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exercise for better mental health

Want to maintain good mental health during lockdown? Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!

Let’s face it, it’s difficult to feel “normal” in an abnormal state of lockdown. There are many day-to-day activities that we simply can’t do in the short to medium term and it’s turning our lives upside down. Even working from home can be a challenge when you have the whole family in the same space, creating distractions.

Here are 5 tips to help you achieve the best frame of mind:

1. Exercise, exercise, exercise

I can’t stress this enough. Exercise is the best tonic for isolation. Not only does regular exercise (at least a ½ hr of aerobic exercise per day) help you to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong, it also gives you some necessary “me-time”. You will most likely experience a great sense of wellbeing, often called runners high, for most of the day after exercising. This is due to the endorphins released into your body as a result of exercising. Just remember to maintain the 2-meter distance as there will be plenty of others out there exercising too.

You may notice, as I have, that people are much friendlier and say hello/good morning when exercising during lock down. Perhaps it’s a small way of making a human connection and encouraging others to be strong. Whether you go for a jog, walk, bike ride or do your own circuit in the local park, it all counts. In fact, I find it helpful to mix it up and do different activities on different days. We’re lucky in New Zealand that exercise has been classified as essential so we are allowed outside to do it. However, it can also be done indoors. There has been an explosion of online based yoga, Pilates, Zumba and personal training activities recently. So find what works best for you and get exercising.

2. Keep routines as close to normal or make new routines/schedules

If you’re able to work from home, it’s a good idea to wake and start your day as you normally would. Try to save sleep-ins and scrolling your laptop while eating breakfast in bed for the weekends. The more normal a routine you can keep during the week, the easier it will be to get things done and stay productive. Set yourself a daily list of prioritised tasks and try to find a quiet space to tackle the list. If you don’t have paid work to complete, take advantage of this downtime to work on your business. Anything from tidying your workspace and organising your filing to strategic planning for a successful recovery from this “hibernation period”. The more you can do to work on your business now, the better you will fare when it’s back to business as usual. For me it’s work in the mornings and family time in the afternoons. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it.

3. Give yourself some breaks, treats, indulgences

So, you’ve done your daily exercise and made great progress on your to do list. You deserve a treat. Being self-motivated and making progress with important, but not always pleasant tasks, is worthy of celebration. You will experience a sense of achievement and should give yourself a pat on the back. Maybe make a coffee and relax or watch your favourite show on Netflix or spend some time with family. Whatever floats your boat and helps make this difficult time a little better… ice cream maybe?

4. Connect with others, especially if you are going through this alone
Regular contact with others outside your bubble is critical to maintaining mental wellbeing. Talk to and listen to others and show you care. Strengthening your relationships will strengthen your wellbeing. Perhaps plan to connect with one person outside your bubble each day but make sure it’s done from the safety of your phone, Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or the mandatory 2-meter distance over the fence from your neighbour.

5. Take advantage of the down time to get a few things crossed off that ever growing to do list

If you’re anything like me you will have a To Do list as long as your arm. There’s nothing more satisfying than crossing a few of these items off as DONE. Even if you get started on some and can’t finish, because you need to obtain materials that aren’t available during lockdown, you will feel motivated by making a start and will be more likely to complete it later if you’ve already started. They say 80% of success is just showing up. Whether it’s planting a garden, learning to play guitar or building your kids a playhouse, all these things make your life richer. And you finally have the time…so do it!

I hope you got some value from these tips and that it makes your lockdown life a little better. If you do nothing else, at least exercise! You will love yourself for it. And better your state of physical and mental health now, the easier it will be to hit the ground running when lockdown is behind us and we’re in recovery mode.