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  1. How exercise can support your mental health

    Laura Bland Fitness

    A guest feature by Laura Bland

    It’s a well known and documented fact that regular exercise and healthy eating support a healthy lifestyle and in particular support your physical health but they are also key in supporting your mental health. In 2018 Psychology Today published a great article on how exercise can help your mental health. I particularly like this article as it isn’t full of jargon and hard to understand terminology and it takes a realistic approach on how much exercise you need in order to see the benefits.


    What it and many other articles confirm is that regular exercise has been proven to:

    -          Reduce stress levels

    -          Improve your quality of sleep

    -          Improve your overall mood

    -          Reduce bouts of or severity of anxiety

    -          Reduce the risk of depression

    -          Help build self-esteem and self-confidence

    -          Plus many other things


    When we exercise we encourage the release of endorphins – our bodies own natural happy pill - and can also make the brain more susceptible to serotonin which is proven to reduce feelings of depression. So it’s no wonder that after a good bout of physical activity we have a more positive outlook on life. I know first hand that if I don’t get in my regular morning exercise then I tend to feel grouchy, be more prone to feelings of irritation and just not be the best version of myself.


    Whilst I wouldn’t say that I suffer with poor mental heath my partner certainly does. He has been diagnosed with PTSD (RAF Veteran of 17 years), depression and anxiety. I have seen first hand the benefits that regular exercise have had on his mental health and on the flip side I see just how much not exercising effects him. As well as his mental health issues my partner is also a single leg amputee so sometimes he physically can not get his workouts done, on those days and especially when there are a few in a row he starts to slip back into his depression. So I absolutely know that exercise can support your mental health.


    Getting started


    Starting out on a new exercise regime can feel extremely daunting regardless of what your goals are or what your fitness level is as you start. The internet is flooded with information and I see so often that overwhelm and information overload is what stops people from getting started. My best advice is this – keep it simple and keep it enjoyable.


    If you’re new to exercise here are a few of my tips:

    • Try a few different things – remember to also stay safe.
      • Trying out more than one sport or activity will help you to find something you enjoy. If you enjoy it then you are more likely to stick with it in the long term
    • Make a plan and then stick to it
      • Look at your schedule for the week and identify where you have gaps that you can fit exercise in to, then plan it into your diary so that you don’t forget or double book yourself!
    • Be realistic about what you can manage
      • Don’t overreach and then burn out. 30 minutes 3 times a week sustained over a 12 week period is going to be much better for you than a hand full one hour sessions that you can’t sustain and have you quitting. I love home based workouts because it means there is no fuss or hassle.


    Be consistent - it really does help


    I like to have a fairly standard routine through the week. Monday – Friday I get up around 5 am and spend at least 30 minutes exercising. I enjoy having this time to myself, particularly as everyone else on the house is usually still in bed. Saturdays I don’t set an alarm and I don’t usually workout. I have an 8yr old daughter so I rarely get to stay in bed beyond 8am even if I would like to. For me Saturdays are about lazy mornings and family time. On Sundays I’ll be more flexible and either get up in the morning and go for a run or I’ll wait until the afternoon and then head into our home gym area and lift some weights.


    I’m an early riser because I find it helps me to stay focused and not allow excuses to creep in and prevent me from getting my workout done. Maybe you will get on better working out in the afternoon or the evening, it really does depend on your routine, what makes you feel good and what you can create consistency with.

    Laura Bland

    We are all on a different journey and need to listen to our own mind and body to see what works and what doesn’t. To be consistent you should try to have fun as you exercise, you should look for a time of day and a frequency that works well for you, and you should always remember that you are capable of much more than you think you are. Most often it is our mind and not our body that holds us back.


    The importance of nutrition


    I’m going to briefly touch on nutrition because it also plays a key role in your mental health and your day to day moods. I’m just going to mention two things though, it’s easy to start making positive changes with these two.


    1. Water – I guarantee that you are not drinking enough. As you start to get dehydrated your mood can drop, your memory becomes foggy, and your energy levels drop.  So focus on drinking plenty of water. As a general rule of thumb take your current weight in pounds, divide that by two and then drink that as your minimum fluid ounce intake per day.
    2. Sugar – eating foods or having drinks that contain lots of processed refined sugars can also have an adverse effect on your mood and metal health. Next time you need a sweet treat rather than reaching for sweets, cake or chocolate have a piece of fresh fruit instead. You will soon notice the positive effects of lowering your sugar intake.

    You can find more of my tips on how to get started over on my blog page You can even find lots of healthy recipes to try as well. I always think that having something new to try and adding more variety into your food helps to keep it fresh and interesting and again that encourages you to choose healthy eating more often.


    So please to have our 1st guest blog from a local therapist to the retreat




    Supporting Teenagers

    From a Chinese Medicine Perspective


    Raising teenagers can be challenging at the best of times, lockdown I imagine has brought a whole new set of challenges for them and for you as a parent/carer.

