Exercise and Mental Health

​It is important to change our view on exercise to not see it as  something we ‘have to do’ for our health, but as something that we do  because we personally value its positive benefits to our wellbeing. 

What is wellbeing? 

Wellbeing is a positive  physical, social and mental state. For this purpose,  I will focus on mental wellbeing. 

• Mental wellbeing does not have a single universal definition, but it does encompass  factors such as:

• The sense of feeling good about ourselves and being able to function well individually or in  relationships

• The ability to deal with the ups and downs of life, such as coping with challenges and  making the most of opportunities

• The feeling of connection to our community and surroundings 

• Having control and freedom over our lives 

• Having a sense of purpose and feeling valued. Of course, mental wellbeing does not mean being  happy all the time, and it does not mean that you  won’t experience negative or painful emotions,  such as grief, loss, or failure, which are a part of  normal life. However, whatever your age, being  physically active can help you to lead a mentally healthier life and can improve your wellbeing.

What impact does physical activity  have on wellbeing? 

Physical activity has a huge potential to enhance  our wellbeing. Even a short burst of 10 minutes’  brisk walking increases our mental alertness,  energy and positive mood. 

Participation in regular physical activity can  increase our self-esteem and can reduce stress  and anxiety. It also plays a role in preventing the  development of mental health problems and in  improving the quality of life of people experiencing  mental health problems. 

Impact on our mood 

Physical activity has been shown to have a positive  impact on our mood. Researchers have found that people feel more content, more awake and  calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. They have also found that the  effect of physical activity on mood is greatest  when mood was initially low.

There are many studies looking at physical activity  at different levels of intensity and its impact  on people’s mood. Overall, research has found that low-intensity aerobic exercise – for 30–35  minutes, 3–5 days a week, for 10–12 weeks – was  best at increasing positive moods (e.g. enthusiasm,  alertness).   

Impact on our stress 

When events occur that make us feel threatened  or that upset our balance in some way, our body’s  defences cut in and create a stress response,  which may make us feel a variety of uncomfortable  physical symptoms and make us behave differently,  and we may also experience emotions more  intensely.

The most common physical signs of stress include  sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite.   Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of  stress hormones in our body – otherwise known as  the ‘fight or flight’ response. It is these hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which raise our blood  pressure, increase our heart rate and increase the  rate at which we perspire, preparing our body for  an emergency response. They can also reduce  blood flow to our skin and can reduce our stomach  activity, while cortisol, another stress hormone,  releases fat and sugar into the system to boost our  energy.  

Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving  stress. Research on employed adults has found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress  rates compared to individuals who are less active. 

Impact on our self-esteem 

Exercise not only has a positive impact on our  physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is a key  indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to  cope with life stressors and how we perceive our self worth.

Impact on Depression and Anxiety

Physical activity can be an alternative treatment  for depression depending on the individual. It can be used in combination with medication and/ or psychological therapy. It has few side effects  and does not have the stigma that some people  perceive to be attached to taking antidepressants  or attending psychotherapy and counselling.  

It causes the release of endorphins that improve your mood and make you feel happier. Exercise can also give you some time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and can provide you with a great sense of purpose.

It can alleviate tension, stress and mental fatigue, give you a natural energy boost and improve your quality of sleep.

Physical activity can reduce levels of anxiety  in people with mild symptoms and may also be  helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Physical activity is available to all, has few costs attached, and is  an empowering approach that can support self-management. 
It is important that more  people are given the knowledge and support  they need to make physical activity a healthy yet  enjoyable part of life.

The Department of Health recommends that adults  should aim to be active daily and complete 2.5  hours of moderate intensity activity over a week  – the equivalent of 30 minutes five times a week.  It may sound like a lot, but it isn’t as daunting as it  first appears.

Where do you start?

Once you have decided that you want to be more  physically active, there are a few points worth  thinking about. Apart from improving your physical  and mental wellbeing, what else do you want to get  out of being active? 

Ask yourself whether you’d prefer being indoors or  out, doing a group or individual activity, or trying a  new sport. If you’re put off by sporty exercises, or  feel uninspired at the thought of limiting yourself  to just one activity, think outside the box and  remember that going on a walk, doing housework,  and gardening are all physical activities. Also,  would you rather go it alone or do an activity with  a friend? A friend or family member will push you when you need it the most. Social support is a great motivator, and  sharing your experiences, goals and achievements will help you to keep focus and enthusiasm. 

Overcoming barriers 

It can be a bit scary making changes to your  life, and most people get anxious about trying  something new. Some common barriers, such as  cost, injury or illness, lack of energy, fear of failure,  or even the weather can hinder people from getting  started; however, practical and emotional support  from friends, family and experts really does help.  

