Keeping Active – Why Exercise is Important for a Healthy Body and Mind

The end of Work/Life Week is here and what better way to see it off than some fresh tips to help manage your wellbeing around the testing and ever changing parameters you find yourselves in at work. The focus this week was to highlight the importance of prioritising your health and wellbeing, giving yourself the room to breathe wherever you can. Constant work and not leaving time for yourself can drain even the best of us, so it’s important to know the different steps you can take to ensure you’re equipped to deal with any negative emotions. There are things for us all to reconsider and evaluate during these uncertain times it’s important to adapt and take the necessary steps for a better quality of life. Anyway, here are some tips from SAS Personal Trainer Ed to close off a very thought provoking week:

“Keeping Active – Why exercise is important for a Healthy Body and Mind”

by Ed Gladstone SAS Personal Trainer and former PE Teacher.

We all know that exercise is good for us. On any given day you can find examples of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in mainstream media. Whether its reading about it in the newspaper, on social media, hearing about it on the radio or watching TV programmes dedicated to it. However, the reality of being able to find time to exercise and stay active is often easier said than done. This is especially relevant to those working in Education. Its not as simple as working 9-5 and then the evening is yours to do as you please. Teaching and School life is demanding beyond the working day, and there are countless scenarios that demand working before and after normal working hours; before and after school clubs, marking, sports teams’ practice, parents evenings (even now with COVID some schools are conducting parents evenings by Zoom calls)…. and yes more marking!!
I have been an active Personal Trainer for over 16 years now and also worked as a PE Teacher for 8 years until joining the team here at SAS. My job is to help those working, like you do, in Schools, Colleges and Universities, find what works best for YOU to be able to find time to keep both your body and mind in good order. As each facility is different, with so many different job roles there is no template as such to follow, you have to find what is the best way for you.
So here are a few facts, hints and tips to help you find a good way to balance your Work and Life and stay healthy!!

1- It’s easy to forget that exercise doesn’t have to be gym based or involve hours of blood, sweat and tears. Exercise is defined as any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn calories.

2- There are many types of physical activity, including swimming, running, jogging, walking and eating (ok I made that last one up, but I personally count that as exercise too 😉).

3- Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. It may even help you live longer.

4- Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety through secretion of the hormone serotonin. Also, exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how intense your workout is. It seems that your mood can benefit from exercise no matter the intensity of the physical activity which links back to my point that keeping active and exercising is more flexible than many people think. That extra long dog walk or bike ride with your family you will still be giving your mind a rest from that demanding day at School.

5- Exercise is important in increasing your metabolic rate and therefore your bodies’ ability to burn calories. Essentially, your body spends energy in three ways: digesting food, exercising and maintaining body functions like your heartbeat and breathing. It’s like the bodies furnace, and the fuel used to keep that fire burning is your food intake. Regular exercise has been shown to increase your metabolic rate, which will burn more calories and help you loose weight.

6- Exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones. Incorporating resistance based training with your own bodyweight, bands or weights can stimulate lean muscle growth. As much as I don’t like to think about it too much we’re all getting older (“thanks for reminding us that Ed!” I hear you say). As our bodies age we tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to injuries and generally affect our quality of life in a negative fashion. Practicing regular physical activity is essential to reducing muscle loss and maintaining strength as you age!! Also, exercise helps build bone density, as well as helping prevent osteoporosis.

7- Exercise increases your energy levels, helps your memory and enhances brain function. This is a key factor in staying healthy of mind. School jobs demand a lot from you mentally, and keeping on top of that is important for a happy Work Life balance. Exercise increases your heart rate which in turn encourages increased blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the brain which makes you feel more awake, alert and simply more “with it”.

8- Exercise helps with relaxation and sleep. This applies to the actual quality of sleep you have too, the energy depletion that occurs when you exercise stimulates recuperative processes during sleep as your body rests, rebuilds and recovers. Also, the increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise helps improve sleep quality by helping your body regulate its temperature during sleep.

