RED January: Active Everyday To Beat The Blues Away

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If you’re on Instagram it’s quite likely you will have seen some people going on about RED January. Maybe you think it sounds like another new year resolution fad like: Veganuary (please don’t shoot me, I’m an animal too) or Dry January, for those pretending that quitting alcohol is hard for them after an indulgent Christmas. Dietary cleanses and detoxes are once again circulating although I’m not in on the scoop of which one is most trendy this year. Are we still on the Whole 30, alkaline and keto “lifestyle change” tips? Either way it seems that whatever direction we turn you can’t help but be faced with lifestyle challenges promising to transform you into a new you and make you feel miraculously better about your shitty life. RED January could fall into this trap if you frame it in such a way, but it needn’t do.

Run Every Day January is a campaign to encourage people to be active on a daily basis throughout January in an attempt to buffer against the blues. Unlike the title suggests, you don’t have to run every day, I think RED January is just easier to market and brand than MED (Move Every Day) January. A lot of people do interpret RED January as another punitive challenge and as such, that you have to run every single day. It isn’t and this defeats the purpose of the campaign. Instead you just move, whether that’s a kick about in the park with your kids, walking to the shops instead of driving, running a Park Run or doing some yoga. You’re not supposed to break yourself over it, it is quite the opposite; it is about prioritising and taking the head space to move your body, connect with your body and in the meantime reap the benefits of moving for your mood.

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There are heaps and heaps of evidence for the positive effects of exercise on our mental and emotional well-being. It is now common knowledge that we can’t avoid to the point of GPs prescribing Park Run for mild depression in patients. Don’t be fooled, it isn’t a cure-all but it is a good place to start in terms of looking after yourself. Despite the accessibility of moving, 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. Let me repeat this. 1 in 3 adults and children in the UK do not get enough physical activity. This is quite shocking and with the benefits of exercising being so vast and varied, it really is an under tapped resource that most of us have.

I don’t mean that in a “no excuses” kind of way. It’s not easy starting to get active from being inactive for a period of time. It’s daunting, it’s hard work and sometimes it hurts but bear with me. Bear with yourself because in the long run you’ll be glad you got up and did it (pun entirely intended).

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There are numerous ideas and theories as to why achieving adequate physical activity is so difficult. Sometimes how we frame the idea of physical activity in our minds can really affect our perception of movement (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Is it an extra and particularly painful chore to fit into our already busy schedules? Or is it a part of your self-care regime? Admittedly, with January being one of the coldest and darkest months of the year often curling up somewhere cosy with a book or a film feels immediately much more appealing. The greater benefits of movement may not be such an immediate gratification, but doing a steady amount will usually provide some hard-earned gratification immediately after exercise. So perhaps, the delay of immediate gratification by 30 minutes isn’t the worst after all.

The health benefits of movement are numerous, particularly for our mental well-being: from providing a protective factor to developing depression and anxiety (Fox, 1999) to increasing our work productivity and performance (Wiese, Kuykendall and Tay, 2017). The best news? You don’t have to go hard or go home; no matter how small or unimpressive you may perceive the achievement and effort to have been, any activity is better than doing none at all: what have you got to lose other than 30 minutes to try and see? (Mental Health Foundation, 2013).

The results from last year’s RED January participants speak for themselves. Last year in a survey of 3000, 87% of REDers felt significantly better physically and mentally after January 2018 from partaking in the challenge. Aside from the RED January challenge and their partnership with the mental health charity, Mind there’s oodles and oodles of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, about the benefits of moving your body.

This isn’t a weight loss message, but a 100% emotional wellness message. Regardless of your size, you DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT before you can get active. There is no prescribed aesthetic or requirement in order to move. If you are concerned about your health impacting your ability to exercise I have added a link to a PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire) here.

The important focus is just to get moving, preferably in a way that’s enjoyable to you. Exercise does not have to be punitive, and in fact, to get the most from working out a healthy push of your limits is encouraged but don’t put yourself off forever. Start small and keep it real. Punishing yourself for eating something, or to look a certain way is not going to harvest the positive results that make you feel good, empowered and emotionally sound. It will only serve to do the opposite.

In this respect, the virgin active ad recently is a good message: Enough.


Sources:

Fox, K.R. (1999) The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health Nutrition. 2(3a) pp.411-418.

Mental Health Foundation (2013) Lets Get Physical. London: Mental Health Foundation.

Wiese, C.W., Kuykendall, L. & Tay, L. (2017) Get active? A meta-analysis of leisure-time physical activity and subjective well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 13(1) pp.57-66.

