The benefits of exercise

The clock has struck midnight and a bit more. It’s my night off yet, I’m still awake. The joys of working nights is that even when you’re able to sleep at night… You can’t. Thursday is my only full day off, so I like to try and find something fun or worthwhile to do. This would usually include but is not limited to: Meeting up with friends, shopping, eating out, cinema and probably more eating out. I love food.

Now obviously since the emergence of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown; my options have been incredibly limited. For the first few weeks, even takeaways weren’t open and even now some of my favorite chain restaurants still aren’t open. This is on top of the increased stress at work (supermarket!) and worries about the health of my family. This led to me becoming increasingly agitated. I ended up with a week’s supply of Diazepam and an increase in my Lamotrigine dosage (courtesy of my psychiatrist). He also recommended going back on an anti-psychotic which I refused. 1) They make me feel tired and zombified and 2) I put on so much weight the last time I took them that I didn’t even recognise myself. That then leads to the ridiculously stupid decision to stop taking ALL of my medication. **Please don’t ever do this. Always, always, always talk to your doctor or psychiatrist before stopping or changing your medication. It can have serious consequences – Trust me, I know.** Luckily the Diazepam did its job and I began thinking more clearly.

I realised that I needed to find something to focus on to take my mind off what was going on in the world. Something I’ve really struggled with since moving to Cornwall is my weight especially not helped by the psychiatric medication. I ballooned to 20st and although I’ve never been “skinny” being that weight really took its toll on me, both mentally and physically. I constantly felt like I was starving so I ate and I ate and I ate. Being a veteran binge eater didn’t help either.

I decided to join a Slimming World group in my hometown with my best friend. From where I live now it’s about a 30-mile round trip commute which takes an hour each way on the bus. I didn’t and still don’t drive (but I’m working on it). It was worth the trip though. The consultant Sarah Daniels is amazing and so were the group members. I lost just over 4st in a year and felt so much better about myself. So much so that I finally had the confidence to try again with gaining employment. I was offered an interview – I got the job.

For the first few months of being employed, I still made the effort to get there straight after work to go but it became more and more tiring. My friend got pregnant and quit the group so I decided to leave too. It just wasn’t viable for me to attend anymore. I found another group close to where I live now and joined. The vibe from the group members was completely different and as nice as the consultant was, I just couldn’t gel with her. I did this for a few months also roping another friend into coming with me. Going to the group with a friend made it slightly more bearable but alas she quit too after a few sessions. Going to the group by myself was becoming a chore because I wasn’t enjoying it. One day I couldn’t make it to the session so I just stopped going. That along with working night shifts and eating a tonne, I started to put more weight on and it spiraled from there. I didn’t get back to 20st but I did end up gaining around 2st back. Thankfully because my job is moderately physical I sort of maintained (or went up and down but never over 18st).

Sorry for the detour but I wanted to give some backstory to my weight/weight loss history since being diagnosed with Bi-Polar. Back to my lockdown dilemma and how I found something to focus on… So, in case you haven’t yet realised, my weight is an issue for me.

Q: How can I beat lockdown stress, improve my mental health and do something about my weight at the same time?

A: Using my once-a-day, outside-the-house exercise time of course!

I live in Cornwall, it’s beautiful and I just so happen to live in a town that has a history of mining and a beautiful country park called “Kit Hill” which was once a working mine.

Kit Hill is a landmark hilltop located in the east of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape WHS. The hill has a rich mining heritage and its ornate feature chimney, a reminder of its mining past, dominates the landscape for miles around. The area is now a country park extending to 152 hectares where the combined natural and industrial landscapes can be fully appreciated. There are views from the elevated position (334 metres above sea level) across Cornwall from coast to coast and it is one of the county’s most impressive views.

It’s located about two miles away from where I live and as the quote notes, it has absolutely stunning views, grazing ponies, cows in adjacent fields, and lots of different types of wildlife. The hill is steep and the ground is wild and rugged. Not great for wheelchairs or prams but for me it allows me to challenge myself, get my heart rate up, working muscles by climbing and stabilizing my core.

I decided every Thursday as soon as the sun started to rise (I’m usually awake to see it!) that I would walk the 2 miles there and around 1 mile to the top (depends on how lost I get going off path exploring) and then back again. Resulting in around 6 miles altogether. That along with starting Keto (I’ll talk about that in another post) since lockdown has helped me rack up over 3st weight loss since the start of lockdown! Now that the restrictions have started to lift, I’m still doing the walk every Thursday and I’m still eating well too. Everyone is noticing at work which is a huge ego boost. Even day managers/staff that I rarely see have told me I look great – yay!  Another improvement regardless of weight loss is that mentally my head is so much clearer. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be an advocate for exercise nor going outside for that matter (LOL!) but clearly it has worked wonders for me and maybe it will work wonders for you too?

Don’t just take my word for it. Being a woman of science, I looked into the links between exercise and improving mental health (so maybe your doctor/ psych really wasn’t lying to you). Research shows a strong link between the two.

Exercise releases chemicals in your body such as endorphins and serotonin (If you’ve ever taken anti-depressants, you’ll probably recognise this one – It’s nicknamed the “happy hormone”). Both of these chemicals can improve your mood and reduce stress/anxiety.  If you’re exercising out of the house like me or inside a gym, then you’ll probably meet a few people along the way; helping to reduce loneliness and isolation. Communicating with others really (even when I don’t feel like it and it feels damn scary to do so) does tend to lift my mood. Exercising also pumps blood to the brain, helping you to think more clearly. It increases connections between the nerve cells in your brain helping improve memory and can even help protect it from injury and disease (Yay!).

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that managing sleep and stress are usually key to staying stable with Bi-Polar. And the same with other mental illnesses I would imagine too. Tiring yourself out physically is going to increase the need for sleep and hopefully increase the chances of you falling asleep.

Well, two hours later I’ve finally finished writing this post! Hopefully, I haven’t bored you to death and maybe you’ve got so much motivation to exercise today or maybe just go outside and get some fresh air? Let me know in the comments below. Have a great day – whatever you choose to do!

Robyn
A thirty something from down south (Cornwall, UK). People who like me tell me I'm funny, sarcastic and have no filter. People who don't would probably say I'm a bit of a bellend. I'll let you make your own mind up.

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