Power up! The Love Hate Relationship with Exercise, Mental Health and Endorphins

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It’s not surprising that anxiety and depression continue to be a major topic in the media, Parliament, social environments and our working life. As new opportunities present themselves, more decisions need to be made. We are now in a generation where the ‘norm’ is not like The Game of Life; We are not born to go to college, get married have children and retire. Today, we are given countless possibilities, but these possibilities can be damaging to our mental health. For me, the hardest part is feeling like I have no control of my own life. It has caused anxiety, depression, IBS, paranoia… like so many others. So without sounding like a Rage Against the Machine song, I decided to take the power back!

I decided to take up running with a very good friend of mine, back when I was in my early 20s. It was absolutely horrible. I’m not going to lie. It was absolutely horrible. At first I ran for about 1 minute before walking again, but with the push from my friend we ran for a bit longer and longer until I could run for 10 whole minutes! I know what you’re thinking, 10 minutes? You’re ‘aving a laugh right?! I’m not. When I made it to my first kilometre without walking I felt those endorphins release. The more I ran and the better I become, those endorphins flowed every time. With that, my anxiety – controllable, depression – manageable, IBS – soooo much better and my paranoia – majorly improved. I even gained my level 2 Fitness Instructor qualification and certificate in Sports Nutrition to help me understand the “how’s and why’s….”

But that’s the funny thing about depression, you know what you need to do but feel powerless to do it.

So yes, countless times since I started running I have stopped. At first I believed that was it, no more running for me. The amount of effort that was required was too much. But every time I managed to claw myself back. And now a good 10 years later, I’m still running and I accept that part of depression and anxiety means there will be times when I can’t go out that front door.

There will always be that battle. You know you will feel better for exercising and for releasing those endorphins, but you don’t know if you have the energy to go out there and get them.

The most pinnacle piece of writing to help me said; This is not the destination, this is simply a pit stop. All it takes is one sunny day, one enthusiastic friend or simply a good day to put me back on track. I have constructed a Exercise for Good Mental Health guide below. If it helps any of you, then I’ve done my job.

Exercise for Good Mental Health

  1. Stop beating yourself up! Seriously! We will all have good and bad days, weeks, even years. Even if all you do is go for a walk, you’ve still levelled up from the couch.
  2. Track it! Whether you have a fitness app on your phone or a notebook, just log it. It will  visually show your progress.
  3. It doesn’t have to cost you anything! I run because it’s cheap and gives me a sense of control.
  4. Little and often! I cannot stress this one enough. It’s very easy to give yourself a hard time when you plan an epic run and get a stitch at mile 2. If you haven’t ran for a while don’t expect to instantly run like Mo Farah. Exercise/run with bite-sized plans and regularly. It will come back, just give your body that time to get it back.
  5. Eat well and stretch: If you’re going to take your body out for a practice race, make sure you’re pre and re-fuelling it.
  6. Don’t give up! To clarify, the hardest part of a run is the first 10-20 minutes. This is because your body trying to restore the natural balance. Good old homeostasis. Your brain will be questioning why you are exercising, why you are breathing heavily and why you’re pushing to a new state where you have to work even harder. Initially known as the General Adaption Syndrome, AKA, GAS (sniggers….). Here you have the resistance stage because your body was functioning perfectly well before you decided to start exercising, right?
  7. Take pride in your achievements! Talk to your friends about what you’ve achieved and share experiences. The good friends will be the ones showing an interest and congratulating you (just remember friendship works both ways!)
  8. Chocolate is not the enemy! Studies have proven that you also release endorphins eating chocolate. Don’t make yourself miserable cutting out things you love, besides with the added exercise you deserve a treat now and again!
  9. You gotta think like Super Mario. Go out, exercise and POWER UP! power up
  10. Don’t be afraid to talk. There is a stigma behind mental health, the walls are slowly lowering but it’s important to not be afraid to reach out and find a way that helps you…

 

London

Ideas

You sometimes have ideas. Ideas you want to action, bring to life, but you never get round to doing them. There’s always next weekend or “I’m not really up for that today.” We’re all guilty of such things regardless of it’s quality and sometimes THAT time to do something never comes around.

