Become the Best YOU Possible

How often do you hear people say: “I don’t have time for self-care”, “I’m too busy with my job or my family”, “I’m too tired to do that”. These phrases have become widely normalized and accepted frames of thought in our present society. People try to manage everything in their lives the best they can while often feeling energy deprived and short on time. Whether we are employed, in school, volunteering, or so on, we don’t usually make time just for ourselves. Everything else seems to take precedence over our own self-care and if we continue on, it’s only a matter of time until we see a toll on our mental, spiritual, and physical health.

If we are eager to find time for daily mindfulness, or perhaps even spending a few minutes with God, the answer is not to find time but rather to make time for it. This may mean shifting around your schedule, prioritizing certain things, or even waking up a little earlier. If we sit around just waiting for the right time, chances are we’ll be waiting forever.

Many problems and issues we face today are likely stemming from not taking care of our inner self. When we are worn down, it creates the opportunity for stress, fear, unbelief, worry, anger and many other negative emotions and mindsets to appear. When we are not feeling our best spiritually or emotionally, our body finds ways to cope and compensate for it. We crave unhealthy foods, overeat, or eat poorly. We get irritable at the smallest of things and take it out on family members. We lose our faith and fear takes over, potentially leading to hopelessness and depression.

This brings us to the importance of self-care. Self-care is spending some time everyday nurturing your mind, body and spirit. It varies for each individual, as the act of self-care for one person may be different for another. Whichever way you decide to nurture yourself, whether that be taking a bath, going for a massage, spending time in nature, or journalling, make sure you aim for something everyday. For instance, something as simple as spending 15-20 minutes meditating on God’s presence every morning can help set the tone for your day, create a sense of balance, centre the mind, and create feelings of peace and well-being.

It is so important to become the best version of ourselves, and the first step is learning to love ourselves by doing the things that make us feel happy and whole. Perhaps you can learn how to make healthy, delicious meals that will provide your body the feel-good nutrition it desires. Or how about spending 5 minutes a day visualizing your goals and dreams. Maybe find a exercise plan that makes you feel strong and energized.

You might be thinking, all those ideas sound great- but I am way to busy to incorporate them in my life. Well, my belief is that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. If you really want to make them part of your wholesome lifestyle, you’ll find a way. Just like we always seem to make time for watching Netflix or browsing our phones đŸ˜‰

See if you can find a few moments out of your day to retreat somewhere by yourself and perhaps read a book, listen to relaxing music, sing, paint, garden, pray- anything that rewards you and makes you feel good.

When you feel good inside by taking the time to nurture yourself, every other area in your life is likely to fall into place. You will be making decisions and choices from a place of balance and clarity. You will be creating your life proactively instead of just reacting from one crisis to another. When this happens, we tend to make healthier food choices resulting in more energy, overall better diet and subsequently better health. When we nurture ourselves, our relationships thrive. We accomplish more doing less. We attract better and more positive situations to our lives. Self-care promotes mindful living, and increases peace, joy, and clarity. It helps us live out our truest values, creating the life of our truest desires and dreams, and helps us feel whole and complete.

So here is your challenge. Come up with a list of excuses for not taking care of yourself. Read it over. And then stop buying into these excuses! Reflect and think about your inner values, and decide how you will manage your time to incorporate your inner values into your everyday life. If you are not sure about your inner values, consider meditating on that question or ask God to help reveal any areas in your life you may be neglecting. Perhaps you will receive some clarity as to what direction you will need to take. Spending some time in silence and solitude may help you maintain balance and sustain control over your life.

Always,

Paula

Live and Breathe Positivity

It’s no doubt that we all desire to radiate positivity. Encompassing the trait of positivity, in my opinion, is one of the most virtuous and exemplary characteristics one can have. It often signifies good naturedness, friendliness, health in the mind and body, resilience and self-confidence. Being positive is also linked to experiencing greater happiness and subjective well-being. In a study examining the happiest 10% of college students, these students also showed evidence of great mental health and social relationships. How can we cultivate this positivity in our own lives? How can we beam and illuminate this positive energy from within?

