Simple ways to seamlessly layer movement and exercise into your winter self-care schedule.
An efficient self-care routine is like an artfully layered sundae (vegan of course). Our nightly eight hours of sleep are the solid cake base, our daily skincare regime is the soothing ice cream centre, our hobbies and diet are the sauces that drizzle delight throughout, our social lives are the joyous sprinkles and the cherry on top? Well, that’s movement.
Moving our bodies is one of the most natural processes in the world, and yet, like the ice cream sundae, it’s often sidelined during the colder months. The thought of an exercise regime has negative connotations for many, conjuring images of a particularly shouty spin instructor or hiding at the back of a compulsory PE class at school. And that’s probably because the natural state of moving our bodies has become undoubtedly posey. “I managed to fit in a HIIT workout and Pilates class all before making my morning smoothie” is one of today’s most notable humble brags. The phrase ‘bikini body’, despite literally meaning a body wearing a bikini (something we can all do), has become a fear-inducing goal we set ourselves every time we feel a hint of summer. This notion allows us to forget the biggest bonus of exercising and forgo the daily sweat as soon as cold nights on the sofa creep up in lieu of beach days and sandal-clad evening strolls.
Nobody is saying that moving your body isn’t essential, but it should be unique to you. We all have different schedules, varying responsibilities and particular preferences, which means that although a ten mile run might be manageable for some of us, dancing around the kitchen counts too. Once we find what movement moves us, discover activities that can be seamlessly slotted into our self-care schedules and manage to make them stick, that’s when the joy of moving our bodies truly flourishes, whatever the weather.
That’s why I fell in love with running, which rescued me from a fairly unnerving bout of anxiety that left me feeling out of control after I left university. For me, running became a safe space – free of the whirring inside my brain – that proved to me that my body still worked just as well as it had before. That’s the thing about moving our bodies, it also provides an important boost for our mental health too. Studies have shown that ‘even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases our mental alertness, energy and positive mood,’ proving that even a little movement can have a huge impact on how we feel emotionally (Journal of Behavioural Medicine). It’s my experience of how beneficial exercise was for my own mental health that led me to qualify as a Personal Trainer. Movement should be joyous, natural, it should challenge us when we want it to and definitely be something we look forward to – or at least it shouldn’t fill us with dread – and it should make us feel alive.
That’s why I’ve put together eight simple ways movement and exercise can become part of your day without your routine even having to change. Everyone deserves to experience the release that comes with movement, just like every good sundae deserves a cherry on top…
We all brush our teeth twice for two minutes every day. If you don’t, consider starting, and if you’re a three time brusher then I salute your dedication to oral hygiene. As you brush your teeth, try doing some calf raises. Come up onto your tiptoes, pause for a second, drop back down, and repeat until those two minutes are up.
Opting for the stairs seems an obvious choice, but that effortless elevator ride can seem all too tempting when we’re busy or tired. Try not to give in and remember that your energy levels are likely to feel higher after a little walk. Coming down the stairs? When you get to the bottom, turn around and do ten step-ups on the bottom step. This takes no time at all, but will help to raise that daily step count if you do it regularly.
If you’re meeting a friend, check how long it would take you to walk all or some of the way instead. If it’s a little chilly out, just wrap up extra warm! Not only are you getting fresh air, raising your heart rate and moving your legs but you’re also doing a little more to help the planet too.
While the kettle is boiling, ditch the mindless phone scrolling and instead enjoy some dynamic stretching. Take your arms out to the side at a right-angle to your body, turn your palms down, then bring your arms in towards the middle, cross your arms over each other and then bring them back out again – your arms should be straight the whole time. Repeat the movement while taking some deep breaths.
Chances are you already have regular plans booked in with friends or family, so try swapping one of the meals out for some group physical activity instead. Whether it’s a jog or walk in the park together or a virtual yoga class (something many of us have got to grips with in the midst of lockdown), you’re socialising while getting a sweat on.
The next time you put your dinner in the oven, put your favourite playlist or album on and dance the timer away. Not only are you moving your body but the endorphins will leave you feeling revitalised.
If you normally spend time watching your favourite episodes each week, try getting your series fix on the treadmill or bike at the gym instead (while they’re open). If you’re not gymming at the moment, try doing ten jumping jacks in between episodes or during ad breaks at home. If reading is more your thing, try an audio book and take it on a walk or jog with you.
If you’re an avid alarm snoozer, instead of just lying there putting off the inevitable, start the day with movement instead. Nothing too strenuous, just some gentle stretches to wake your body up for the day. Begin with some knee hugs and hamstring stretches before curling into a ball and rocking from left to right, finish on all fours and curving your back upwards and downwards. Repeat this cycle until your alarm goes off again, when you might find you’re a lot less tempted to hit snooze…