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Getting Active: Becoming a Kinetic Energetic

In the final stage of starting to get active the focus is on actually starting to move. Feel free to move in any way which suits you and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way when turning getting active into part of my permanent lifestyle.

This stage is called, Becoming the Kinetic Energetic.

Balance Ambition and Attainability

With running, it is tempting to go for straight for the big distances. A training plan says you can run a half marathon in 8 weeks, so why shouldn’t you? If you train hard you’ll get results quickly right?

Unfortunately, fitness isn’t always a direct correlative relationship of input vs results. We are human beings not machines: we can’t force out bodies to stick to a constant progressive plan as figured by an algorithm. Injuries happen. Overuse injuries and obtaining injuries from increasing your exercise load too quickly are very real – and are not something be ploughed on through in the name of ‘mind over matter’.

Our bodies do things that may not fall in line with our plans and ambitions. Being realistic with self expectations and self compassionate throughout your journey will harbour much greater results than literally beating your body up physically in order to run too far a distance in too short a time, or dead lift too many kilograms too quickly – and that’s OK.

I can however, make slow progress in line with how my body adapts. I can gain more than climbing higher grades and running faster miles from my journey. This way I maintain a level of ambition and sense of progress that becomes very enticing from exercising, whilst also respecting my body and capabilities. You can too.

Engage with Online Communities for your Activity

I don’t mean follow a bunch of Instagram models with chiseled muscle definition and a body shape that requires an unhealthy level of obsession to achieve. What I mean is, if you don’t know anyone who wants to get into your activity with you, go find your people.

One way of doing this is the web – Meet Up, and local clubs and Facebook groups are a great place to start. Engaging in an ongoing conversation with others like you about your journeys, encouraging one another is a great source or virtual community. Some members may be inspiring to you, and you never know, you may yourself inspire others.  You may meet up at an event and do it together – there are hundreds of people just like you who have done just that, and for as scary as that may initially seem – you’ll meet some bloody brilliant people.

Together we’re stronger.

Make it social

Working out alone can be a good time to clear your mind, focus on yourself and take time out from your day. For years, I ran solo, I went to the gym on my own, and I only climbed in a group because you kind of need someone to belay you – until I discovered bouldering could become a solitary activity also. I enjoy being alone, and know that not everyone likes being alone as much as I do.

For years I totally underestimated the value of working out with others, undervaluing the greater benefit of running with friends, and enjoying the company of other people in a positive space. Since this bomb has dropped, I regularly go to running crew each week.

It has become a place to forge friendships who share my passions. It has become a place to shake out the cobwebs of stagnation from a low mood in the company of others, a place to celebrate achievements of one another and a safe place of acceptance.

The benefit of human contact on a regular basis is something I never valued, until now. And as an awkward introvert who is usually immersed in swathes of social awkwardness I have found the fitness people, and the running crew to be a very non-judgmental and friendly bunch. It may not feel right with the first group you run, yogi or climb with, but keep trying – eventually a you’ll find yourself a you-shaped space to be the missing piece to a jigsaw of a crew you never even knew about before.

Embrace the Power of Post Exercise Mindfulness 

After a work out take time to sit, breathe and be mindful about how your body and mind are feeling. Just taking a moment to do so gives you time to reflect on where you’re at, how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Is something bothering you? Is there something you want to work on? Is there a niggle in your knee that needs attention? Or are you just feeling totally zen and absorbing as much of that as possible for a moment? Stop to smell the flowers.

Don’t Focus on Weight or Size

Weight loss is a viable goal for many but I would definitely never advocate obtaining a certain clothes size or goal weight to be the main or only reason for incorporating physical activity into your life. It is claimed that weighing yourself regularly can help with weight loss in numerous research papers.

However, focusing on weight alone can become very disheartening and a very damaging relationship with yourself. There is no self compassion or love in weighing yourself every day. This gives the scales too much power.

Use the scales if you need to but don’t enslave yourself to them. They’re a tool and deserve no power in your life beyond that. Be real with the scales and let them be real with you – and leave it at that.

Pushing your physical boundaries can be an emotional journey. Let it.

Pushing yourself, breaking yourself down in order to build yourself up is so much more than a physical journey. ‘Your body is capable, it’s your mind you have to convince’ and this can be a very complicated and windy path of self realisation and discovery.

Sometimes it will be a struggle, other times you’ll smash your own expectations and it’ll feel emotional. You may want to shout or cheer, or even cry – this is entirely OK. Emotions are OK, and pushing yourself in order to break self-inflicted boundaries and  achieving your fitness goals can be an emotional journey. Let yourself own it.

Stop believing in tomorrow. Start today

Tomorrow I’ll start running. Ok, It’s Wednesday and I didn’t go – I’ll start over on Monday. Next week is definitely the day I’m going to start going to the gym. I’ve signed up now, there’s no excuse, other than the excuse you’ll give to yourself when Monday comes.

