Exercise and health in lockdown

Mr George Cook, Head of Hockey at WHS, looks at how you can get fitter than you have ever been during lockdown.

In these unprecedented times it is all too easy to fall into the trap of spending time thinking about all of the things this lockdown has taken away from us.

For example:

Seeing friends
Going to work
Sunbathing over the bank holiday weekend
Going out for coffee/food
Going shopping and socialising with friends

Another way to view this unprecedented situation is that we now have more time on our hands than ever before. Time to do all of those tasks and pursue all those goals you have been putting off because you’re ‘too busy’ normally.

The national shortage of flour is an indication of how a large proportion of our society intend to pass the time baking all sorts of high sugar not so healthy snacks and cakes. But what if you could come out of lockdown healthier and fitter than you went into it? And is this even possible?

The lockdown has given the gift of time to the nation. It may sound unreasonable to suggest that increased health and fitness are attainable targets when we are largely confined to our houses. But bear with me, there is light at the end of this tunnel…!

Trainers

Do more than you eat:

We have been told that we can leave for essential food shopping and for exercising. But what if you can’t run or it simply isn’t the mode of exercise for you. No problem, one small change to the way you walk can revolutionise the way you use that magical outdoor hour.

According to the CDC, walking at 1-2mph is considered slow and equates to approximately 50 steps per minute. Fast or brisk walking is between 3-4mph and averages at 100 steps per minute. Within the same timeframe you can double your step count, lift your heart rate and work in your aerobic zone of ~60% maximum effort. This alone can take you above and beyond your NHS target of 150 minutes of exercise a week.

Benefits of sleeping more:

Most of us are guilty of wishing we could just stay in bed that extra 5 or 10 minutes when our alarm goes off in the morning. The reality of work and life schedules mean that more often than not we trade our hours of sleep in order to send that last email, complete that piece of work or to watch another episode of your Netflix series because ‘you’ve earned it’.

The cumulative effect of this on your metabolism can be hugely detrimental to your overall health. It was identified by the sleep foundation that those individuals who slept fewer than 6 hours a night were more likely to store fat and develop symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

This is therefore the perfect opportunity to rewind the effects of stress and lack of sleep that have been building up, perhaps you have become so used to it you didn’t even realise it was a problem anymore.

The lockdown has provided opportunity to hit the reset button on your metabolism and metabolic rate through self-care. And yes, all you have to do is sleep more. The caveat to this is that the same symptoms reappeared in individuals who slept for more than 10 hours a night, regularly.

Sleep
Sleep: the key to a healthy lifestyle?

Opportunities to cook and what to make:

In a world where socialising with friends often includes going out for dinner, coffee and brunch it has become all too easy to develop unhealthy and undesirable eating habits without realising it. Examples could include having a high caffeine intake, consuming lots of high sugar content snacks/sweets/desserts and not drinking sufficient amounts of water.

I’m sure many in society wondered what they might watch on TV now that all live sport has been cancelled for the foreseeable future; cue TV celebrity chefs to save the day. Each day you can find fresh inspiration for new and healthy ideas to sustain your body through lockdown. There are no more late nights away at the office (for most of us), there is more time to prepare a healthy meal to have as opposed to the quick fix oven pizza that normally comes out when tiredness dictates the menu.

Watch below for inspiration:

Healthy nutrition is central to achieving wellbeing.

Maximise your workout and increase your metabolism:

He has rapidly become a household name; from becoming an author, tv star and most recently a PE teacher, Joe Wicks has become famous using one of the most simple and effective training methods available to us.

High intensity interval training: HIIT. This is exercise that involved short periods of high intensity bursts of work followed by short periods of rest.

But what does it actually do for us? Working at your maximum level for a period of 30-60s followed by a short rest period will raise your heart rate and cause you to become tired and out of breath very quickly.

By segmenting these periods of high work rate, we are able to spend more time at these elevated work levels and burn more calories and get fitter.

What to include? HIIT workouts tend to be bodyweight, perfect when your gym is now the living room. Made up of fundamental movements including, squats, lunges and jumps as well as isometric holds, it is possible to take yourself through a full body high intensity workout in less than 30 minutes.

There are many lasting benefits to this, going substantially beyond the 30 minutes you devote to it. Inactivity can lead to muscle wastage and associated injuries and conditions; this will prevent this as you become stronger than you ever imagined completing these regularly.

They also have the lasting benefit of raising your metabolism, in other words, you keep improving even after your workout has come to an end!

