The world’s no.1 mood booster

Have you ever tried to get your head around alcohol units? You know, one pint of Stella Artois is 2.8 units, and a small glass of wine is 2.3 units etc. I didn’t know that off the top my head by the way, I had to Google it as its too complicated to remember. And that’s kind of helped with the point I’m about to make…

Keep it stupidly simple!

We’ve all been told about how we need to exercise five times a day blah blah blah, and get our heart rate up to a certain percentage of our maximum (which also needs to be calculated) and for a certain amount of time etc etc. I worked as a personal trainer for many years and even I can’t remember what the guidelines are. There’s too many numbers, times and percentages in there for the general person to remember, so in many cases they don’t bother.

All over in a jiffy

What I’m advocating is to forget all of that and just do it, as the Nike slogan likes to remind us. The good news about exercise is that the very principles of exercise that are great for boosting our mood are the very principles that are top when it comes to shrinking your waistline and improving your cardiovascular health. And what’s more, the stuff that helps is the stuff that’s all over and done with quickly. Forget running for hours or swimming for miles (unless you enjoy that of course, and have the time), its all about short sharp intense burst of activity.

Watch this experiment if you don’t want to take my word for it (it’ll be finished in 2 mins!)

A smart place to start

When I first realised I had to make drastic changes in my life to get me out of the psychological black hole I was in, exercise was one of the first things I looked at improving. But when you’re feeling low it’s not as easy as getting up and going to do some exercise. I can vouch for that. Physical activity is a very mood-linked thing, and so if your mood isn’t in the right place you probably won’t be donning your shell suit and Reeboks in a hurry.

Change your perspective 

The way I overcame this was by re-framing exercise. By this I mean I changed what it meant to me. Rather than think of it as going to exercise for twenty minutes it became “I’m going to boost my mood”. This simple change of perspective was enough to make me want to do it – the key word there is WANT. By looking at it in a slightly different way I began to want to do it. Nothing about the actual exercise had changed, just my view of what it was for.

At the end of this paragraph, I want you to just stop reading for a moment, and have a think about how you could possibly reframe exercise to get you to want to do it. Think of the top three things that would energise you and make a mental note of them…

Get excited about your new lens 

So what did you choose? Perhaps you decided to see it as a boost of feel-good, or a blood pressure reducer, or an age defier? Whatever you chose as long as it excites you its perfect. Glue it into your mind. Nobody really wants to go and exercise, but plenty of us want to go and extend our lives, boost our moods, or slow down the ageing process.

Drip-feed yourself

Physical health and mental health are to be approached in the same way. Unfortunately many of us get this approach wrong. In my work as a mental health and resilience trainer I see so many organisations who try to boost employee health by hosting big annual events that they hope will transform everybody. Only to notice that once the post-event buzz has worn off everybody’s back to munching chocolate hob nobs at their desks and working through lunch.

Physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing can’t be achieved through big ad hoc events, it just doesn’t work like that. Go and ask the January gym-goers if you don’t believe me. The smart approach is to get into the habit of doing a little bit regularly (ideally daily) so you’re constantly topping up your feel-good levels. So whether its mountain biking or swimming you’re doing its got to be a regular part of your routine to give you the best return on your time investment. Occasional mammoth efforts just don’t cut it. Why feel good once every few months when you can feel good every day?

Let your thumb rule

A great rule of thumb to know if you’re doing whatever activity you choose at the right intensity to boost your mood is whether or not you’re struggling to breathe and your muscles are hurting. Oh and if you can read a newspaper or hold a conversation whilst you’re doing it you’re going to need to do a lot to get the effects. If your muscles are throbbing and you’re struggling to breathe you can be safe in the knowledge that ten minutes or so is all you’ll need.

Oh and don’t forget to check with your GP before you start if you’re new to this.

Jonathan Pittam

Mental health & resilience trainer

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