Pathways for positivity: Spring in your step

I hate to harp on about the lockdown, but do you remember when everyone seemed determined to take their few minutes of fresh air and exercise every-single-day, because the freedoms they’d been used to were gone?

And taking the dog for a walk or going for a run added a bit of normality. People looked forward to the routine and the opportunity to see something other than their four walls, escape home, the kids, the pressures of working and living at home. For many it became the highlight of the day, a chance to see other people, even if stopping to speak to them would’ve been frowned upon.

Thankfully, out of lockdown, with the worst of it in the rear-view mirror. I wonder how many of those people kept up with their daily exercise routine. The reason I ponder, is that my pandemic ‘paunch’ is still with me, the excess weight I gained- despite my daily walks during lockdown serves as a reminder of long lazy days, laid on the sofa streaming TV series with one hand rummaging around at the bottom of a grab bag of crisps, a glass of something sweet and fizzy in the other.

As I attempt to wriggle into a cute spring dress, without much success, it’s of little comfort to know it’s my own doing, once the lockdown was over, so were my daily walks, my time taken up with work and other things that felt more important than exercise. It seems I’m not alone in carrying excess ‘lockdown luggage’. A nationwide study in 2021 found 40% of adults in the UK had gained weight, half of those more than one stone, with an average of 7lbs.

I overheard a woman joking with friends how she’d gained two stone during lockdown and was struggling to shift it, she was doing her bit by ‘avoiding mirrors’ and wearing leggings … They all laughed and moved onto another topic. I don’t usually eavesdrop, maybe my ears pricked up, probably because it’s a topic close to my stomach, but either way, I could tell by her tone of voice she wasn’t happy.

Chatting with an assistant at one of the big outlets, he got on to the topic of weight and exercise, having gained three and a half stone over lockdown he’d managed to lose two of those by altering his eating habits and changing jobs to something less sedentary. His mood, outlook, and general demeanour had improved, he was much happier and feeling positive about the changes. He was beaming actually; his enthusiasm and passion was inspiring.

There’s a strong link between what we eat, how we move our body and how we feel internally as well as the way we look externally.

Eating certain foods (and avoiding others) has been shown to slow brain aging by 71⁄2 years and lessen the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 Diabetes. A nutrient rich diet is better for brain function, cognition, and concentration. It leads to less fluctuation in mood and energy levels.

Exercise improves mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and low mood. It improves self-esteem and cognitive function.

There are significant reasons to take charge of what we eat, and the amounts of it. But what if you’ve let things slide? You’re not exercising, and food has become more of a convenience than a nutrient rich meal?

It can be a vicious cycle, you want to improve your diet and fitness levels, but you don’t feel as though you have the mental energy to start…

Here are some super simple ideas to get back on track

1  Prepare a shopping list of meals for the week ahead. It will be cheaper to buy in bulk and there’s generally less waste if you batch cook and freeze the surplus meals. The bonus is that you will have a healthy meal in the freezer waiting if you don’t want to cook

2  Bulk meals with more leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit. To keep the cost down, try tinned and frozen foods which are full of nutrients.

3  Put a date and time in the diary for exercise. Make it feel as important to you, as if it were a real appointment

4  Connect with a friend who might enjoy meeting up with you to go for a walk, bike ride, game of tennis. It’s a good free way to spend time together

5  Drink more water- if you don’t like the taste add a sugar free cordial. Water is good for mind and body. Keeping hydrated is vital for cognitive and physical function

6  Download the free NHS Weight Loss Plan to help you start healthier eating habits, be more active, and start feeling better. Even if the goal isn’t to lose weight, the app has a selection of recipes and easy to follow health tips

7  Be kind to yourself, take things at your own pace. Making slight changes to your diet and exercise routine will soon add up

8  Take a photograph of yourself once a week in the same outfit to track changes in your physical appearance

9  Keep a diary to track how you feel, hopefully you will notice an increase in your mood and self-esteem as you begin to get fitter and healthier which will motivate you to keep going

10  Visit your GP if you feel worried or concerned about significant weight gain or weight loss

We’re lucky enough to have wonderful parks, woodlands, tennis courts and exercise equipment in South Leeds that we can enjoy for free, now the longer brighter evenings are here I’m going to make the most of them and put that spring back in my step, hope you are too.

Shannon Humphrey is a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor Youth and Adult, for more information visit