Conclusion:

Lockdown has provided opportunity to reset and obtain healthy sleeping patterns, spend more time cooking healthy meals to support a balanced diet and more opportunity to exercise in different ways that can have life changing benefits far beyond our return to normality. Let’s see the positive in the current situation and prioritise our health during lockdown.


References:

Sleep foundation: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-excessive-sleep-can-affect-your-metabolism

Can music impact our health?

Sophie, Year 9, asks if and how music can impact our mental and physical health.

Music is everywhere. Wherever we go, no matter where, there will be some sort of tune or melody coming from someplace or another. Virtually all species, from the most primitive to the most modern, make music. In tune or not, our species sing and play, or clap and drum. Music is a cardinal aspect of our lives. The human brain and nervous system are programmed to distinguish music, rhythm and tones from noise and other sounds. Is this a biological accident, or does it serve a purpose? There might be no definite answer, but one could suggest from studies that music may enhance human health.

 

Music has always been a source of expressing people’s feelings, venting emotions and communicating with others, through words and notation. The soothing power of music is well-identified – it can have a big impact on our mental health. It can also have a strong link to our emotions, and, as a result, can be a brilliant form of stress relief. Listening to music can be relaxing for our mind and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. This type of music has a beneficial effect by slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure and decreasing the levels of stress hormones. For example, studies[1] show that listening to music with headphones has reduced stress and anxiety in hospital patients before and after surgery. Listening to music can also relieve depression and increase the self-esteem of elderly people.

Music can also absorb our attention and can get rid of any distractions. This means it can be a focus technique as it keeps our mind from wandering. However, music with no structure and no form can have a negative impact on our emotions and can be unsettling and irritating. This is why gentle music with a simple melody is also more comforting. Familiar melodies bring a sense of calmness, awareness and it can be more comforting. The sounds of nature often are incorporated into CDs specifically to target relaxation. The sound of water or leaves or birdsong can be soothing for some. It can help picture calming images and help our minds slow down.

As well as calming, and being a stress relief, music can be a source of happiness. It has the ability to make people of all ages feel cheerful and energetic and could even lift the mood of people with depressive illnesses. A recent study[2] announced that scores of depressive symptoms (extending from 0-60) improved on average 4.65 more with the music therapy than standard care alone. In 2006 a study of sixty adults with chronic pain found that music was able to reduce pain and depression[3]. In 2009 there was another study stating that music assisted relaxation can improve the quality of sleep in patients with sleeping disorders[4].

Some skilled composers manipulate our emotions by knowing what the listeners’ expectations are and controlling when the expectations may (or may not) be met. Composers also change their music to fit our emotions. They will use specific techniques to make us feel a certain way. These techniques could include; tempo (a fast tempo could provoke an energetic feeling, whilst a slow tempo might induce feelings of sadness or tiredness), tonality (major linked to positive and minor negative), dynamics (forte – loud – may portray bold or confident, whilst piano – quiet – could be more subtle).

Some of these factors may cause the listener to maybe start swaying side to side or tapping our feet or nodding our head. This is connected to the dopamine drug which is linked to the pleasure of music. Neuroimaging studies have proven that music can activate the brain areas typically associated with emotions. The deep brain structures that are part of the limbic system like the amygdala or hippocampus as well as the pathways that transmit dopamine (for pleasure associated with music listening). The relationship between listening to music and the dopaminergic pathway is what is behind the ‘chills’ that people claim to experience whilst listening to music[5]. These chills are physiological sensations, like hairs getting raised on your arms, goosebumps down your leg and ‘shivers down your spine’ that is linked to chills.

Whatever your musical preference, understanding that music has a significant impact on our mental and physical health is central to knowing more about the immense power this art has on us. As Napoleon once said, “music is what tells us the human race is greater than we realise.”

 


References

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-33865448

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/music-therapy-helps-treat-depression/

[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/music-and-health

[4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24441233_Music-assisted_relaxation_to_improve_sleep_quality_Meta-analysis

[5] https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/51745/why-does-music-give-us-chills

 

Why using your five senses is the key to practising mindfulness at school – 19/10/18

Lucy (Year 8) looks at how our senses can be used to help us to practise mindfulness within the school day and the potential benefits this can have on our overall mental health and wellbeing.

The word mindfulness can conjure up an image of a class doing yoga or meditating.  But its key essence is about deliberately bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. It is about turning ourselves off autopilot, and noticing our present being. In the life of a busy Wimbledon High girl, this can be a challenging and daunting prospect. Focusing on our five senses will bring us into the ‘here and now’, and might be the crucial tool for dealing with stressful and anxiety inducing situations.