Firstly, I’d highly recommend you read up on my previous blog posts on the topics of “How to Generate Happiness” and “Regulating Positive and Negative Emotions“. Those offer great explanations and go in-depth about happiness, positivity, their definitions, benefits, and how to achieve more of these feelings in the context of mindfulness. Having a foundation in those topics, you can begin to appreciate that much of physical health is indeed linked to one’s level of happiness. Happiness consequently, may perhaps lie in the reduction of tension through the satisfaction of one’s goals and needs, or in certain enjoyable activities.

Scientists reason that having a positive affect shapes the brain in several ways: increasing dopamine levels (known as the happy hormone!), influencing our reward system (located in the frontal lobe of our brain), and acting on our pre-frontal cortex areas of the brain. The pre-frontal cortex has functions such as creative problem solving, integration of ideas, understanding multiple perspectives of a situation, cooperativeness, social responsibility, negotiation skills, generosity, along with focusing on negative information when necessary.

Furthermore, a high subjective well-being predicts a lower mortality rate, fewer heart attacks, better survival of heart disease, and a reduced incidence of strokes! Those who report a high subjective well-being are likewise more likely to maintain healthy habits such as reduced levels of drinking and smoking. Generally speaking, studies have also shown that individuals who have higher traits of positive affect consequently have fewer colds after virus exposure. This is likely due to the association of higher levels of immunoglobulin A – a natural antibody in our bodies that boosts immune function. Who knew that staying positive could help with improving your immune system!

And the benefits don’t stop there: remaining positive in your life has its effects on the work and relationship sector as well. Studies have found that those with higher positivity tend to achieve more prestigious jobs, have better income, or even a better performance evaluation down the road. With relationships, studies show a greater probability and satisfaction of marriage, a more positive perception of interactions with your partner, more cooperation during times of conflict, greater ability to negotiate solutions, and more interest in one’s social activities and friendships.

Research claims that to develop a trait of happiness, it is roughly 50% genetics, 10% life circumstances (which you have little to no control of), and 40% choice. If you are not as happy or positive as you’d like to be, you have the choice to change that with your daily activities and practices. We must recognize and remember that every day is a gift. It’s an opportunity to become a better, more positive and happy you. And it all starts from your mindset and daily practices. Shakespeare once said,

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

In other words, if we’re experiencing negativity and adversity in our lives, let’s look at that from a different angle, a different perspective. Let’s aim to find the silver lining, and see that perhaps whatever is happening is for our highest good. Staying upset, worried, anxious, or angry won’t help in any way with achieving greater health and life satisfaction. It is up to us if we want to change how we feel and reap the benefits of positivity. It may be hard at first, but I challenge you to imagine your best possible self. See it, feel it, believe that you are already there. Then use every opportunity that presents itself to show yourself that you can be and already are the best version of yourself.

A greater subjective well-being comes with more energy and enthusiasm to pursue significant life goals, be active, be social, help others, find positive meanings, and be more open to circumstances in your life. Let’s aim to live and breathe all things positively, let’s count our blessings every day, let’s always express gratitude, and let’s imagine our best possible selves.

Always,

Paula

Coping with Stress and Avoiding Burnout

Today’s blog post is written by a featured guest, Ryan McBurney:

The phenomenon of ‘burnout’ is a psychological syndrome that results in mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that deteriorates your work productivity and performance. Burnout is a consequence of a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job.

Now, with that said, I am sure we can all relate to times where we have experienced theses symptoms. The phenomenon of burnout is not specific to the typical 9-5 office job but can be seen in all different types of fields of work, studies, sports, and even hobbies. Burnout can be commonly seen in athletes by overtraining for their sport, in students by over-studying for their university exams, etc.

There are three main dimensions that play a role in burnout:

  1. Overwhelming exhaustion.
  2. Feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job.
  3. A sense of professional inefficacy and a lack of accomplishment.

