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MindfullySTRONG: 4 simple steps to improving your physical and mental wellbeing

Tuesday 19 May 2020

During times like these, when stress levels are increased due to a sudden change, challenge or uncertainty, our physical and mental wellbeing can take a hit. This, coupled with all the stress that’s been caused by ‘you know what’, means that your health, energy levels, how you feel and even how you think might well have been affected recently.

This means that it’s even more important to manage your mental and physical wellbeing and try to ensure that you emerge from the lockdown in as good shape as possible. But as you might well know, that’s often easier said than done!

Perhaps you made plans to exercise or tried to put simple diet hacks in place? Or maybe you made big, ambitious home workout plans or tried to stick to a strict new diet?

Either way, it’s human nature to be overly-ambitious when making plans, fall short and then beat ourselves up about it for ‘not being good enough’ – but that’s not what we need at the moment.

And that’s where Sheffield Hallam’s MindfullySTRONG programme comes in.

It’s a simple but holistic approach to exercise and nutrition. Built on four principles, it encourages you to be:

1. self-compassionate
2. nurturing
3. introspective, and
4. non-judgemental

Basing your goals and routines on these four principles, reinforced by practising aspects of mindfulness, makes caring for your physical and mental wellbeing more enjoyable, refreshing and realistic. This approach is quite different to the usual advice given out by the health and fitness industry.

Unlike many exercise programmes, MindfullySTRONG focusses just as much on mental and social health as it does on physical health. Frequent failure is all part of who we are and what life is like – and that’s why it’s built into this plan. You might well have practised mindfulness before, and if so, now’s the time to be mindful about what you eat, drink and your physical activity too, so you’ll not only be mindful, you’ll be MindfullySTRONG.

MindfullySTRONG’s 4 steps to improving your wellbeing

1. Your approach to exercise

Try to view exercise as self-care. It should be pleasant, invigorating, enjoyable and it should make you feel good. Physical activity doesn’t have to be excessive or punishing to be beneficial. Being slightly out of breath for just a short amount of time each day or introducing a few intermittent bursts of effort during a walk or a jog can be enough for many people to become fitter and get the psychological benefits of exercise. Remember –  anything is better than nothing and all those minutes accumulate.

The same applies to resistance training. Just a handful of bodyweight squats, press ups and lunges as part of a brief 5-10 minute circuit can have a huge impact, especially if it’s done daily or a few times a week. And this way, it’s much easier to build the habit of exercising as part of your daily routine than if you set huge goals from the start.

It’s also likely that sometimes you’ll feel good and will want to push yourself a little harder or go for a little longer, but these progressions aren’t something you have to chase. Equally, one day you might not feel great, in which case just doing a few simple exercises with a couple of stretches is much better than zero activity – and it helps you build the habit.

Whatever you do, do something you enjoy, and ask yourself before you exercise: ‘how do I feel today?’ and ‘what do I need from my exercise to make me feel good?’. Building up a regular and frequent exercise habit that you enjoy is important as it’s this approach that’s more likely to be sustained to give greater benefit over time.

2. Your approach to diet

The MindfullySTRONG approach to diet starts by asking yourself what good looks like and where you are in relation to that. What simple changes could you start with to make a difference? When you’ve done this, write a simple action plan or rules to try to stick to.  

Start small to build a habit and to get a sense of discipline and control. Remember, any positive changes are an improvement. Things like drinking a glass of water first thing each morning, eating a handful of nuts every day, not eating after 9pm or drinking less alcohol a couple of times a week, are all positive steps.

3. Keeping track

Once you have written down some exercise plans or dietary rules, ask yourself what good looks like again and also what bad, ok and great look like. This is a really useful way to avoid ‘falling off the wagon’ as you place your success on a sliding scale rather than a binary ‘hit or miss’ where only perfection equals success.

Over time, as long as you have more ok and good days (or weeks) than bad, you’ll make great progress. A useful way to track this is with a tally or table and see how many good days you can get in a row, and then try to beat that streak.

4. Create a ‘social contract’

This is all about accountability. Think about sharing your intentions with someone and asking them to either join you or at least to help keep you accountable. Sharing your goal or committing to work with someone will help you stick to your plans and build those all-important habits.

This can be someone you live with, a relative over FaceTime or some friends in a WhatsApp group. You don’t have to actually workout together, just by sharing your intentions as a ‘social contract’ you will be one step closer to improving your wellbeing.

The MindfullySTRONG story

MindfullySTRONG is an integrated physical activity and mindfulness programme run by Dave Hembrough from the Department of Sport and Physical Activity at Sheffield Hallam University.

Dave is a Sport Science Officer and Strength and Conditioning Coach who has worked with Olympians, Commonwealth medallists and world champions, but now uses his knowledge to help as many people as possible to be happier, healthier, fitter and stronger.

He sees this as much more rewarding and his way of having a bigger, more important impact in the world than just working with elite athletes.

While spectacular workout routines and strict dietary approaches work for elite athletes, Dave recognises that many of us often struggle to be fit and healthy at a more basic level and need an approach that works for us. MindfullySTRONG aims to fill this gap. 

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