The senses are how we understand the world, and to obtain the most positive experience from the present moment we need to employ them in everything we do. Studies by Dr. Patrizia Collard (Sensory Awareness Mindfulness Training in Coaching: Accepting Life’s Challenges, Collard & Walsh, 2008) demonstrate that focussing on our senses, and non-judgementally on our current situation, results in a significant improvement in a range of conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress disorders.

A simple mindfulness exercise that could be practiced during the day at school, and without the use of a yoga mat, is the 5-4-3-2-1 tool. This exercise is an effective method of regaining control of your mind when anxiety or stress threaten to take over and reminds us to interact with the world using our five senses. It requires you to think of five things that you can see (e.g. a picture on a classroom wall).  Then you think of 4 things that you hear (e.g. the orchestra rehearsing in the Senior Hall), three things you can touch (e.g. your earrings), two things you smell (e.g. tea or coffee) and one thing you can taste (e.g. breaktime snacks).  This exercise can help you become more aware of your present situation and reduce potential stress.

Good mental health is something we should all aim for, and psychologists around the world are investigating ways to maintain a consistent level of positive mental health. Using our five senses and practicing mindfulness can help us be resilient when going through a time of stress and help keep us grounded in reality. Learning to focus on the external factors present around us helps avoid excessive focus on internal issues and can moderate extremes of feeling or emotion. Consistency and balance are crucial when aspiring to have good mental health.

However, mindfulness should not be a tool reserved only for stressful situations. Just like training for a sport, mindfulness needs to be practiced and developed to make it the most effective it can be.  Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique and your five senses are a simple way of practicing mindfulness because you do not need equipment, a long time, or any external help. Our body has the tools we need to master mindfulness, we just need to trust them and exercise them.

For further reading, see the book “How to be yourself” by Clinical Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen (buy it here for a paper by Harvard Medical School about the benefits mindfulness has on stress and anxiety levels.

Mindful revision: how to make the best of the revision period

wimbledon logo

As mock exams start, Suzanne East, our Mindfulness Lead, looks at how we can manage the pressures of examination revision to achieve our best and stay healthy.

As the Christmas holidays approached and the festivities were beginning to get into full swing, I wished my Y11 tutor group Merry Christmas and asked how they were planning on spending the holiday period; “revision”, they groaned in reply. In their eyes was written the despair at the prospect of sitting alone in garret-like bedrooms struggling with never-ending lists of dates whilst the sounds of forbidden parties drifted up to torment them.

Faced with this, I sought ways to encourage them, and found that mindful practise offered some practical suggestions. So here are my top five tips on how to survive revision, especially revision during the holiday period, in a most mindful way!

  1. Acceptance

At the end of the day, it is what it is and you will not feel any happier by constantly thinking of other things you could be doing. Being constantly updated on the fun that others are having will not help, so put the device away and get on with it!

  1. Focus

Mindful practice encourages you to bring the focus of your attention back to a chosen point, perhaps the breath. We all get distracted but we can improve our attention with regular practice – a vital skill in completing any task! Remember to be kind (you will not be able to focus all the time) but notice the drifting away of attention and gently bring it back to the job in hand.

  1. Self-awareness

Away from the routines of school this is a time when students may be alone for long periods and need to take responsibility for their own care. Mindful practice encourages paying attention to yourself, how are you feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. By getting to know yourself you can make sure you stop and eat when hungry, get some exercise when sluggish and meet up with friends when feeling lonely.

  1. Savouring the good

It is easy to let revision seep into all aspects of the day. Even when not actually doing revision it can hijack your thoughts; regretting not doing more or dreading going back.  Mindfulness practice teaches how to be fully in the moment, so if you are doing some revision, pay attention and do it, but equally when you are having a break really have a break. Immerse yourself in a long soak in the bath, enjoy chatting with your friends when you meet up for coffee, savour that chocolate and get out and be in the world that is buzzing away with life all around you.

  1. Kindness

Remember mocks are a practice run. Things will not always go to plan, and this is almost certainly true of revision plans. Mindful practice encourages students to explore areas of difficulty and to accept that life can make you feel sad, angry and frustrated. No one likes to feel like this, but these are feelings we cannot escape from. Get to know them and learn how you can move forward, being as kind and supportive to yourself as you would to a good friend.

Of course, none of the above come easily.  Regular practice is essential in building mindful habits, but the rewards can be quite life changing, especially when the going gets tough.

Follow @DHPastoralWHS for regular Pastoral updates at Wimbledon High.