Hindering all three of these dimensions results in the negative psychological state experienced by those who are burnt-out.

Although the specific causes of burnout are going to be unique to each individual and their situation, there has been 6 risk factors identified by Leiter & Maslach, 2016:

  1. Work overload.
  2. Lack of control over work.
  3. Insufficient rewards/recognition.
  4. Inadequate sense of community in the workplace (poor relationships with co-workers).
  5. Fairness of the work.
  6. Values (job goals and expectations).

The negative outcomes of burnout will again be dependant on your situation and will fluctuate in terms of severity. Common outcomes of burnout are job withdrawal, job dissatisfaction, greater personal conflict, and various detrimental health complications such as headaches, chronic fatigue, hypertension, etc.  

For those who find themselves experiencing the symptoms of burnout, the best way to recover is to simply take some time off and recharge.

So, how do we stay productive without experiencing burnout? The following techniques have been found to reduce work-related stress, and subsequently the chances of experiencing burnout: Training in goal setting, problem resolution, time management, aerobic exercise, relaxation techniques (this can include mindfulness practice), and coping in general (Hudson, Flannery-Schroeder, & Kendall, 2004).

Next time you find yourself with an abundance of work to finish, practice these techniques and ensure you find the time to take breaks and prioritize your health. Slow and steady wins the race.

-Ryan

If you liked this post, read up on Ryan’s previous guest blog for Mindfulness by Paula on Cultivating Optimism here!

Regulating Positive and Negative Emotions

When we think of our emotions, they’re generally divided into two states: positive and negative. Of course, negative emotions are those such as fear, anger, and distress which may harm the body in prolonged quantities. However, they have an important survival value if we consider these emotions from an evolutionary perspective. Experiencing these emotions long ago has helped us get to where we are today: for instance, fear has let us know to run away from predators, anger perhaps served to defend or fight an enemy, and distress might have helped us recognize our body was in pain or unhealthy and signalled us to find a solution. That being said, negative emotions shouldn’t be experienced out of proportion. When we have too many negative emotions, for instance when our daily stressors are higher than we can handle, this may lead to increases in stress hormones in our bodies over time. This in turn may increase inflammation in the body, potentially leading to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Therefore, there comes a realization that in order to have a healthy mind and body, we must make sure to maintain harmony within ourselves by balancing all our positive and negative emotions. Ideally, we strive to make sure our positivity is much more prominent than any negativity, keeping us mostly in a positive state of feeling. When we have more positivity, we feel happier, rate our well being and life satisfaction higher, and are even more attentive and enthusiastic with our tasks.

When experiencing positive emotions, we are more likely to:

  • Help others
  • Be flexible with our thinking
  • Come up with solutions to our problems
  • Be more willing to exhibit self-control

Think about yourself for a moment- when you’re in a great mood, feeling happy, and energetic, have you noticed if you’re more willing to help someone out? Find a solution to a problem more effectively? Able to “bounce back” easier after something doesn’t quite go as planned? See if you can notice these things next time. Numerous studies have shown that we truly seem to have more psychological resilience and want to genuinely help others when we feel positive emotions.

Other researchers have suggested that positive emotions also expand what an individual feels like doing at any given time, broadening an individual’s momentary thought-action repertoire. For instance, the experience of joy appears to open us up to many new thoughts and behaviours. When we’re happy, generally we feel like doing more things, we tend to socialize more, and we tend to be more creative with our problem solving. Negative emotions on the other hand, are associated with dampening our ideas and actions.

Experiencing the feeling of joy also is thought to induce more playfulness. This is especially important when considering a developing child. Juvenile play helps build social and intellectual resources by encouraging attachment, increases levels of creativity, and aides in proper brain development. In a developing young adult, having a sense of playfulness reduces perceived stress allowing a person to better cope with stressors, and is also linked to a greater life satisfaction along with other positive attributes.

