I’ve recently shared my own battles with mental illness, and I also set the scene of a transformative journey that was just beginning. As a progression, I’d like to share some of the techniques and tools I’ve been utilising as I traverse that journey. Today I’d like to share with you some of the physical changes I’ve made.
It’s common knowledge that a healthy body enables a healthy mind, and the effect that exercise has on mental health is well documented. As Prussian philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt once said:
True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.
As such, a key component of any wellness plan is looking after your body.
Small changes bring about big
One of the simplest ways to look after your body is to simply make small substitutions. This doesn’t have to be laborious, and if you’re simply looking to be healthier - and not have a beach body physique - it doesn’t even have to be that hard!
For example, I have one major guilty pleasure: I absolutely love KFC. Alas, if I fancy KFC I can simply cook something similar up myself: slice some chicken breast horizontally, coat in egg, and then dip in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper, paprika, and chili powder, and then pan fry. It’s actually quite a tasty alternative. Is it healthy? Erhh.. not especially. Is it healthier? Without a doubt!
Another of my pleasures is coffee: I love a nice latte. Lately, if I find myself working on-site with a client, I’ll simply limit my coffee in-take to a cup in the morning, and a cup post-lunch. If I fancy a hot drink I’ll make myself some Yerba Mate, and I’ll get the same refreshed feeling… just without the milk and syrup.
In other areas, I’ll actively eat more. I’ve rarely eaten breakfast - but given it’s importance, I’ve made the choice to make more of an active effort. Does this mean I’ve forced myself to eat of a morning? Nope, I just utilise breakfast drinks instead: they kickstart my metabolism, they don’t require any extra time, and I don’t have to contend with my dislike of eating of a morning.
Dietary habits are made up of different opportunities for these changes: some are small (opting for healthier snacks.) and some are larger, but none change my enjoyment of food, and none take a particularly large amount of effort.
This doesn’t mean I’ll never treat myself to a nice cinnamon latte with cream, nor does it mean that a “Chicken Zinger meal” is out of my reach: it just means I have alternatives. This isn’t about body transformation; it’s about incremental changes that make me feel healthier.
Pounding the Pavement: Exercise for the body and the mind
One of the biggest frustrations during my low points was the knowledge that exercise can help, but that exercise takes motivation that I don’t possess. Having a firm foundation to build upon, I now have that motivation - and that’s why I’ve been “pounding the pavement” again!
A year ago I’d just completed my first 5K; an event for the British Heart Foundation at the Tower of London. I was slightly disappointed with my time: at around 32 minutes, I’d missed my goal by 2. In hindsight, to go from struggling with the initial week of C25K - 60 second jogs with 90 second recovery walks - to completing 5K in around 32 minutes, all in around 10 weeks… I’m pretty happy!
Unfortunately, with the loss of a dear friend I took up old habits - namely smoking - and I lost sight of the 10K and half marathon plans. Alas, this week I’ve been hitting the pavement and doing some interval training - 15 seconds sprinting, with 60 second recovery walks - and it feels excellent.
Go slow, and go far.
Arguably the most important thing is to go slowly at first; I know from previous experience that attempting to do many things at once is a recipe for disaster, and after exhaustion and failure comes demotivation.
With that in mind I’ve started with the basics: I’ve got a firm foundation mentally, and from here I can make simple healthy choices - eating breakfast, making healthier food choices, running 3 times a week, and ceasing to smoke.
Of course I have aims and goals in the long term, but for the meantime I’m just happy to be on the right track; and the best way of making my journey along this track sustainable is to take small victories as they come. Afterall, no battle was won without a series of small victories along the way.