Rockliffe Hall's Wellbeing Manager, Peter Bell talks about why it is important stay active during the winter months.

Due to the change in the amount of natural sunlight levels and temperature change, this creates an imbalance with hormones which can affect our sleep cycle and mood levels. This can reduce immune system efficiency.

Therefore, mentally our mood level drops and we go into a drip feed process of releasing the hormone cortisol, which on its release for a prolonged period of time can create underlying stress, increases blood pressure, and encourages us to deviate towards comfort food.

This negative cycle has a negative impact on our health and wellbeing and could lead to the following scenario: we become tired, lack motivation, have low mood feelings, feel in a vulnerable state, easily catching viruses, struggling to shake the virus off, all we want to do is lock ourselves away, become inactive, eat junk food drink alcohol and binge in front of the TV.

The great news is we can change that negative cycle, by simply following one of the steps of improving your mental wellbeing, be active.

How activity has a positive effect on mental wellbeing
Studies demonstrate that today's society is more educated and understand the many physical benefits of exercise, however the studies concluded that we tend to have less understanding of the mental benefits of exercise.

It is well documented through extensive research that being active releases brain chemicals which help increase and regulate the mood. The release of these chemicals can counteract the negative effect of hormones released during the winter period, therefore improving your sense of not only physical but mental wellbeing. This can have a positive effect such as improving sleep cycles, balancing your appetite, boosting your immune system, balancing your stress hormones, increase your confidence and self-esteem, which helps give you self-purpose.

Recent research has shown that regular exercise can modify the default state of the nervous system so that it becomes more balanced and less prone to flight, fight or fright. Lactic acid builds up after exercise, which is often blamed for muscle soreness, has been identified as having positive effects on your mental wellbeing. After lactate is released by the muscles, this travels through the blood stream to the brain, it alters your neurochemistry in a way that can reduce stress and put the body into a state of calmness.

The mind instinctively makes sense out of movement and physical actions, latest research claims that this can build resilience and reinforce a sense of achievement.

What activities should I participate in?
Current recommendations for activity levels consist of 30 minutes aerobic activity every day and some form of strength training 30 minutes per session, 2-3 times per week. What is crucial is that you carry out an activity in which you enjoy, trying to adhere to an exercise routine which you dread participating in could set you up for failure with regards to exercise compliance.

Although it is a valid point that you do not have to go to the gym to be active, an advantage of immersing yourself in the gym environment is that you can benefit from social connections as well as the practicality of an accessible workout space during the winter months. The main advantage is that gym team members can facilitate you with a structured exercise program and give you set targets and goals to achieve. Your progress can be monitored, and feedback given on improvements made. This can lead to a sense of achievement, which helps compound positive mental health.

Another positive initiative would be to vary your activities, for example you could walk/run outdoors, use the gym, or participate in a recreational outdoor winter activity.

Strength and conditioning routines you can follow in the home environment can be downloaded from social media. Studies carried out on exercise compliance with home-based strength and conditioning routines concluded that exercise adherence was poor due to low motivation levels, this seemed to be attributed to participants did not enjoy working out in the home environment.

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