Body image can act as a barrier to participating  in physical activity. People who are anxious about  how their body will look to others while they are  exercising may avoid exercise as a result. For  women, attending a female-only exercise class  a ladies-only swimming session may help to  overcome anxiety as a barrier to initially starting to  exercise. 

Exercising with a companion can also help to  reduce anxiety about how your body looks to  others, and may be particularly helpful during the  first few exercise sessions. The environment can  also influence how you feel; gyms with mirrored  walls tend to heighten anxiety, as does exercising  near a window or other space where you might feel  ‘on show’. 

Make time 

What time do you have available for exercise? You  may need to rejig commitments to make room for  extra activities, or choose something that fits into  your busy schedule.

Be practical 

Will you need support from friends and family  to complete your chosen activities, or is there a  chance your active lifestyle will have an impact  on others in your life? Find out how much it will  cost and, if necessary, what you can do to make it  affordable. 

Right for you 

What kind of activity would suit you best? Think about the kind of exercise you were involved in when you were younger and start there. Think  about what parts of your body you want to exercise  and whether you’d prefer to be active at home or  whether you fancy a change of scenery and would  prefer to exercise in a different environment, indoors or outdoors.

Making it part of daily life 

Adopting a more active lifestyle can be as simple  as doing daily tasks more energetically or making  small changes to your routine, such as walking up a  flight of stairs. 

Start slowly 

If physical activity is new to you, it’s best to build  up your ability gradually. Focus on task goals,  such as improving sport skills or stamina, rather  than competition, and keep a record of your  activity and review it to provide feedback on your  progress. There are many apps and social networks  accessible for free to help. 


It’s really important to set goals to measure  progress, which might motivate you.

Remember, you won’t see improvement from  physical conditioning every day. Making the  regular commitment to doing physical activity is an achievement in itself, and every activity session can improve your mood.

I hope everyone took a little something from this ☺

Michelle Greaney

Healthy Eating Guidelines

​The foods you eat have big effects on your health and quality of life. 

Although eating healthy can be fairly simple, the rise in popular “diets” and dieting trends has caused confusion.

In fact, these trends often distract from the basic nutrition principles that are most important.

Recognise that your body is a system. Think longterm!

This is a detailed beginner’s guide to healthy eating, based on the latest in nutrition science.

For those who have failed again and again at losing weight, you should try to making small gradual changes rather than trying to change everything overnight. Focus on one change per week for example adding one extra serving of green veg everyday, drinking more water. 

Why Should You Eat Healthy?

Research continues to link serious diseases to a poor diet.

For example, eating healthy can drastically reduce your chances of developing heart disease and cancer, the world’s leading killers.

A good diet can improve all aspects of life, from brain function to physical performance. In fact, food affects all your cells and organs.

If you participate in exercise or sports, there is no doubt that a healthy diet will help you perform better.

From disease risk to brain function and physical performance, a healthy diet is vital for every aspect of life.

In recent years, the importance of calories has been pushed aside. While calorie counting isn’t always necessary, total calorie intake still plays a key role in weight control and health. Calories and energy balance are important, regardless of the composition of your diet. The root cause of obesity is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. 

Understanding Macronutrients

Foods High in Protein

The three macronutrients are carbohydrates (carbs), fats and protein.

These nutrients are needed in relatively large amounts. They provide calories and have various functions in your body.
Here are some common foods within each macronutrient group:

Carbs: 4 calories per gram. All starchy foods like bread, pasta and potatoes. Also includes fruit, legumes, juice, sugar and some dairy products.

Protein: 4 calories per gram. Main sources include meat and fish, dairy, eggs, legumes and vegetarian alternatives like tofu. Protein is a satiety superstar meaning it keeps you full for longer.

Fats: 9 calories per gram. Main sources include nuts, seeds, oils, butter, cheese, oily fish and fatty meat. Consuming healthy fats will boost your immune system and promote better brain function. Nuts, seeds, wild salmon and avocado are all examples of healthy fats.

How much of each macronutrient you should consume depends on your lifestyle and goals, as well as your personal preferences.

Understanding Micronutrients

Micronutrients are important vitamins and minerals that you require in smaller doses.

Some of the most common micronutrients you should know include:

Magnesium: Plays a role in over 600 cellular processes, including energy production, nervous system function and muscle contraction.
Potassium: This mineral is important for blood pressure control, fluid balance and the function of your muscles and nerves.

Iron: Primarily known for carrying oxygen in the blood, iron also has many other benefits, including improved immune and brain function.

