This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and the Mental Health Foundation’s focus for the week has been ‘Nature’. I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health over the last year, and especially these last couple of weeks as I’ve been on furlough for the first time.
Throughout the pandemic I’ve tried to make the most of the nature around me by spending time walking and visiting parks and natural spaces, but it hasn’t always been easy. Sure, I love walking, but when walking is one of the only things you can do when you leave your house, it can become a bit of a chore. It’s fine if I have a purpose, like I might walk the long way to the shop and back to combine exercise with an errand, but there have been plenty of times over the last year when I’ve really had to drag myself out for a walk just to make sure I haven’t sat inside at home on my own all day (and there have of course also been plenty of times when I have sat inside all day on my own).
When I went on furlough I was worried that I might not feel inclined to keep going out for walks to the same places and could end up staying home feeling bored and lonely, but actually so far I’ve been pretty busy and have managed to get out a lot because I wanted to, not because I had to.
As we both live alone, I’m in a support bubble with my mum, who lives a few hours away down in Bognor Regis. Given all the free time I had on my hands, I decided to take the opportunity to go and visit her this week so we could enjoy some walks and nature together. It’s been hard for us both, living alone and having limited options of where we can go, but we’ve both found that walks in local green areas and by the water (sea for her, harbour for me) have helped a lot through this crazy year. Although we both have some close friends to share these walks with, there’s nothing like sharing our favourite places with each other.
So today we went to visit a local nature reserve, Bersted Park, and I have to say it was like medicine for the soul. Sitting on a bench sipping local coffee and listening to the birds chirping in the trees, spotting swans through the tall grass, breathing in the fresh air, marvelling at the sculptures made of wood and positive messages painted onto stones set into the path. It may not sound like much to some – it’s hardly a wild party or a massive adventure – but this simple burst of nature was just enough to calm and realign me, ready to face the world again.
Read more about Mental Health Awareness Week here and if you have the chance, do try to find the time to connect with nature. If you can, go outside, listen to the birds, look at some flowers, breathe the fresh air. Make the most of this moment, of those around you, and of what you’ve got. It doesn’t have to be grand. Spotting the beginnings of a simple flower on your houseplant may be enough to bring some much needed nature, and hope, into your life.
As part of my Veraflow dance fitness instructor training studies I’ve been asked to look at the question “What is fitness?“. Curious to look at more opinions than my own, I asked my Facebook friends what fitness meant to them, and here are the highlights.
A lot of friends spoke about “having decent energy levels” and “being able to do things“, and interestingly a lot of people mentioned mental health. One friend said “fitness is being able to do what I want to do without wondering if my body can do it“, which I thought just about summed up how I feel about fitness too.
Another friend commented, “fitness helps me clear my mental state after I’ve sat behind my desk at work all day“, and I couldn’t agree more. No matter how bad, stressful or busy my day has been, a session in the gym with my personal trainer or a night of salsa dancing will always make me feel better.
Lots of people referred to having a “better quality of life” due to fitness, and said that fitness is something that makes them happy.
One friend summed it up perfectly, “Fitness is the opposite of that depressing feeling when the hill is too steep, or the bag is too heavy. It’s about being able to enjoy life and the world around us for as long as possible.” Yes. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling abut fitness recently. I’ve been noticing how things that used to be a struggle or make me tired are so much easier now. For example, I went to London for the day last weekend, and I found myself taking the stairs instead of the escalator, jogging up them without a care in the world. Even standing on the escalator used to exhaust me before, but I’m fitter now and much more able.
So what is fitness? It will be something different for each person, depending on your own individual journey. Perhaps for some it’s running a marathon, and for others it’s simply being able to get out of bed each day. For me, fitness is being able to live the life I want to live, being happy and healthy, both inside and out.
What does fitness mean to you?