If you’re someone who has a love/hate relationship with heavy cardio workouts, perhaps it’s time you slowed down? Sure, you may not experience that same endorphin rush or ‘runner’s high’ after a long walk, compared with a HIIT or Spin class. However, you will be nourishing your mind in other ways. For example, you can truly focus on your surroundings and enjoy the fresh air. Researchers at the University of Essex have demonstrated that walking in the outdoors (aka ‘green exercise’) improves self-esteem and mood (1). While walking, you can listen to an audiobook or podcast, and actually follow what is happening (rather than tuning in and out between labored breaths!). Last but not least, you can achieve a greater sense of calm. Studies have shown that walking can reduce stress markers such as systolic blood pressure, adrenaline and cortisol, whereas too much high intensity exercise can keep these markers elevated (2,3).
Also, mixing up your exercise routine with high and low intensity sessions may eliminate the ‘dread’ you feel towards cardio, and get you looking forward to each session.
If you are constantly on the go, with your brain processing 100 thoughts at once, we’re sure you’d relish any opportunity to have a ‘mental break’. However - trying to find a quiet moment for yourself can be tough! Often, it’s easier to commit to a class. So - have you considered attending a yin yoga or meditation class?
Both yin yoga and meditation classes offer a chance to disconnect from your busy world, slow your thoughts and movements right down, and focus in on your mind and body. Not to mention the well-documented benefits for mental health, including reduced stress, improved sleep quality, greater immunity against disease, enhanced productivity, and an overall sense of wellbeing (4). The stretching element in yin yoga can also help to improve circulation, increase flexibility, and release muscle tension.
And, there’s something special about practicing in a warm, incensed room with a group of like-minded people, all chasing the ‘zen’.
You don’t need to be Picasso or Michelangelo in order to enjoy painting or sculpting - it’s all about enjoying the process rather than the end result.
Participating in art activities for mental health, such as mindful coloring, painting, knitting and pottery, has soared in popularity over recent years. It is now recommended by psychologists and health professionals as an effective way to cope with stress, mental health issues, and recovery from illness.
Art offers a way to disconnect from the ‘daily grind’ and focus on being creative, which many of us don’t get the chance to be in our nine-to-five jobs. Art can also be an activity you do for ‘pure enjoyment’, something you ‘like’ to do, rather than something you ‘must’ or ‘should’ do (such as go to the gym or cook dinner). If it’s been a while since you last picked up a coloured pencil, you’d be surprised at how calming it can be. Plus – the modern adult colouring books are so inviting.
Food represents so much more than just ‘fuel’ for our body. Sure, we recommend making food choices based on promoting physical health, including brain health. But what about our emotional and social wellbeing? Giving yourself ‘permission’ to indulge every now and then can be just as important for self-care and fulfillment.
In saying that, it’s nice to know that dark chocolate and red wine specifically offer health benefits beyond that tasting delicious! Dark chocolate contains a number of mood-enhancing compounds and antioxidants (i.e. theobromine, phenylethylamine, flavanols, polyphenols and methylxanthines), with a recent Swiss showing that 40g of dark chocolate per day for two weeks reduced the stress hormone cortisol in people with anxiety (5). Studies have shown that a low-moderate intake of red wine (one standard drink for women and up to two standard drinks for men, with 3 or more alcohol free days per week) can reduce overall inflammation in the brain by clearing away ‘toxins’, and is associated with reduced risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease (6).