Calcium: An important structural component of bones and teeth, and also a key mineral for your heart, muscles and nervous system.

All vitamins: The vitamins, from vitamin A to K, play important roles in every organ and cell in your body.

All of the vitamins and minerals are “essential” nutrients, meaning that you must get them from the diet in order to survive.

The daily requirement of each micronutrient varies between individuals. If you eat a real food-based diet that includes plants and animals, then you should get all the micronutrients your body needs without taking a supplement.

Eating Whole Foods is Important

You should aim to consume whole foods at least 80-90% of the time.

The term “whole foods” generally describes natural, unprocessed foods containing only one ingredient.

Whole foods tend to be nutrient-dense and have a lower energy density. This means that they have fewer calories and more nutrients per serving than processed foods.

Whole, minimally processed foods are not hyper-rewarding or hyper-palatable. It is harder to overeat them and are usually lower in calories.

This is a far healthier approach than doing the opposite and eating 90% processed food and only 10% whole food like many people do.

In contrast, many processed foods have little nutritional value and are often referred to as “empty” calories. Eating them in large amounts is linked to obesity and other diseases.
Foods to Eat

Try to base your diet around these healthy food groups:

Vegetables: These should play a fundamental role at most meals especially colorful ones. They are low in calories yet full of important micronutrients and fiber.

Fruits: A natural sweet treat, fruit provides micronutrients and antioxidants that can help improve health 

Meat and fish: Meat and fish have been the major sources of protein throughout evolution. They are a staple in the human diet, although vegetarian and vegan diets have become popular as well.

Nuts and seeds: These are one of the best fat sources available and also contain important micronutrients.

Eggs: Considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet, whole eggs pack a powerful combination of protein, beneficial fats and micronutrients

Dairy: Dairy products such as natural yogurt and milk are convenient, low-cost sources of protein and calcium.

Healthy starches: For those who aren’t on a low-carb diet, whole food starchy foods like potatoes, quinoa and Ezekiel bread are healthy and nutritious.

Beans and legumes: These are fantastic sources of fiber, protein and micronutrients.

Beverages: Water should make up the majority of your fluid intake, along with drinks like coffee and tea.

Herbs and spices: These are often very high in nutrients and beneficial plant compounds.
Foods to Avoid 

No Junk Food Allowed

No food needs to be eliminated forever, but some foods should be limited or saved for special occasions.
These include:

Sugar-based products: Foods high in sugar, especially sugary drinks, are linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes 

Trans fats:
Also known as partially hydrogenated fats, trans fats have been linked to serious diseases, such as heart disease 

Refined carbs: Foods that are high in refined carbs, such as white bread, are linked to overeating, obesity and metabolic disease 

Vegetable oils: While many people believe these are healthy, vegetable oils can disrupt your body’s omega 6-to-3 balance, which may cause problems 

Processed low-fat products: Often disguised as healthy alternatives, low-fat products usually contain a lot of sugar to make them taste better.

Why Portion Control is Important

Your calorie intake is a key factor in weight control and health.
By controlling your portions, you are more likely to avoid consuming too many calories.

While whole foods are certainly a lot harder to overeat than processed foods, they can still be eaten in excess.

If you are overweight or trying to lose body fat, it’s particularly important to monitor your portion size.
There are many simple strategies to control portion size.

Use a smaller plate size or measure a portion size with your hand. An example meal would limit most people to 1 fist-sized portion of carbs, 1–2 palms of protein and 1–2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fats.

More calorie-dense foods such as cheese, nuts and fatty meats are healthy, but make sure you pay attention to portion sizes when you eat them.

How to Tailor Your Diet to Your Goals

First, assess your calorie needs based on factors like your activity levels and weight goals.

Quite simply, if you want to lose weight, you must eat less than you burn. If you want to gain weight, you should consume more calories than you burn.

If you dislike calorie counting, you can simply apply the rules discussed above, such as monitoring portion size and focusing on whole foods.

If you have a certain deficiency or are at risk of developing one, you may wish to tailor your diet to account for this. For instance, vegetarians or people who eliminate certain food groups are at greater risk of missing out on some nutrients.

In general, you should consume foods of various types and colors to ensure you get plenty of all the macronutrients and micronutrients.

While many debate whether low-carb or low-fat diets are best, the truth is that it depends on the individual.

Based on research, athletes and those looking to lose weight should consider increasing their protein intake. In addition, a lower-carb diet may work wonders for some individuals trying to lose weight or treat type 2 diabetes

How to Make Healthy Eating Sustainable

Here’s a great rule to live by: If you can’t see yourself on this diet in one, two or three years, then it’s not right for you.

