By Catriona McAllister, CEO, Jersey Sport
We’ve all been through a difficult, unexpected and challenging year, and just as the days are getting lighter, so we feel a collective lightness beginning to return to our lives. Brighter mornings and evenings may be good for the soul, but how will you take care of your own wellness once you’re expected to be back in the office?
It’s fair to say that many of us have realised we don’t want life to go back to how it was before. Sure, we want to travel, attend large group and sporting events and spontaneously hug anyone we wish, but we’ve experienced an inner shift in how we approach our work-life balance. We can see that flexible working practices, more quality time with family, and daily outdoor activity actually make us feel so much brighter, happier and more productive.
Which poses the question: How do we move forward individually, and as an island, to support our physical and mental health and wellbeing?
It’s worth noting that employers will need to play a huge role in this area. How will large and small organisations support their employees to maintain a certain level of flexibility in their daily life to ensure that the health benefits they’ve gained while working from home aren’t lost? Every islander who’s made significant positive changes to their exercise habits will surely want to continue reaping the rewards of their health and fitness endeavours.
Numerous pieces of research over recent decades have proven that exercise is shown to reduce stress, improve performance, beat fatigue and lead to lower levels of absenteeism. Exercise also plays a part in improving sleep which naturally leads to more engaged, happy and productive employees.
This is the perfect opportunity for us all to evaluate our priorities and make changes that perhaps won’t be easy, but will lay the foundations for decades to come. Ensuring personal and corporate responsibility for mental and physical wellbeing will support Jersey in becoming one of the healthiest and most active populations in the world.
If you’ve been more active than usual during the past year, your priority is no doubt to maintain and improve on your current level of fitness, health and performance, perhaps inspiring others along the way and ensuring your voice is heard within your workplace or industry.
If the past year has been a struggle for you, and you’re not sure where to start with an exercise programme, there are many resources available locally and through social media. The Active 10 app, promoted by the NHS, tracks your daily steps and highlights the benefits of short bursts of exercise in 10-minute intervals throughout the day. The Couch to 5k programme is a hugely popular app that takes participants from complete beginner level (I.e., sitting on a couch!) to being able to run 5km. Locally, there are cycling groups such as HSBC Breeze Jersey and HSBC Guided Rides which cater for less-than-confident beginners, and many other cycling groups who welcome experienced cyclists.
With spring rapidly approaching, giving us a few minutes of additional sunlight every day, and the fact that in Jersey you’re never more than 10 minutes away from the sea, outdoor activity is an easy choice for your daily exercise routine. Whether you choose to walk, run, cycle, skate or simply pop your yoga mat on the balcony for early morning stretches, being active in the sunshine boosts your emotional health as well as your vitamin D levels.
Throughout the dark winter months, it’s very easy to get warm and cosy on your sofa and forget about exercise, but with the lighter evenings, now is the perfect opportunity for family walks – or indeed any kind of outdoor play and movement that gets everybody’s hearts pumping, bringing rosy cheeks and smiles to all.
Getting up early suddenly seems less of a struggle, making pre-work exercise a viable option for many people who were put off by layering up, reflective clothing and head torches! Those who exercise regularly in the morning report higher levels of alertness and concentration throughout the day.
While physical activity and daily movement is essential for a healthy body in terms of cardiovascular fitness, disease prevention, and increased strength, mobility and flexibility, we must not overlook the importance of more gentle activities that provide support for our mental health and resilience. The Asian practice of Qi Gong is a type of energy work which involves specialised breathing coordinated with activity and visualisation. Meditation helps train our awareness to bring about a healthy sense of perspective, while mindfulness helps us to be more present and engaged in whatever we choose to do in that moment. Using an app such as Headspace or Calm can be a great starting point if you’re new to meditation and mindfulness.
Wherever you’re at in your fitness journey, whatever your daily life looks like and however you work situation changes over coming months, one thing is certain: getting outside every day for gentle, moderate or vigorous exercise, is great for your physical and mental health, leading to improved relationships, increased performance and enhanced productivity.
This article was originally published in the Bailiwick Express on 4 March 2021.