I thought it is worth trying certain things that can help. Here are some strategies that might help you.

As I have already mentioned, exercise is a great way of managing stress. It releases endorphins (one of our happiness hormones), these give a general sense of wellbeing and contentment after exercise and are also a natural way to reduce feelings of stress. The NHS recommends 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day; this can include a brisk walk, taking the stairs (although that is a lot of stair climbing), cycling, jogging, cutting the grass, gardening, etc. A 30-minute brisk walk will probably get you to around about 2500 steps, which isn’t a bad way to get the ball rolling. A healthy target for daily steps is 8000-10000, so that can be something to aim for.

If you want something a bit more challenging, then there are plenty of options. Perhaps this is the time to get into running with a couch-to-5k programme. The NHS has a great website covering this, and you can follow the link here.

You can also join our very own The 101 Challenge: Walk 101 miles in 101 days, for the NHS and Captain Tom. Find Out More

Perhaps you fancy something even more strenuous, maybe running 5k isn’t the challenge you are looking for. In that case, I recommend you take a look at The Great Outdoor Gym Company (thanks to Jon in the Public Services Department for the heads up on this one). Their website has a locator tool that shows you where there is a local park or recreation ground that has outdoor gym equipment (such as assisted chin up bars, exercise benches, cross trainers, exercise bikes, and more). Maybe you can run from home to the park/rec, do a gym session of 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions on each piece of equipment, then jog home? Don’t forget to take hand sanitiser with you and use it before and after using each piece of kit (embrace the new normal). You can find the link here.

If that doesn’t do it for you then maybe something a little more mindful will. I found that yoga practice helped me during the first lockdown, and it is something I have gone back to this time around.

A daily practice of even 15 minutes can have a huge impact on your flexibility, mobility, strength, and stress levels. The great news is that there are loads of options available online, I’ve listed some below:

  • Yoga with Adriene – YouTube – one of the most popular yogis online, she has an extensive collection of classes for all abilities.
  • Yoga with Kassandra – YouTube – another popular yogi, her classes are a little more focused, slightly more serious.
  • Glo Yoga – a subscription service – a very polished site, with heaps of options for all levels, first two weeks are free, so you can see if you like it.

I have also enjoyed combining this with a daily meditation, nothing too long, just 10 minutes each morning, using a free app called Insight Timer. I’ve never been great at quieting my thoughts, so their beginner’s guides were really helpful. Other apps include Headspace (which has a good docu-series on Netflix), and Calm.

These are just some of the things that have helped me in the past (and are continuing to help me now). One big thing I would say is that you don’t have to aim for an all-singing, all-dancing, 3-hour long workout each day. Be realistic. Start small. Build consistency and habits. Stick to it.

Stay tuned, because my colleagues in the Catering & Hospitality department are going to talk to you soon about healthy eating and meal preparation options that can help turn your lockdown meals into something exciting! We will also be adding some fitness challenges and home workouts that our Sports department students will have designed.

– Ben, Sport & Public Services Lecturer 

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