Did you know…

  • Research suggests that practicing more positivity may assist in developing leadership abilities, by being more creative toward making organizational change
  • Positivity is suggested to increase cognitive function by increasing both spatial and verbal memory (your working memory)- great news for students that are in the midst of their studies!
  • Positive affect may provide greater resilience to both chronic and acute experiences of pain
  • Generally, the more positive you are, the less of an effect negative emotions (ex. anger) have on you

When we’re working towards self-improvement, let’s keep in mind this balance between our positive and negative emotions, and continue to practice more positivity in our daily life.

Always,

Paula

Developing a Mindfulness Practice

There are many different ways to develop a mindfulness practice, depending on what you’d like to focus on and which approach works best for you. See below for a few ideas on how you can get started:

Body Mindfulness

Find a quiet place, sit tall, and follow your breath. Become aware of your breathing, but don’t try to control it. Aim for about 3 min to start, and try to increase your meditation by 1 min each time!

Another option is a whole-body scan: Either sitting or lying down in a relaxed position, begin to bring awareness to your body. Begin by paying attention to your toes, your feet, and gradually move your awareness up your body. By the time you’ve completed your body scan, your body should feel completely relaxed and heavy.

Thought, Emotion Mindfulness

Sit comfortably, and begin by taking slow deep breaths. When your breath is stable, let your thoughts come in and out, but maintain your frame of thought. Watch your thoughts as they go past, like an objective observer. Experience your thoughts and emotions without valuing or judging them. Accept your feelings, and aim not to change them, but instead changing your behaviours. Try including this as part of your meditation a couple minutes at a time. For instance, if you start thinking “I feel tired”, instead reframe your thought into “I am having the thought that I am tired”. Observe that the thought is there, and let it fade out on its own.

Mindfulness in Daily Life

Throughout your day-to-day activities, practice being aware of everything around you. From taking a walk and observing the surrounding nature, to sitting quietly and listening to the sounds around you, paying attention to how the ground feels beneath you. As another example, try to being aware of how your food tastes when you eat, how your clothes feel when you get dressed, how the water feels when you take a shower. Being aware of all the little things happening in the present moment with you, including remaining fully present with and aware of another person while interacting with them. Taking time to slow down and really enjoy the moment can be a relaxing, calming way to incorporate mindfulness into your day.

I’m excited for you to experience the many benefits of a mindfulness practice. I hope you can try at least one of these this week!

Always,

Paula

Reaching a state of Flow

Have you ever heard of someone being in a state of “flow”? You may have heard it used to describe the state of a professional athlete, or perhaps a dedicated student. But what does it really mean?

Flow occurs when a person’s challenges and skills are appropriately matched. It’s linked to an optimal state of development and functioning. Neuroimaging shows better controlled and more efficient attention that occurs during flow, even though it may feel “effortless”. On the contrary, boredom occurs when the challenges are too easy compared to one’s skills; and anxiety occurs when the demands increasingly exceed one’s capacities for action.

Under flow conditions, a person can be described as “in the zone”. For instance, while writing a paper, your mind has psychologically reached the point where your challenges and skills are matched to proportion, and you feel you’re able to fully immerse yourself in the writing process, things almost seem to just “come to you”, and you feel like thoughts are naturally flowing to you.

Similarly, an athlete may reach a state of flow when their physical challenges appear to meet their level of skill. The work doesn’t feel easy, nor overwhelmingly hard, but provides the right amount of challenge to feel an immense amount of satisfaction and enjoyment out of the activity. Again, athletes may be described as being “in the zone”, fully immersed into their sport, and things may just “feel right”, like they’re “on top of their game”.

Reaching a state of flow, can often be described as having the following characteristics:

  • Intense focus and concentration on what one is doing in the moment
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • Loss of reflective self-consciousness, (ie. loss of awareness of oneself as a social actor)
  • A sense that one can control one’s actions
  • A sense that time has passed faster than normal
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

Researchers think that a mindful, non-judgmental approach may be necessary for flow to occur. In other words, certain personality traits may be associated with a greater ability to achieve flow or quality flow, such as curiosity, persistence, and low self-centeredness to name a few. That’s not to say that if you don’t identify with these traits you won’t ever reach flow. The environment you’re in and the way you approach things can also influence your ability to reach flow.