Nutritional Tips

1- Make a simple breakfast a priority. It’s difficult to rise early, organise the family and get to School on time ready for registration or a before school club whilst also considering breakfast for yourself. So often people neglect the first meal of the day. I believe breakfast is crucial to getting the body ready for the long day. However, you want some quick, easy and nutritious so I have two standard breakfast options, either 200g of Greek yogurt and a teaspoon of honey or a protein shake/smoothie with a banana blended in to the mix which il often prepare the night before. Your body has essentially been fasting for hours as you slumber so your metabolism needs a kickstart to the day.

2- Prepare your snacks to avoid overeating. Time is precious when working in education, break times fly by as do lunchtimes as often the week will be filled with duties so it’s a case of grabbing food as and when you can. Snacking is one habit a lot of people get into throughout the day so that they can get something into their system. It’s easy to rush to the vending machine for a quick fix of energy filled chocolate or a bag of crisps. If you pack healthier snacks the night before you’ll save both calories and monies too. 3 ryvitas or flavoured rice-cakes (BBQ is my personal favourite 😋) topped with toppings such as low-fat cream cheese, ham/chicken breast plus some salad or even a rice pudding or slice of malt loaf are tasty, easy-to-prep, snacks that will keep you sustained till lunch.

3- Drink a lot of water. I know I do tend to go on about this but it such an important part of our diet. We need water (being that our bodies are made up by over 60% of the stuff) and even being slightly dehydrated can affect your energy levels, cognitive ability and productivity. Take your own bottle in to work everyday and set yourself a target of how much water you want to have imbibed by the end of the working day.

4- Choose a lighter lunch. Lunch is likely the meal that most directly impacts those working in Education. You’ve had a busy morning managing students and teaching so when lunchtime arrives, it’s the first time (if you’re lucky and don’t have a lunch duty/club to attend) you will have had to sit down and take stock of the day so far. Quite often school staff will have the option of eating from the canteen, although this has changed in many institutions with COVID measures and eating with your designated class bubble. Whether you’re eating your own luncheon prepared at home or in the school dinner hall, try to choose a light lunch such as a salad with either lean meat, fish or vegan friendly produce (such as quorn) or a small portion of home cooked chilli. A balance of complex carbohydrates and proteins will set you up for the rest of the working day without making you feel too full or lethargic. The sandwich is Britain’s favourite lunchtime go-to staple….try a wholemeal wrap or pitta bread to reduce the calorie count.

5- “Cook ahead”. When you’re preparing dinner after a long day at work, reduce the amount of times you have to do this by cooking ahead. So rather than cooking the exact amount needed for the families’ evening meal, make extra. For example; if you prepare 1kg of beef mince for a spaghetti Bolognese rather than the usual 500g then you can refrigerate or freeze the remainder to be used on another day and therefore reducing the nights you need to cook. If you want to keep your meal choices more flexible, save the foods unflavoured. So if you decided you would prefer a chilli and rice later in the week you simply have to add the sauce required rather than cook from scratch again.
I’m not a fan of the term “food prep” as it conjures up the image of endless Tupperware containers of chicken and broccoli and takes the fun out of cooking and dinnertime in general. A few simple adjustments to the amount you prepare can ease the burden without forcing you to eat the same meal over and over again.

Things you can do at work and at home to keep active

Regardless of how much you exercise, keeping your body active throughout the day helps with circulation, mobility and keeps your focus and productivity levels high. Whether you take 60 seconds to raise your heartrate before your next class arrives or you set yourself a goal to perform 20 squats in the advert break watching your favourite show, the positive effects are cumulative and all contribute to having a healthier and more active lifestyle.
Here are some simple exercises you can incorporate into your day. They take 60 seconds or less and require no equipment.

1- Seated Stretches (hold these stretches for a 10 second count before repeating);

Spinal Rotation- While seated, cross your arms over your chest. Grab your shoulders. Rotate your upper body from the waist, turning gently from left to right as far as feels comfortable. You should feel a tension and maybe slight tightness on both side of your lower back as it stretches out.