That’s why my birthday present was perfect.

So many of my friends have listened to me talk about photography. How I want to use the manual settings on my camera and not get frustrated or scared about missing something and switch to Automatic. There’s also the idea that the automatic setting will obviously choose the best setting for the environment. From an artistic perspective this depends entirely on the photographer and the essence that they wish to capture. But then this opens a new set of questions; what do I want to capture? What has drawn me to other photographs? The mood, lighting, depth, focus, subject, quality, angle…? Things I’ve not really contemplated.

The Day

My photography course started with an introduction to the day from the teacher and the attendees. If I’m honest, I was incredibly nervous and expected everyone to be creating artistic masterpieces by the time the day was out. There was little-old-me with my reasonably new camera who was here to learn how to work out the manual settings. However, it seemed though most of the group were very similar to me, although some were more advanced we all seemed to carry that fear that if we switch to manual we will miss something. But that’s the great thing about buildings, they don’t grow legs and do a runner when you’re about to click. That meant I could work on settings, understand what details I like and discover what exactly it was I wanted to capture.

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Natural movement reflected in the heart of modern London

Reflection

A great quality about modern London buildings is the amount of glass panels. On a greyish day, there was cloudy reflections without the blinding sun. I decided to work with this, use the grey day to my advantage and attempt to reflect it off modern buildings creating an interesting contrast.

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Don’t look up!

 

 

A crazy comparison in London was how clean, modern, unspoiled and untainted it appeared looking up to compared to looking down or ahead. The dirt, footsteps, mad rush of the city. A lack of stillness. Placed to go, people to see.

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A New World

The great thing about many, many buildings in such a small area means the buildings get bigger and the design more elaborate. Layers produced, shadows more defined and details complementing their neighbour. Certainly something you might see in a Sci-fi movie, a glimpse into the future.

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Diversity and Age

 

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We Reflect the Old in the New

 

Mother Nature

From stopping and observing in a busy but beautiful city, I saw mother nature has a way of creeping in. Amongst the pollution, the endless noise, the crowds, you still see the heart of the natural world joining forces with a manmade world.

Whether observing the sky in the reflection of a building, a tree standing tall against it’s manmade cousin or looking up at the sky enveloping the modern foreground; you can witness nature and the manmade dancing, complimenting and promoting….

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Nature, through the eye of the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe)

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Gherkin growing through the garden

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Reach for the Sky…

 

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Passion in the sky follows passion in the building

 

 

 

At the End of the Day….

 

After reviewing our photos with the group and complimenting and congratulating each other on our days successes I left with the confidence to move forward. I explore the world through my  eyes and not the automatic eyes of technology.

I also met some wonderful people who share this interest and we will be meeting up again to continue our photography mission.

 

So I again thank all fellow contributors to a wonderful birthday present. I never expected to get out of the course what I did and now move forward with confidence, new ideas and new friends!

Vegan Happy Cupcakes

I’ve baked a lot over the past years; birthday cakes, wedding cakes, your standard chocolate, vanilla and fairy cakes. There’s been fudge, brownies, muffins, flapjacks, pies, gingerbread men… the list goes on and on…

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I wanted to try something a little different, with health benefits and using alternatives to animal products. So I introduce my Vegan Happy Cupcakes

Firstly, the nutritional information –

The pro’s of whole wheatwhole wheat has a higher fibre content, lower GI, more vitamins (brand specific)

Nutty about walnutscontains the ‘good’ fats, fibre, Polyphenol Antioxidants, Amino Acid: I-Arginine (which has vascular benefits).

Raisins & dried cranberries – has plenty of energy, fibre, iron and vitamin C (dried cranberries)

Cinnamon – contains the mineral manganese (great for bone production and skin health)

Carrots – http://guidedoc.com/health-benefits-of-carrots-superfood-improving-eyesight

Honey – http://realfoodforlife.com/health-benefits-of-honey

Apple Juice – http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/best-benefits-of-apple-juice/

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Ingredients

  • 200g whole wheat flour
  • 90g brown sugar
  • 40g chopped walnuts
  • 70g raisins & dried cranberry mix (you can add just raisins or cranberries or both like me)
  •  2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 200g grated carrot
  • 80g honey
  • 100ml apple juice

Frosting mix (optional and not as healthy as the other ingredients, but delicious!)

