The indulgence of Christmas is now behind us, and many people are looking to make changes to their lives for this year.
It all begins with the best intentions, but often running after a long day at work in torrential raining curbs the enthusiasm for change.
Winter is not a great time for change because of the uninspiring weather, however there are simple and effective steps to take to not just lose a few pounds, but to fundamentally improve your happiness and wellbeing.
Most people know that being physically active is good for the body – but fewer seem to be aware of just how closely linked their physical and mental health are.
The latest edition of the Oxford Children’s Dictionary removed previously listed words including ‘blackberry’ (the fruit), ‘canary’, ‘clover’ and ‘pasture’ and included ‘Apple’ (the brand), ‘attachment’, ‘blog’ and ‘Blackberry’ (the gadget).
Twenty years ago, 40% of children regularly played with friends outdoors.
Today that number has plummeted to less than 10%.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average American adult now spends 90% of their time indoors.
‘Nature deficit disorder’
is fast becoming a thing as we rapidly lose our connection with the natural world.
The correlation of physical and mental health are so clear that many doctors are now even recommending physical activity as a method for combatting growing rates of depression and anxiety – rather than the more conventional route of prescribing antidepressants.
Exercise will make you feel good (though, if you’re a bit out of practice, it might not necessarily feel that way initially) due to the fact that when you take part in any form of physical activity, your brain releases endorphins – the ‘feel-good’ hormones as a reward.
This will naturally lift your mood and increase your feelings of wellbeing.
When you feel stressed, which people often do after a hard day of work, it causes your body to produce adrenaline the hormone that encourages that fight-or-flight response.
This raises your heart rate, increases your blood pressure, sends blood to your muscles and gets you ready to put ‘em up or make a dash.
However, the natural high you experience from the endorphins released during exercise will counter those tense, edgy feelings and make you feel calm again.
A study for the Economic and Social Research Council surveyed more than a million adults about their exercising habits.
It discovered that, in the previous four weeks, 46% of people had not walked for 30 minutes continuously, 88% had not been swimming and 90% had not been to a gym.
If you think you’re not getting enough exercise, don’t worry – you’re hardly on your own.
Scientist Dr Selin Kesebvir, of the Centre for Health Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is concerned that indoor activities such as television, video games, and the internet are “being substituted for nature as… source[s] of joy, recreation and entertainment” and they are partially to blame for the rise in mental ill-health around the world.
Kesebir’s studies reveal that being outside in nature reduces anxiety and stress, enhances creativity and increases our ability to relate to other people.
“Connecting with nature is great for our wellbeing, mental health, and cognitive performance.”
Even just looking at pictures of lakes and mountains leads to faster stress recovery, mental restoration and boosted brain power.
National Geographic adventurer, Alastair Humphreys, is a poster boy for wellbeing.
Lean, alert, always smiling, chilled out and in the moment, he’s cycled solo around the world, walked across Southern India, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, run six marathons through the Sahara Desert and completed a crossing of Iceland by foot.
All this by a self-confessed “slightly weedy, unfit, wimpish person not ideally suited to a life of adventure and without the necessary skills”.
Humphreys reckons that most folks don’t take on such challenges because they think they don’t have enough money or time, don’t live somewhere geographically wild or exciting, don’t have the right equipment, or are not fit enough.
He encourages people to take ‘micro-adventures’: deliberately small, almost provocatively mundane adventures.
These micro-adventures are close to home and can be done on the weekend or even midweek.
Micro-adventures can be whatever you imagine.
What will you do?
Sleep in your garden – or a friend’s if you live in an apartment
Have brekkie in the woods – grab your flask and a croissant or a bagel and just go
Take a night walk – in town or country, letting the stars light your way
Building a campfire on a beach – sausages or marshmallows on sticks get bonus points
Swim in the wild – find a river, lake or ocean and dive right in
Understandably, micro-adventures may not be applicable for you.
So here are a few ideas that might help you to gently raise your game.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Go for a stroll in your lunch hour
Get off the bus a stop earlier and walk the final part of your journey
Do some light exercises – such as stretching – before you leave work in the morning
If you work in an office, instead of phoning or emailing a colleague, walk over to their desk.