To become more engaged with daily life, perhaps one can try finding and shaping activities and environments that are more conducive to experiencing flow; or identifying personal characteristics and attentional skills that can be tweaked to make flow more likely. A great place to start is choosing activities that you’re really interested in, as it’s essentially a “pre-requisite” for the appearance of flow.

So the next time, you feel like you’re “in the zone” during an activity, you’re actually in a “state of flow”.

Always,

Paula

Add some spice to your life…with Turmeric!

This spice has definitely been getting some hype lately! And it’s well deserved. With so many health and nutrition benefits, we all should consider incorporating a little more turmeric into our lives.

Turmeric, popularly known for its bright yellow colour, has been a traditional spice used in various cultural cuisines (especially India) for thousands of years. Did you know that this spice has also been used medicinally as well? It’s active compound “curcumin” is the main active ingredient that produces its many medicinal benefits.

Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant

First and foremost, turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant with the ability to repair damage in your body. As an antioxidant, turmeric may also stimulate your body to produce its own antioxidant enzymes. Prolonged, low levels of inflammation in the body which may be caused by a variety of lifestyle, nutrition, environmental, or biological factors is often the culprit to may chronic diseases present in our society today. This includes heart disease, cancer, and metabolic syndromes.

What this means for mental health, is that turmeric has the potential to reduce inflammation in the brain as well! Alzheimer’s is one disease of the brain that is linked with increased levels of inflammation. As a result, much research is currently being done that involves reducing whole-body levels of inflammation through mechanisms such as medication, exercise, and not surprisingly, turmeric!

Boosts Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)

BDNF is a type of growth hormone that functions in the brain. We need an appropriate amount of BDNF in order to have optimal brain functioning and cognition. Many common brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and depression have been linked to lower levels of BDNF. Interestingly though, turmeric can potentially boost BDNF function, so that our brains can build new cells and make more connections! Turmeric has the potential to increase BDNF for those experiencing depression, aiding in helping reduce depressive symptoms. Using turmeric as a potential antidepressant aide is a current topic that’s being looked into in research.

Immunity

A very relevant topic today, the properties of turmeric are also thought to help boost the immune system! Through a combination of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial effects, turmeric in combination with other complimentary ingredients may help boost your health. Note, consuming turmeric may not be suitable for everyone, so definitely listen to your body and seek advice from your doctor. As with any spice, its not recommended to over-consume in large quantities.

Besides adding a little turmeric to savoury dishes, I love adding it once in a while to a tea for added health-boosting effects. My favourite tumeric tea recipe is shared with you below!

Add small amounts of each of the following: turmeric, lemon juice, honey, coconut oil, black pepper. Make sure to start with small quantities and adjust the ratios to taste. Top it all off with a cup full of hot water, stir well and enjoy!

Did you know? Adding a bit of coconut oil and black pepper to the turmeric will help it absorb more efficiently into the bloodstream.

Feel free to share this post with friends, and let me know how you incorporate turmeric into your life!

Always,

Paula

The Importance of Mindfulness

If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you’re likely to have already learned quite a bit about mindful thinking, the practice of gratitude, how to be more optimistic, and so much more. Today, we’ll dive into how important a mindfulness practice truly is. I’ll share some practical mindfulness tips along with evidence from the study of positive psychology.

As touched on previously, being mindful requires us to:

  • Overcome the desire to reduce uncertainty in daily life
  • Override a tendency to engage in automatic behaviour
  • Engage less frequently in the negative evaluation of yourself, others, and situations

In moments of mindfulness, and with sustained practice, you may notice certain qualities are likely to appear:

  • Non-judging
  • Acceptance
  • Patience
  • Trust
  • Openness
  • Letting go
  • Gentleness
  • Generosity
  • Empathy
  • Gratitude
  • Loving kindness

Mindfulness can also reduce stress, allowing you to accept external situations and internal stress, fully embracing what you’re currently going through with minimal resistance. When people make mindfulness a habit, studies show individuals tend to produce less of a stress hormone called “cortisol” when reacting to something emotional. This reduces the overall amount of distress your body experiences!