  • 50g soy margarine
  • 200g icing sugar
  • dash of coconut milk (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 to 1 vanilla pod (depending on how much you like vanilla)

The Recipe

Preheat oven to 180c

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and gradually add the grated carrot. Mix in the honey and apple juice.

Don’t be alarmed by the gooey consistency of the mix (like I was).

I recommend using cupcake or muffin cases as the ingredients do tend to stick. You won’t want to be scrubbing the living hell out of your favourite muffin/cupcake tin…

Fill the cases to 1/2 to 3/4 full so they have space to rise

Bake for approximately 25 mins or until the sponge bounces back when you press on it.

Leave to cool on a cooling rack

For the icing, gradually add the icing sugar to the margarine.

Add the vanilla and (optional) coconut milk

Spoon on top of the cakes and decorate with walnuts

Ta-da!! Enjoy with your favourite hot beverage!

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The ingredients I’ve chosen are based on personal preferences; lots of cinnamon, carrots & walnuts… nom nom nom! If you have your own preferences or have baked using a similar recipe I’d love to hear your alternatives…

 

Food, Love & Happiness

So I’m going to admit first off that I have been particularly rubbish at getting back into my blog. I passed my nutrition course (woohoo!) then ‘life’ got in the way and I became over excited about whizzing off to Amsterdam with my lovely hubby. The other promise I had made was:

“If I don’t have anything to write about, do not write… blah blah blah…”

Obviously the ideas were flowing but in what context did I want to deliver them? So anyway, hello again!

As some of you know I went vegetarian in the new year and so far I can honestly say I’m enjoying it. My diet is actually more varied and it’s probably because I don’t go out for dinner and instantly choose STEAK! I look at the meat free options, take a deep breath (because I am a fussy eater) and order. I’ve discovered some rather delicious dishes and not just out for dinner… but also in the supermarket which leads me to…

My Forever Growing Love for Waitrose ♥

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The second thing I’m going to admit today is I’m a bit of a Waitrose snob. Their own brand food is divine, it’s ethical and not as expensive as people tend to believe. They have so much variety and a particular favourite, their stir fry’s which are all beautifully presented and colourful. Colour has definitely defined a lot of my meals; bold, vibrant and delicious! Waitrose online shopping also has the greatest Dietary and lifestyle filter function, which means if you want to shop meat free, then you click the filter and it displays only meat free products. Others include dairy free, gluten free and vegan. So if you think there is a great deal of effort to adjust your diet… think again!

Here’s a link to discover their dietary helpfulness for yourself

http://www.waitrose.com/home/inspiration/healthy-eating-andweightloss/special_diets/how_waitrose_can_help.html

Unfortunately I cannot carry this filter around with me, well I can, it’s called reading the ingredients… and here’s confession number 3: There have been products that I did not think I would need to check which actually contain meat. So as part of my ‘Going vegetarian is easy’ campaign remember like everything, it still requires some level of effort. Here are some of the items I have been caught out on…

  • Yoghurts: Gelatin is used as a thickening agent in a lot of brands
  • Vitamin supplements and medication, in capsule form: Gelatin to coat the product
  • Extra strong mints: Gelatin? (because that’s what I need to help my breath stay fresh?!)
  • Apparently Fanta even includes some form of animal product?!

Good to Know along with other websites offer a list of surprising foods:

http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/542654/surprising-foods-that-arent-vegetarian

Now don’t get me wrong, it upsets me that gelatin is used in such products but it upsets me more that it’s not common knowledge. Maybe it is and I’ve just not paid that much attention or maybe you didn’t know it either? What also gets under my skin is large companies cutting corners,  ruthlessness and the need to improve profits regardless of the consequences.

