WITH everyone cooped up while in lockdown and gyms closed, now might seem like a hard to get active.
But it doesn't need to be – and what's more, the effect of physical exercise on our mental health cannot be underestimated.
Yesterday The Sun's You're Not Alone campaign launched a series to raise awareness of the coronavirus pandemic's effect on mental health.
"Exercise doesn’t just keep us in good shape physically," says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist. "It boosts happy hormones and reduces stress, leaving us feeling happier and more relaxed.
"It can also lead to an increase in productivity by increasing our focus. After exercising, you’ll find it easier to block out distractions and concentrate on the task at hand."
There are plenty of simple and effective workout plans to keep your body and mind healthy.
Here, experts share their tips for:
- Working out at home
- Starting to run – from couch to 5k
- Five easy yoga poses
- Exercising with kids, while learning
- Using meditation to boost metal strength
Home workouts with water bottle weights & card games
By personal trainer Ryan Dack, from S20 Physique.
He says: "Anything and everything around your home can be used as an accessory: Your child’s school bag is your new kettle bell to swing. The litre bottle of water or fizzy pop is your dumbbell. Furniture is now a dipping station and so on.
The more creative you can be, the more fun it is and the more likely you are to keep exercising daily.
Home workouts can become boring and monotonous, but to keep you interested set it out as a game.
Roll the dice to decide your workouts
Each number or deck of cards can represent an exercise and number of reps, for example:
Clubs = 10 press ups
Spades = 20 squats
Hearts = 10 lunges
Diamonds = plank for 30 seconds
Joker = 5 burpees
It means you can evolve your workout to involve your children if you’re struggling to keep them entertained but also makes working out enjoyable.
Have an accountability partner – someone you trust to make sure you actually keep exercising and stay active. This could be someone you live with or someone that you’re chatting to remotely.
Set up a weekly credit pot; for every time you miss a workout, you have to put a pound in it. It’ll add a little competition – but also help you save for something like a gym membership or spa day later in the year!"
Running changed my life – anyone can do it
By Emily Clarkson, runner and mental health influencer
She says: "I never thought I would be one of those people that would run to “clear their head”. The only thing I thought running was good for was escaping bears.
But then I got into it. Slowly, very slowly, I went from not being able to get to the end of my road, to preparing for my third marathon of the year (sadly postponed til October!).
Running – and exercise in general – has become critical to my mental health. Without meaning to be dramatic, I’d go so far as to say it has totally changed my life.
You can't be bad at running
I would recommend running to anyone. As a means of exercise, but more importantly, as a means of escape. It is the chance for a few minutes every day to get out of your head, unlock endorphins and feel proud of yourself.
And the best thing about it as that you can do it anytime, anywhere. Running is just putting on foot in front of the other, a bit quicker than normal.
The thing that always stopped me from running was the fear that I’d be bad at it, but I’ve come to realise that you can’t be bad at running. That no one is staring at you.
And that the only time your speed matters is if you’re actually being chased by a bear.
So get out there, what have you got to lose, apart from a couple of toenails?"
From couch to 5k
By Anna Harding, head of content at The Running Channel
She says: "To avoid injury, start each run with a gentle warm-up of five minutes of brisk walking.
When you first start out, break it down into short intervals. Don’t worry if you need to walk between the intervals so you can recover a little.
Try running for 1 minute, walking for 1 minute, and do that 10 times. When that feels comfortable, try running for 90 seconds, walking for 30.
Gradually increase the duration of the running intervals and decrease the walking, until you can run steadily for the whole time. This could take several weeks.
When you’re going from no running to targeting a 5k, you should give yourself at least six weeks to build up to the full distance.
If you’re serious about getting to the 5k distance then you should consider getting out three times a week. A basic way to structure that is:
Monday – Rest
Tuesday – Run 1 min, walk 1 min. Repeat 10 times (20 mins)
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Run 2 mins, walk 4 mins. Repeat 5 times (30 mins)
Friday – Rest
Saturday – Rest
Sunday – Run 2 mins, walk 4 mins. Repeat 5 times (30 mins)
Of course you can move the days around, but ultimately you want to make sure that you’re taking a day off after each run to give your body time to recover.
Each week, you should aim to increase the duration of running in one go in the longer sessions, while keeping your other runs to whatever feels most comfortable.
By week 2 your aim should be to run for 5 mins and walk for 3 mins, three times (24 mins total). By week 3 you should raise that to 8 mins running and 2 mins walking, again three times (30 mins).
In week 4 you should be aiming to run for 10 mins, walking for 2 mins twice over, and then running for 5 mins (29 mins), while in week 5 you'll be running for 12 mins, walking 2 mins twice, then running for 5 mins (33 mins).
By week 6 you should be able to run for 15 mins and walk for 1 min twice (32 mins).
Don’t worry if it’s hard at first. It will get easier.
Give yourself a few minutes to cool down after each run with a gentle walk to get your heart rate down."
There's no better time to start yoga
By Jade Anand, yoga teacher and founder of Yoganand in Bristol.
She says: "People are being left isolated and lonely by the current crisis, with no routine or purpose.
There is no better time to start practising yoga. Although Instagram posts can make it seem intimidating, this could not be further from the truth.
It can be practiced in the comfort of your own home, at any level, regardless of how silly you may feel.
With a focus on self-care, deep breathing, meditation and exercise, yoga has proven benefits for both mind and body.
Setting aside time for yoga also provides routine in your day and gives your mind a break while working from home.