According to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), regular practice weakens the association between negative thoughts and depressive emotions. It allows you to focus more on the awareness of thoughts and emotions as opposed to the evaluation of the legitimacy of the thoughts. As a result, we see benefits such as a reduction in depressive relapse, reduced depressive and anxiety symptoms, and lessening the symptoms of social phobias. We also see better sleep quality, more calmness and positive feelings about the self, better rehab and addictions recovery, less conflict and more ability to cope. Amazingly, these benefits can be seen at any age – in children, adolescents, or adults.

Not surprisingly, mindfulness may allow you to become better at multitasking by increasing your ability to be cognitively flexible. Evidence shows better spatial abilities as well, due to greater ability for awareness and the potential for neuroplasticity (making new neural connections in the brain!).

Cultivating Mindfulness

  1. One of the simplest ways to beginning a mindfulness practice is to start with a few minutes a day of quiet deep breathing and meditation. It might seem strange at first sitting in silence, listening to your breath, trying to clear your head, however with patience and dedication, you’ll be able to fall into this calm, relaxed state more easily.
  2. Taking part in a yoga session can also get you into a relaxed, mindfulness state as the body postures and positions are meant to stimulate a calmer nervous system along with positive changes physically, cognitively, and emotionally.
  3. Try self-guided mindfulness by using a workbook on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which has been proven successful at reducing feelings of stress.

If you have any thoughts, questions or comments about this post or anything mindfulness related, feel free to write in the comments below!

Always,

Paula

Fostering a Meaningful Life

Finding meaningfulness in one’s life is a topic almost every person thinks about at some point in their life. It’s human nature to want to feel important, useful, and have a life purpose. In this post, we’ll explore ways to create meaning in one’s life along with interesting evidence from psychology and mindfulness sources.

In the study of psychology, there are four “needs” for meaning in life, four patterns of motivation that guide how people try to make sense of their lives.

  1. The first is purpose. We search for a life purpose that allows our present events to connect meaningfully to future events. This can be in the form of goals (ex. obtaining a university degree, getting married and having kids) or in the form of fulfillments (ex. feeling like you’ve reached success, living happily ever after).
  2. We seek a sense of efficacy. We like to feel control over events in our lives and the actions we take towards a meaningful life.
  3. Self-worth is another necessary factor. Finding meaning in life is often accompanied by having intrinsic personal value, or feeling important to society/others in your life.
  4. Lastly, having strong values rooting your moral and ethical decisions for actions helps to foster life purpose.

If all four of the above components are achieved, it is then thought that one has reached the opportunity of finding meaningfulness, leading to positive effects on one’s mental health and an increase in happiness. However if all four are not met, life may seem insufficiently meaningful and may be associated with a sense of “drifting aimlessly” through life and an increase in depression.

Various scholars have theorized that people can find meaning in several places: career, relationships, religious beliefs, volunteer services, achievements, etc. People who deepen their spiritual/religious beliefs, set goals to reach personal achievements, open themselves up to create genuine relationships, and dedicate service to others tend to report feelings of greater well being, are more physically active, have greater marital satisfaction, and overall life satisfaction.

Meaningfulness is not the same as happiness.

You can have meaningfulness without happiness, but you cannot have happiness without meaningfulness. If this seems confusing, take adversity as an example. When we experience adversity (a negative situation) we ask ourselves “why did this happen?”. Finding a positive in a negative situation is like finding the silver lining, making sense of it. Perhaps we tell ourselves that “Everything happens for a reason” or “It was God’s will or judgment”. However you come to terms with it, you eventually begin to accept the situation. In this way, the situation doesn’t necessarily make you happy, but you’ve created meaning in something that you couldn’t control. Giving meaning to something is especially important during times of misfortune. It reduces distress, rebuilds your sense of mastery or control, bolsters your self-worth, and allows you to find purpose in it.