Recently I’ve been turning to more vegan products which seem to be more ethical. Rebel Kitchen Chocolate Mylk is super tasty (although a bit on the pricey side). The award winning Booja Booja ice-cream which only contains 4/5 ingredients (and one day I will get my greedy little fingers on the maple pecan flavour…) is out of this world! Linking them below as they need to be shared!!

http://www.rebel-kitchen.com/home-uk.html

http://www.boojabooja.com/our-story/

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So I’m going to conclude now, and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea of me, this is not a I’m judging you for your food choices post. It’s more of a suggestion to expand horizons and try new food. Maybe try a more ethically sourced product, you might absolutely fall in love with it and make the world a teeny bit better. You never know if could be the start of something awesome….

 

 

 

Expectations & Demands

 

Let’s be honest, we do put a lot on ourselves…

  • We must try harder
  • Achieve more
  • Be better than yesterday
  • Set goals and achieve them first time round

Failure is not an option; however, we set ourselves up to fail.

The number one New Years resolution is to improve our physical well-being, which isn’t a bad thing. The UK, along with North America and Australia are some of the most inactive countries in the world. Unfortunately there seems to be this belief that in order to be healthy we need to spend a lot of money on fad diets, exercise regimes and exercise equipment, which will result in us magically losing weight. Media stories of celebrities claiming to follow such fads and achieving seemingly instant results, doesn’t help. Neither does the fact that these fads change over time, causing much confusion as to how we should look after ourselves.

So, how should we think about our physical health? Below are some false messages drilled into us by the media and health industries and my thoughts on how to look at it instead:

1. You can get what you want without really trying

We wouldn’t expect to pass our GCSEs, A levels, degrees without preparing by studying the relevant information. It is important to revise before going into an exam so that we achieve our maximum potential. Our physical wellbeing is no different. Any activity without proper preparation can cause:

  • Poor performance
  • Injury
  • Slower recovery time
  • No energy to exercise

 

Running, for example, requires preparation and practice over time. Finding the right shoes and app, figuring at a routine that works for us, and most importantly, what to eat. Food is our fuel, so to gain the best from our exercise we must eat the correct foods to allow the body to cope with sustained intense activity. I’ve heard a lot of people miss out this stage and jump straight into part 2… The run! Unless you want to hurt and demoralise yourself, do your preparation first.

 2. You must have professional qualifications or hire a personal trainer

There is a misconception that if you’re not a professional, then you couldn’t possibly know anything about your own health, nor should you try. We do not have to gain a degree in nutrition to be healthy; all the help we need is available, we just need to know where to look (and what to look for). Carbohydrate calculators, which you can Google, will help you work out exactly how much fuel you need to exercise at the appropriate levels. There are a selection of websites that will advise you on the best foods for fuel (personally, I believe variety is the spice of life, even in the carb world). There are also good websites to help give us ideas about improving our wellbeing. For example:

 

 

3. You must join a gym!

Actually I have just cancelled my gym membership so I can prove you do not need to spend a lot of money to have an active lifestyle.

 4. Cut Carbs, lose weight!

More like cut carbs and suffer severe malnutrition! My number one pet hate! Carbs are our fuel. You don’t run a car without petrol, what’s the difference?

 

  • Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose which is converted into energy.
  • Some healthy carbohydrates are whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans, the less processed the better!
  • You have simple sugars and complex carbohydrates defined by how quickly they are absorbed and their chemical structure. Simple sugars are found in fruits, vegetables and milk which can raise the blood glucose levels very quickly.
  • Complex carbohydrates simply speaking refers to starches. These release energy slower into the body, the best source being wholegrains.

 

Personal trainers, health and well-being experts do not have a magic wand. Yes, celebrities can afford the best resources, but sadly most of us do not have that luxury! However, all is not lost; we just have to engage our resolve and learn it for ourselves. Training sessions and food counselling provide guidance, but won’t turn you into Wonder Woman by themselves. I cannot stress enough: THE ACTIONS HAVE TO BE CARRIED OUT BY YOU! So let’s have a little more faith in ourselves, be proud of what we have already achieved and what we are going to achieve. We’ve worked hard to build friendships and careers which have all paid off. So it’s time to start applying some of this self-confidence to taking care of ourselves so we can enjoy life a little better