Sound familiar?

Stop giving tomorrow so much power. The day is today. What can you do today to prepare yourself and take a step in the right direction? It might not be lacing up right now, but maybe it’s thinking of how you could start. Something may be in the way at the moment: work, study or commitments, so tomorrow may be necessary sometimes but put a deadline on it.

After a month of tomorrow’s start switching to today thinking. Tomorrow will be better from the actions you make today. Get yourself out there. Show yourself what you’re made of – and have a bloody good time doing it!


Other Posts in The Getting Active Series:

1. The Preparation Position

2. Find Your Mind

Getting Active: Find Your Mind

Work On Your Mind

It is your biggest barrier and your biggest tool to self realisation and achieving fitness goals is your mind. I’ve said it a few times and I’ll say it again, physical activity and incorporating it into your life can be just as much an emotional and mental challenge as it is physical. Sometimes, you may find yourself stopping mid activity because you think you can’t push any further.

Practice pushing your own self limitations and step a little out of your comfort zone. I challenge you, and see what happens. You may shock yourself. I have certainly shocked myself a number of times.

Find Something You Enjoy


Don’t vow to run 4 times a week if the magic of running hasn’t struck you. I would encourage persevering for a month or two with any activity to see if it grows on  you, but if you’re really not feeling it, try something else. Try getting on your bike, or swimming a few lengths, or an exercise class – of which the variety just keeps on expanding.

Who knows what classes we’ll be attending in 5 years time like we’ve been needing it all our life. I don’t particularly like group exercise classes, so don’t really go or seek to go to them – but for others, they’re a staple to their weekly schedule. Dip your toes in many ponds before diving in completely, getting all the kit and making a plan that you won’t stick with because you’re not enjoying it.

Enjoy Yourself


I’ll tell you a secret – you’re allowed to have a bloody good time whilst working out. You’re allowed to laugh, smile and make friends. All of which help in keeping activity as part of your routine and daily life. Have fun – some of the best times I’ve had, and the best people I have met has been via exercising, and not getting wasted in a club or pub a few times a week: conversely to popular belief.

Do It For a Reason You Believe In


Sometimes we need a bit of external motivation. Getting up in the morning to run can be a challenge. Dragging your arse to your 6am gym class before a full work day can seem like the last thing you want to do when the alarm goes off at 5.30am, but people do it. Hundreds and thousands of people do it, and they do it regularly.

Maybe they have something that we snooze button pushers don’t have – and I think it is a purpose and belief in what they’re doing. It becomes a passion and something you couldn’t imagine not doing. Passing up a few more drinks past tipsy to get up in the morning and feel alive whilst doing sun salutations may seem a bit alien to you right now, but after a few months of reaping the benefit you may not be able to imagine starting your Monday mornings any other way.

Know Your Goals


Know what you want from you activity, and reflect on whether you’re getting it – and how to adapt your schedule and habits until you’re getting exactly what you want out of it. When you do this, you’re more likely to stick with it because it becomes important to you, as important as eating every day and sleeping every night.

In my journey I found focusing my why and purpose of exercising beyond achieving a certain body aesthetic, or fitting into a certain clothes size. With these goals, if you achieve them it can feel a bit like “what next?” or you stop once your goal has been achieved and it’s not really become a part of your lifestyle and if you don’t achieve these set goals within a time frame, it can be very disheartening.

Instead, or as well, have a goal that is immeasurable. Are you seeing your friends through your activity? Are you de-stressing from the day and your worries? Are you trying to replace less healthy coping mechanisms? Are you training for an event to raise money for a cause you care for? Take time to notice the benefit you’re gaining. This seems to cement the “I will feel much better after a run” as a solid memory to recall during times of stress or moments of lacking motivation when running feels like that last thing you want to do – or tennis, or gymnastics, or swimming: whatever your activity of choice is.


Other Posts in The Getting Active Series:

1. The Preparation Position

3. Becoming a Kinetic Energetic

Getting Active: The Preparation Position

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Getting active is and isn’t as simple as lacing up and getting out the door. Sure, to get out the door you just have to get dressed and lace up, turn the handle and put one foot in front of the other. It sounds simple right? Then why is it, that getting active is such an up hill struggle of a habit to establish into our every day lifestyles?

Excuses come up – often behind these excuses there is a reason that is stopping us from putting one foot in front of the other. Instead of inciting Nike and saying ‘Just Do It!’, which can be useful to a degree, it isn’t always an applicable attitude towards ourselves. Just Do It doesn’t harbour self compassion and reflection into why we can’t keep going out the door a few times a week on a regular basis to put one foot in front of the other.