Some people find meaning in difficult times by writing or journalling about it. By actually writing your thoughts down, you make your thoughts visible, and that transforms what was once intangible in your mind to now a physical, tangible thing. Using journalling as a way to release negative energy held in your body may improve the function of your immune system, reduce the chances of illness, and increase enzyme functioning! Writing allows you to find a positive meaning of a situation, making sense of it. Initially when beginning to write, it may bring up negative emotions, however a few days to weeks later, you might begin to feel less negative towards it and possibly look at it from a more positive perspective.

If you’re looking to give meaning to your life or something in your life, consider adapting a few of the practices above. You might have to revise your goals, standards and priorities from time to time to boost your life happiness and satisfaction, and that’s okay! It’s all part of our life journey.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Always,

Paula

Exercising for Physical and Mental Health

The COVID pandemic along with its restrictions on social distancing and isolation have had a toll on both our physical and mental health these past few months. We’ve been staying inside more, moving around less, having fewer in person interactions, and perhaps opening the refrigerator a little more often as well.

According to previous studies on being sedentary, negative effects on the body can appear very quickly. When previously active people had their activity restricted, reductions in muscle mass and strength were seen in as little as 2 weeks! The longer one goes without returning to regular activity, the harder it is to regain the lost muscle mass and strength. Similar detrimental effects can be seen on the cardiovascular system with reduced VO2 (maximum oxygen capacity), and on the metabolic system (reduced glucose sensitivity). In simpler terms, this means less ability to take in enough oxygen for your body during physical activity, and less ability to regulate your blood sugar after meals.

With most of society ordered to social isolation and confinement, there is also likelihood of notable negative effects pertaining to mental health, especially when combined with the reduced physical activity. Increases in anxiety, depression, and boredom are issues that compound and add to reductions in overall health and wellbeing.

Physical activity is clearly a critical component to maintaining good health. The fact is, humans have developed and evolved to be physically active, with the body reaching an optimal physical and mental state when physical activity is balanced with energy intake. Although the current pandemic may not allow us to be as active in the same ways we used to be, we can re-introduce regular daily exercise to improve both our physical and mental health. If this seems too daunting, consider simply having an exercise “snack”. You don’t have to jump into doing a full hour of a high-intensity interval training online class, or running 5k a day – Having an exercise “snack” means breaking up your day to include opportunities to be more active. It could be as simple as setting an alarm every hour to remind you to walk around for 10 minutes outside. Repeat this three times, and you’ve already completed 30 minutes of activity!

Here are a few more ideas of bringing activity back into a regular routine…

  • Getting up to walk around. Now that the weather is much nicer, why not spend some more time outdoors? Take a walk around your neighbourhood, and while you’re at it, why not stop to chat with your neighbours across the lawn? You’ll be reaping both physical and mental health benefits at the same time. Note, make sure to of course properly social distance by staying 6 feet apart, and consider wearing a mask in public areas.
  • Many local outdoor recreational parks are now offering limited access to the areas with online reservations to ensure social distancing safety while exploring a trail, garden, or park. Check out your local recreation listings to see what is available in your city!
  • Doing resistance exercises at home, even if you don’t have heavy weights that you may be accustomed to using at the gym. Studies show doing resistance exercise with body weight/low weights and high repetitions may be just as effective, if not more effective, on maintaining muscle mass when compared to traditional weight training done with higher weights and lower reps.
  • Downloading a health/fitness app. In today’s society, there’s a multitude of health and fitness apps that you can download for free to help motivate and track your activity. Something as simple as a step-counter can be used to set goals and beat your best score of daily steps. Fun fact: the minimum steps required to avoid sedentarism is 5000 steps, but the more the better!

The key here is to choose something and try sticking with it for a few days, making a habit out of it, and building it into your daily routine. If you continue doing this, by the end of this pandemic there’s a good chance your body will be stronger and your mind will be in a healthier state.

Always,

Paula