I'd recommend creating a space with a mat out, candles, low light, music. Also, make attainable yoga goals – even if it is 5 minutes of laying on the floor each day.
Don't take it too seriously – have fun with your yoga practice. It is ok to wobble, shake and fall!
Here are five simple yoga poses to get you started:
1. Start on your hands and knees
2. Put your toes together and knees about mat width apart
3. Send your bum back towards your heels and reach both hands forwards, palms facing down
4. Allow your tummy to fall between you thighs, resting your forehead on the mat
5. Hold here for at least a minute as you send deep breaths to the back of the ribs
Benefits: Gentle stretch to the hips and back, calms the mind.
Lay on your back and bend your right knee in towards the chest.
Take your right arm out to the side along the floor at shoulder height
Drop your right knee over towards the left side, keeping left hand on the knee. (If your right foot can touch the floor then let it rest there).
You choose where is most comfortable for your head to go. Repeat on the other side
Benefits: These twists are good for your digestive system – as you release from the twist it allows fresh blood to flow back in to your digestive organs.
Stand at the front of your mat and step your right leg back around five feet. Make sure your front foot is facing forwards and back foot is at a 45-degree angle.
Your front knee is bent and back leg stays straight.
Have your left arm forward and right arm back both parallel to the floor and gaze past the middle finger.
Benefits: Feel strong in this pose – it's called 'warrior' for a reason. It increases strength in legs and core as well as flexibility around the hips. Gazing through the middle finger can direct your mind and focus.
Lay on your back and hug your knees into your chest.
Send the soles of your feet to the sky and bend your knees towards your armpits. Take your legs slightly wider than your torso.
Hold on to the outsides of your feet (if you cant reach your feet then hold your ankles).
Benefits: This gently stretches out the back and hips. Releases stress and fatigue.
Lay on you back and have your arms down by your side, palms facing up
Benefits: This is one of the most important poses – directly translating to 'corpse pose'. A time to rest and restore in peace and quiet.
In this pose allow your body to relax, give your mind a break allow yourself time for poses to soak into your nervous system."
David Wiener, training specialist at leading fitness app Freeletics, says:
"Keeping fit and eating well is an essential way to ensure you boost your immunity, mood and energy levels.
"Don’t be disheartened if you cannot continue with your current fitness regime.
"Remain motivated and open to trying new things to keep your fitness levels up."
Exercise with kids, while learning
By fitness presenter 'Mad Lizzie' Webb from ITV’s TV-am and founder of creativityinsport.com
She says: "Long before I shot to fame as ‘Mad Lizzie’ [in the 80s], I was a teacher at an urban boys comprehensive school.
I loved it, but each day I struggled with a dilemma: why did we expect school pupils to learn when sitting at their desks for the majority of the day? It seemed crazy to me.
My solution was to introduce dance and drama classes into the curriculum. I could quickly see the fantastic benefits of exercise, dance and sport as a way of processing academic learning.
Now, with children stuck at home, it’s the perfect time to introduce my method to the nation’s living rooms – a great way to stave off boredom, keep fit, have some fun and learn at the same time.
For older children I combine fun manoeuvres with anything from times tables to language lessons, like the one below. Oh, and it’s good for parents too!"
Learning on the move
Stand opposite a partner or in a circle as a family. Keep a rhythm going as you would with rote reciting. Use the words '1 11 is 11', '2 11’s are 22', '3 11’s are 33' – and so on. Repeat or share lines with someone to change it up.
1 x 11 = 11 Circle both arms, (stand feet a little apart)
2 x 11 = 22 Punches in front
3 x 11 = 33 Squats, (keep feet flat on floor)
4 x 11 = 44 Each knee up, (tap each one)
5 x 11 = 55 Heel digs, (each heel on the floor in front)
6 x 11 = 66 Lunge, (forward and back with each leg)
7 x 11 = 77 Jogging on spot, (fast)
8 x 11 = 88 Hopping on one leg
9 x 11 = 99 Star jumps
10 x 11 = 110 Skipping, (feet together)
11 x 11 = 121 Jump twists feet together
12 x 11 = 132 Jumps side to side feet together
Use meditation to improve mental strength
By Jasmin Harsono, a meditation teacher and founder of wellness lifestyle brand Emerald and Tiger.
She says: "The benefits of meditation are endless. It reduces the physical, emotional, mental and energetic impacts of stress, promotes emotional health, and helps alleviate depression and anxiety.
It may lower blood pressure, increase mental strength, and focus, improve memory, mood and emotional intelligence.
Try this grounding meditation for five minutes, three times a day:
- Keep track of the time by setting an alarm clock.
- Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.
- Adopt a seated position, with a tall spine – (this helps you to stay focused, and move your breath through the entire body).
- Make sure that you are comfortable.
- Take a moment to check in with yourself. How are you feeling right now?
- Gently close your eyes and rest the palms of your hands on your belly.
- Bring focus to the natural movement of your breath. Breathing in and out. Stay here for 1 minute.
- Now feel the palms of your hands moving outwards as you breathe in and move inwards when you breathe out.
- At the end of the five minutes, take a deep inhale and exhale (big sigh).
- Take a moment to check in with yourself again.
If the mind wonders at any time, that is perfectly normal, when you notice this happening, return your focus to your breath, breathing in and out and see the gentle movement of your hands moving in and out."
Additional reporting by Abby Wilson, Rebecca Pocklington and Kathryn Knight
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