This blog is one in a series exploring the 10 Keys to Happier Living. Our co-founder Claire reflects on how exercise boosts our health and wellbeing.
According to Action for Happiness one of the important ’10 keys to happier living’ is Exercising “regular activity will provide an endorphin boost and increase confidence”. During the lock down we have seen the rise in popularity of The Body Coach, Joe Wicks (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAxW1XT0iEJo0TYlRfn6rYQ) encouraging us to work out at home. We are permitted to ‘take one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household’.
There are, as we know, many benefits to exercise, according to the NHS website, it can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.
Another benefit is to our mental health. I was struck by a blog a colleague Wyn Jones wrote for us (https://www.hwbinspiration.com/missing-the-gorge-an-insight-into-being-present-and-noticing-in-the-moment-guest-blog-by-wyn-jones-hwbassociateninja/) he talked about going for a ‘head run’ to clear his mind and help his mental health. Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression (Guszkowska, 2004).
My route to exercise
I used to be a couch potatoe, I never liked sport at school and this extended into adulthood. My business partner began running and I decided to join in, that was 13 years ago. I enjoyed running and still do. About 5 years ago my husband got a road bike and I decided to join him. About 2 years ago my business buddy started running and that got me back into running…You can see there is a pattern here…
I have decided to cycle more during lock down, it was a conscious decision and I am enjoying it (the weather helps!). Here are some of the things that help me:
- Set a goal and monitor progress – When I say cycle ‘more’, I didn’t set myself a goal in terms of the number of miles, but I did set myself a goal that I wanted to cycle 4-5 days a week for a month (which was April, now extended to May). I post my cycling on the free Strava app (https://www.strava.com), so I can see my progress through the week and it holds me to account/motivates me by the fact that others can see my progress.
- Plan when to go – I know I am more motivated to exercise in the morning, so I try to go before work if possible. Each week I plan what days I am going to cycle and stick to the plan (e.g. Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat or Sun)
- Get your gear on – On the days I know I am going to cycle, I get up, showered and put my cycling gear on I don’t think about it, I just get dressed – this motivates me to get up and go. I find it much harder and I am less motivated if I get dressed and then have to change into my cycling gear later in the day.
- Real or virtual buddy – I am lucky that I have a cycle buddy, my husband, so on the days when I am not feeling like going, my buddy motivates me. I also have virtual buddies on Strava, I can see when they have been out and that also motivates me to cycle or run. Strava also segments your route and gives you virtual medals (bronze, silver and gold) which is motivating.
- Mix up my routes – I have spent time making up routes to cycle and uploaded them onto my sat nav. I only really have four routes, but I also do my routes backwards so mix it up. The routes vary in length and gradient.
- Track how I feel – I do actively notice how I feel before, during and after cycling. Sometime I am really not up for it and I remind myself it could be one of those least expected days (I recently watch the Netflix series about the Movistar cycling team, which is well worth a watch https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81130094). Usually after cycling I feel a sense of achievement for going which is motivating in itself (I can also feel tired which is ok too). I actively try to ‘take notice’ as I cycle, this time of year I see baby lambs, llamas, wisteria, and we have a village which hosts a scarecrow competition in May, well worth a look (https://lovegoostrey.com/announcing-the-2020-goostrey-scarecrow-competition/).
The challenge going forward
The key for me will be to continue to maintain a healthy level of exercise beyond the lockdown, whatever that might look like. I know the benefits for me are immense, I will need to find a way to give myself permission to prioritise my wellbeing above work and that’s always been a bit of a struggle for me! Which got me thinking about how I can coach myself to maintain my behaviour.
Model of behaviour change and maintenance
Back in 2007 I got an opportunity to work with colleagues to design a health trainers programme. Core to this was the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change which was developed by Prochaska & DiClemente in the 70’s. The model provides a blueprint for changing health behaviours such as health, fitness, wellbeing. It identifies five stages people move through : pre contemplation (‘I wont’, ‘I cant’), contemplation (‘I May’), preparation (‘I will’), action (‘I am’), maintenance (‘I still am’). I found a really helpful article linking this to coaching (https://downloads.lww.com/wolterskluwer_vitalstream_com/sample-content/9780781772624_Moore/samples/MooreSampChap3.pdf). So for me in the maintenance stage there are some things I can do:
- Stay connected to the value of cycling/running in serving my vision and goals
- Set new goals that are interesting and attainable
- Maintain my social networks of people who also enjoy cycling/running
- Remind myself of the motivation to take up cycling/running and discover new motivators
- Share my commitments with others
- Be aware of lapses and identify early recognition and rapid response to get back on track
- Avoid judging myself
Guszkowska M. (2004). Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Psychiatr Pol (38), 611–620.
HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.