    This blog is aimed at children coming towards the end of their second Jing cycle of life; 14 years old for a girl and 15 years for a boyHowever, you may still find this of use and relatable living with a child/adolescent of any age.


    At this stage of life teenagers have a surge of Yang energyYang in Chinese Medicine (CM) is the hot, restless, transformation, active, external side of the Taiji symbol.









    For a teen this surge of Yang energy may appear as; moving away from the family, having an outward focus, fuels sensitivity and gives them the drive and ability to separate. Everything becomes magnified: feelings, responses, and emotional reactions.

    Whereas a rise in Yin energy we would expect to see more; hiding away, more sleep and time spent alone in their room.

    To support these Yin-Yang energies outside of the treatment room they need to be able to; express their feelings, have space, time, opportunity to retreat and protection whilst going through this developmental change.






    Lockdown is a good time for teenagers to catch up on much needed sleep that the school routine deprives them of.

    Melatonin is the hormone that encourages our sleep cycle to beginIn teenager’s melatonin is released approx. 2 hours later than it is for children and adults approx. 11pm onwards which is why your teen may struggle to fall asleep before this timeIn young children it is released at approx. 6pm and between 9-11pm for adults.

    Cortisol is responsible for waking us up, it is not activated in teenagers until about 9am which on a typical school day sees them up, dressed and in school ready to learn when they should in fact be just waking upEach day these young people are losing essential sleep and ability to build Yin energy (to further support their emotions).

    To support their sleep outside of the treatment roomlet them sleep during lockdown and catch up on building up their YinEncourage as difficult as it can be healthy sleep hygiene; do not study late into the night, have time off social media/computer games before trying to sleep, time away from a screen particularly a tablet that emits blue LED light, energy/high sugar drinks should be avoided at the best of times but especially late into the night.


    The Five Elements in Teenagers

    One of our tools of diagnosis in CM is the Wu Xing theory also known as the Five elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood.


    The wood element in our teens brings them vision and the need to break away from family and the desire to follow their own pathThe wood energy needs to be expressed, if not they will feel every constraint in their livesYour teen may be finding that they cannot express themselves as they normally would during this period of lockdown, and they may be feeling very frustrated by this.

    How to support the Wood element outside of the treatment room; let them vent, anger is not a taboo emotionEncourage exercise to keep their liver qi moving, allow independence, watch their diet especially cravings their having and caffeineEnsure your teenage girl is eating a blood nourishing diet (ask me for a copy) to support their periods.


    The fire element in teenagers is all about their self-expressionto test out identities of who they want to be in the future, passion, relationships, and friendshipsBelieve it or not our Fire element needs stillness and not melodramasFire also needs laughter as the emotion associated with it is Joy.

    How to support the Fire element outside of the treatment room; pick your battles – is your argument worth it or is it too damaging? Take time for intimacy with your teen – stop and be present with themEncourage where possible your home to be as peaceful as possible to protect your teenStop and have fun, laugh with your teen. Encourage social connections with friends whilst they cannot socialise physically.


    The earth element provides grounding, stabilityconcentration, and nourishment and is especially importantrole for the teenager, they are having strong feelings to find their tribes outside of the family home.

    To support their earth element outside of the treatment room; encourage them to take on more self-care, encourage them to find mothering/nurturing roles such as cooking, gardening, life skills etc. As the earth element is associated with digestion try where possible to support a healthy diet.


    The metal element is all about our feelings and attachments to the physical world around us, finding meaning, value, inspiration, and purpose.

    To support their metal element outside of the treatment room; model that it is ok to feel sad about this lockdown situation, to cry if needs be and grieve to help you move forward and through such intense feelingsAllow them to express themselves, give them space and let them retreatEncourage breathwork either through exercise such as yoga, Pilates, qi gong or simple breathing exercises (ask me for suggestions).


    This element is a particularly important to support a teenager’s hormonal and developmental changesThe water element is a time of introspection and slowing down.  It is associated with wisdom, stamina, and endurance.  When our water is out of balance you may see higher levels of fear and anxieties especially if your teen normally lives a fast-paced life.

    To support their water element outside of the treatment room;encourage them to find out what their downtime is (that is NOT adrenalin fueled), encourage grounding activities such as walks outside and ways of how they can learn to calm themselves down.


    Remember that although we cannot always see it, there is a lot going on under the surface.  Your teenager is probably going to feel more constrained by current circumstances than any other age group as it is hindering their natural developmental processRemember that maintaining their friendships is a necessity for them-not a luxuryGive them space to both retreat and expand (yin and yang)Finally, your rapport and connection are more important than anything else.

    Contact Kristina Parker@ Harwood Wellbeing

    [email protected]

    T. 07891524940