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Charlie is a Personal Trainer and Mental Health Advisor, who holds a BSc and PgDip in Psychology and Clinical Psychology. Her aim is teach the public about the importance of the connection between mind and body.
Physical activity has a profound effect on mental health. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins which are known as the happiness chemical. Quite literally a natural antidepressant! If I don’t do any physical activity for a few days I start to notice a decline in my mental health. I feel more anxious, down and lethargic. You don’t need to do intense gym sessions for exercise to have a positive impact on mental health. Some days just going for a walk in the fresh air and listening to a podcast completely changes the way I view the world and how I’m feeling that day.
My mental health has turned 360 degrees since I started my fitness journey. I was depressed and overweight. I was depressed for external reasons to my weight, but the weight and the way I over-evaluated myself in the mirror definitely didn’t help. I sought mental health help in the form of counselling and it was the best decision I ever made. My therapist allowed me to see that I was worthy of love and care. From this point I started exercising to lose weight – I started to invest time in myself. I ended up losing 4 stone, but the mental benefits of this fitness journey far outweigh the aesthetic.
Yes, my diet definitely has an effect on my mental health. I love a pizza and some chocolate as much as anyone else, but if I do too much of this then I notice a decline. Eating a varied and balanced diet can contribute directly to brain function. For example, eating oily fish such as salmon helps when building brain cells. So, I try my best to have a balanced diet that doesn’t cut out what I call ‘soul’ foods such as chocolate and other treats.
The best piece of advice I would give someone who wants to make a change in lifestyle is, do it slowly. My mantra is slow and steady wins the race. If you suddenly decide one day that you’re going to completely change your diet and run 5km everyday… the chance of you actually sticking to this is very low. I always recommend to my clients to make small changes, often. This makes it more manageable and easier to stick to. I would also recommend making a plan. What are your short, medium and long term goals? What do you need to do to get there? On average it can take up to 66 days to form a new habit, so you do need to keep plucking away for some time to make lifelong changes.
I think this is where your mental wellbeing comes into play. Even the biggest fitness fanatic will have down days. Days they can’t be bothered to get up from the sofa. And the way to best deal with this is to ACCEPT the emotions you’re feeling and be KIND to yourself. I always tell my clients to be kind to themselves. So what if one day you don’t fancy completing your workout? Swap your rest days and training days around to suit you. Try to be mindful of why you’re feeling down. Ask yourself, am I okay? Am I stressed? Anxious? Do I have a lot going on at home? It’s good to evaluate what is going on in your mind and life, and what you could do to possibly elevate some pressure. That way you will be refreshed and feeling better to carry on with your regime. This is how you keep up your commitment – by looking after yourself. Lastly, always keep in mind your ‘why’. Why did you embark on this fitness regime? What will it do for you?
I wouldn’t say it’s a different mindset, but probably a harsher one. Bad habits tend to be the ones that are most difficult to break. Such as smoking or drinking. Therefore, you may have to take a stronger or more harsh approach to break these habits. Whereas typically good habits are easier to keep. They’ll probably be habits you enjoy and that make you feel good. However, some good habits, such as exercising, can be difficult to maintain. Again, come up with a plan. Work out your negative triggers. For example, if your motivation to exercise gradually decreases throughout the day, then always ensure you train in the first half of the day.
I love questions like this! There are so many different techniques. The biggest piece of advice I could give is take time out for yourself. Whatever time out means to you. Personally, I love putting on some music and lifting some weights. You might like to have a calming bath, watch a movie, do some baking – do something good for yourself. Simple things like ensuring you get 10k steps per day, and ensuring you get sunlight and vitamin D can have a positive effect on your mental health. Also, make sure you keep in contact with loved ones as much as you can. Just get talking! Talk to anyone who will listen – this is extremely important for your overall mental wellbeing.
Interview conducted by Ellie Giardina
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