1 Maintaining good physical health
At times of stress, everything can get out of control. Looking after yourself may not feel possible, with everything else that is happening, and yet the benefits of even small changes towards a healthier lifestyle are well-documented. Another reason for considering your exercise levels is because resilience is about trying new things and new approaches, and putting on your trainers or going for a walk in the rain can be a low-risk way to kick-start the process.
When we talk about a healthy lifestyle, the main issues are usually diet, weight, physical activity and tobacco and alcohol use. Many of us know what we ought to do next, yet may not be acting on this.
Activity 1 Healthier lifestyle
Note what benefits there might be for you if you acted on one of your aims for a healthier lifestyle, such as increasing physical activity, improving diet or reducing alcohol or tobacco use.
Alongside the physical benefits there are social, emotional and mental health benefits. You may have identified that increased activity helps you generate the following:
- More energy: As your body adapts to increased activity levels you get a natural energy boost, which can make you feel less tired. Researchers say that even low-intensity levels of activity can be beneficial if you usually feel very fatigued.
- Improved sleep: Many people find they are able to sleep better at night when they have been more active during the day.
- Reduced anxiety and happier moods: When you exercise, your brain chemistry changes through the release of endorphins (sometimes called ‘feel good’ hormones), which can calm anxiety and lift your mood.
- Reduced feelings of stress: You may experience reductions in feelings of stress and tension as your body is better able to control cortisol levels.
- A greater sense of calm: Simply taking time out to exercise can give you space to think things over and help your mind feel calmer.
- Reduced risk of depression: If you’re more active there’s good evidence to suggest that at most ages, for both men and women, there’s a trend towards lower rates of depression. In fact one study has found that by increasing your activity levels from doing nothing to exercising at least three times a week, you can reduce your risk of depression by almost 20 per cent.
- Making friends and connecting with people: Being around other people is good for our mental health and social networks – plus you can maximise the benefits of exercising by doing it with other people. You may find that the social benefits are just as important as the physical ones.
- Having fun: Lots of us enjoy being active because it’s fun. Researchers have shown that there’s a link between the things we enjoy doing and improvements in our well-being overall. If you enjoy an activity you’re also more likely to keep doing it.
Activity 2 Into action: healthier lifestyle
So what, if anything, is holding you back? Which one action of up to 20 minutes could you take now to get you going?
This could be sorting out your bike so you could cycle to work, or going for a quick walk to the postbox to start a routine of nightly walks. Don’t wait to act.
If you did act, how do you feel now? Two further points for career resilience are the benefits of physical activity for clearer thinking and increasing self-esteem.
- Clearer thinking: Some people find that exercise helps to break up racing thoughts. As your body tires so does your mind, leaving you calmer and better able to think clearly.
- Increased self-esteem: When you start to see your fitness levels increase and your body improve, it can give your self-esteem a big boost. The sense of achievement you get from learning new skills and achieving your goals can also help you feel better about yourself and lift your mood. Improved self-esteem also has a protective effect that increases life satisfaction and can make you more resilient to feeling stressed (Mind, 2015).
Often people say they are held back by the fear of doing something new, or of looking silly as a beginner. Getting used now to acting despite these negative thoughts can help when you need to embark on more significant life changes.