Neck Stretch- Keep your head upright. Gently turn your head from side to side. As you turn your head, try to move it past your shoulder. You should feel the muscles on the outside of your neck gradually stretching.

Shoulder and Upper Back Stretch- Hold both arms above your head. Link your hands with your palms facing upwards. Reach as high as possible. You should feel your shoulders and upper back stretching.

2- Arm Circles- Extend your arms out to the side forming a “T” shape. With your arms locked make small circles forward for 15 repetitions. Reverse the direction, making small circles backwards for 15 repetitions.

3- Chair Squats- Simply rise up out of your chair keeping a straight lower back and sit back down again. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
4- Tricep Dips- Sit on your chair with your arms at your side and your feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart. Position your hands so that your palms are down beside your hips. Your fingers should grip the front of the chair seat. Move your body forward off the chair with your arms extended. Your glutes should hover over the floor and your knees should be slightly bent. Your heels should touch the floor a few inches in front of your knees (the further your feet are in front of your knees, the tougher the exercise becomes). Breathe in as you slowly lower your body, hinging at the elbows until each forms a 90-degree angle. Breathe out as you push up to your starting position with your arms fully extended.

ALSO….when you’re desk bound for prolonged periods of time marking, writing reports or lesson planning follow the steps below. Human beings aren’t designed to be sat hunched over a computer for hours on end so these easy steps can help keep discomfort and headaches at bay.

For every 20 minutes of work at your computer, have a short pause. Stretch your hands, wrists and fingers. Roll your shoulders and rotate your neck. Give your eyes a break every 20 minutes, by looking away into the distance for 20 seconds. Every 20-30 minutes, stand up, stretch and move for 20–30 seconds. Keep alert by doing some of the above exercises every two hours.

The Bottom Line

Exercise offers incredible benefits that can improve nearly every aspect of your health from the inside out. Regular physical activity can increase the production of hormones that make you feel happier and help you sleep better. Whether you’re heading out for a short jog, a class in the gym or simply a brisk walk, you will be improving your general health in many ways.
The same applies to watching what you eat and drink. If you have a balanced diet during the week and let loose a little at the weekend then you will be on your way to fuelling your body correctly and keeping your productivity in and out of work at a higher level, without feeling like you can’t ever enjoy a cake or pizza again. It’s all about consistency!!
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. The Work Life balance isn’t always an easy concept, but sincerely hope the tips and information above will help!!
Have a great week

Ed has also been putting his personal trainer experience to good use and helped a number of staff over the past few months with his fitness know-how. Sometimes all you need is a bit of motivation and guidance to work in some good habits as well as the extra push for better lifestyle choices. Recently, we had some feedback from a member of the SAS team who Ed has been supporting on a new fitness journey:

“I was really excited when I heard that we would be offering personal trainer and nutrition support with our policies. I think it is great at SAS that we can access the same wellbeing support as our clients. It’s really reassuring that if I need support, there is so much there I can access. I am really self-conscious about my weight and general body shape and have always felt uncomfortable in a gym or with people around me. I used to be very athletic, what seems like a lifetime ago, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t stick with anything more than a week or two.
I asked Ed if he would be willing to help me and he has been so enthusiastic. It’s easy to see after just one conversation with him why our customers rave about him. Ed is not pushy at all, very encouraging. Ed took the time to understand me, my abilities, my aches, pains and the time I could make available with my work / life schedule.
Ed put together a fantastic plan for me which has really suited me. He adapts it to keep it interesting and checks in to ask how I am getting on (always with a smiley face emoji!). My plan is all home based workouts that I can do, with the materials I have to hand. He’s also helped me understand calories better and how to get the most from my diet.
I have felt immeasurably better in myself since I started on the programme Ed has kindly put together for me. In all I have lost 10” off my bust, waist and hips combined and feel much stronger than I did before. It’s really reassuring to me that I work for a company that is so invested in my health and wellbeing. Thanks to Ed & SAS!”

Go Ed!