Far too often, people go on extreme diets they can’t maintain, which means they never actually develop long-term, healthy eating habits.

There are some frightening weight gain statistics showing that most people regain all the weight they lost soon after attempting a weight loss diet

As always, balance is key. Unless you have a specific disease or dietary requirement, no food needs to be off limits forever. By totally eliminating certain foods, you may actually increase cravings and decrease long-term success.

Basing 90% of your diet on whole foods and eating smaller portions will allow you to enjoy treats occasionally yet still achieve excellent health.
Consider These Supplements

Vitamin D Capsules

As the name suggests, supplements are meant to be used in addition to a healthy diet.
Including plenty of nutrient-dense foods in your diet should help you reverse deficiencies and meet all your daily needs.

However, a few well-researched supplements have been shown to be helpful in some cases.

One example is vitamin D, which is naturally obtained from sunlight and foods like oily fish. Most people have low levels or are deficient 

Supplements like magnesium, zinc and omega-3s can provide additional benefits if you do not get enough of them from your diet

In a perfect world, your diet would be full of nutrient-dense foods with no need for supplements. However, this isn’t always achievable in the real world.

If you are already making a constant effort to improve your diet, additional supplements can help take your health a step further.

.Combine Good Nutrition With Other Healthy Habits

Nutrition isn’t the only thing that matters for optimal health.
Following a healthy diet and exercising can give you an even bigger health boost.

It is also crucial to get good sleep. Research shows that sleep is just as important as nutrition for disease risk and weight control 

Hydration and water intake are also important. Drink when you’re thirsty and stay well hydrated all day.

Finally, try to minimize stress. Long-term stress is linked to many health problems.

Benefits of HIIT

The effectiveness of total body workouts, involving high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that combines resistance and cardio exercises has been validated by numerous studies. The underling principle of this type of training relies on alternating between demanding physical activity and less demanding but active recovery periods.

Hiit increases the expenditure of calories during the workout and for an extended period after the session, it boosts your metabolism, melts down your body fat, and helps you grow and maintain your muscles. In addition, it works on your mental capacity, mentally preparing you for future demanding workouts.


With the traditional cardio exercises performed at steady pace you address only your aerobic fitness, while HIIT improves your anaerobic fitness as well.

By combining these two, this training method simultaneously works both on improving your overall endurance and the strength of your muscles. For example, performing just half an hour of HIIT three times a week, can deliver the same improvement of your anaerobic and aerobic fitness as taking one hour of cardio exercises five days a week. Just 20 minutes of HIIT equals one hour on the treadmill. This considerably shortens your training sessions, allowing you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time.


One of the main ingredients for boosting the fat burning process is oxygen. By performing a high-intensity workout you use a great amount of oxygen making the body crave for more during the period of recovery.  This excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is the main reason why your body burns more calories and fat with the high-intensity interval training compared to the regular aerobic exercises performed at steady pace.


One of the effects of HIIT is that it stimulates the production of human growth hormone (HGH). This is crucial if you want to stay healthy, strong and energetic. And, according to the studies, the human growth hormone can improve your insulin sensitivity, stimulating fat loss and muscle growth.


As already mentioned that HIIT relies, among other thing, on starting up the EPOC, which boost up the metabolism for 48 hours after the session. The metabolic boosting properties of HIIT do not stop at this.
Namely, by building your muscle mass it further contributes to calorie expenditure because muscle cells burn more energy than fat cells. Further on, scientific studies reveal that the resting energy expenditure can be boosted by performing anaerobic exercises.

By performing this type of training you rev up the basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the minimal rate of energy spent by our body at rest during a certain period of time. Increasing your metabolism rate is not only important for losing fat. It will also improve the overall health of your body.


One of the most interesting aspects of HIIT is that it adds versatility to your workout routine, and it can be performed with minimal equipment. Sure, you can include exercises like biking or rowing into your HIIT routine, but many other plyometric exercises can provide you with the same benefits.


Performing demanding physical activities like running or lifting weight for a prolonged period of time requires you to have your body prepared to go beyond its comfort zone, where your heart races and you find it hard to breathe. HIIT can prepare you for this challenge. Namely, according to the scientific research just eight weeks of HIIT can double your performances in endurance sports. By challenging your aerobic and anaerobic abilities, it provides your cardiovascular system with the optimal benefits.

This type of training taxes your body frequently pushing it out of its comfort zone. But once you learn that you can tackle these challenges, you’ll also build up your self-confidence. This will come in handy not only for your future athletic performances, but also in other aspects of life