This is a struggle I am well acquainted with. A year ago I swore I’d start running again and get active. It didn’t really happen on a regular basis and become part of my daily habit until February this year. So what was I doing for 10 months whilst I wasn’t exercising – I was engaging with a mental battle in order to get myself out the door to put one foot in front of the other – and I am 100% convinced that I’m not the only person to have undergone a journey just to establish the habit of movement.

I learned a lot during this period of time. I approached my hurdles with a problem solving mind-set, and trialled a number of solutions in order to conquer myself and the barriers that were holding me back from achieving my goal of running and climbing regularly. I have compiled a list of 15 steps that I took and learned of and from during this past year in getting active.


The Preparation Position

In order to decode the puzzle of movement, I have separated the list into 3 phases. In this phase, The Preparation Position, I address the pre-lace up hurdles that I’ve faced and how I’ve managed to push beyond them. Maybe you see yourself in here somewhere, or maybe someone you know.

The Preparation Position is as valid as any other position in our journeys to getting active – in the early days, these can be some of the most important hurdles to overcome in order to develop the habit of movement.

Despite best intentions, plans don’t work out for a reason: Find it

Over the years I have made numerous ‘fitness plans’, ‘exercise schedules’ and penned runs into my diary – which in my mind makes it an automatic commitment because y’know, pen! Until I close my Filo Fax and forget about all my plans, including those in pen.

What I came to realise this year, was that sometimes getting yourself into a routine of physical activity that you enjoy can be quite the process. At first, the excuses come along from every angle knocking you off your well-intentioned uni-cycle and underneath each excuse is a reason. You could opt to pick those excuses up and use them beat yourself up about making pathetic excuses to yourself – or you could take a step back and ask yourself ‘why?’ and therefore arming yourself with something much more powerful than self-defeating talk – you could arm yourself with an inquisitive mind of self-reflection.

Why is it always too hot, too cold, I’m too dehydrated, the roads are too narrow, it’s too dark, it’s too early? When I started asking myself these questions, I got down to the crux of what was holding me back. Most of the time it was anxiety.

I was anxious about being dehydrated and feeling awful.
I was anxious about not having enough energy to complete a run.
I was anxious about running in public and the attention that might attract, or the looks and judgements I might receive.
I was anxious about collapsing.
I was anxious about getting lost or stuck far away from home with no option to get home other than to run.
I was anxious about the discomfort of exercise.

The list could really go on and on and on. By acknowledging these anxieties and validating them I was able to think of solutions.

I began taking water with me for every run, even if it was just 2km around the block until I gained the confidence that I could handle my hydration more effectively. I started slow, and never set off running whilst hungry and realised that if I had more faith in my body it managed my energy availability and usage much more effectively than I gave it credit for. I chose to stop caring what others thought and felt about my body – I exercise for myself and no-one else.

So if you’re finding yourself reeling off excuses to yourself and others about why you don’t exercise despite wanting to get active – ask yourself why. The real why, and don’t be ashamed of the answer – by doing so you’re already a step ahead of where you were when you accepted your excuses.

Start Simple

When I first tried running and felt that god-awful burn in my lungs coughing up that metallic blood taste on my first try I decided running wasn’t for me. Instead I went to a big patch of grass and said I would just move vigorously and enjoyably for 30 minutes. I had music and I danced. I did some side steps and waved my arms around and just generally learned to enjoy movement of my body again. This is what I imagined discovering the idea of play for the first time would feel like – it was a freeing and liberating decision to just not care.

It’s perfectly fine to go gentle, it’s perfectly fine to not know which activity grabs you straight away. Embarking on a fitness lifestyle change can very much be a journey about discovering and learning about yourself in new ways that don’t occur otherwise. You learn to push your limits, make peace with your body and mind, and appreciate what your body can do.

Take it slow

Initially there was no purpose or method to my movement other than to move and enjoy it, which is purpose enough. I learned that I felt better for doing it, and I kept on until I felt a genuine urge to try running.

Don’t force yourself to do something you hate. Don’t listen to the media about how you should and shouldn’t exercise. You don’t need to go to the gym and lift or run Kms if you’re not ready. Boogieing around your house for 5-10 minutes is a perfectly good start place as any. Be flexible with yourself. Be kind to yourself.

Make it manageable and really put focus and energy on enjoyment, and the fact that you just did it was enough. No pressure for a distance. No pressure to get better. The focus became doing it for the fun of it, the good of it and essentially, the sake of it. Without trying, it will become easier.

Reframe Your Thinking

At 15 I started running because I thought I was fat. I felt like I needed to lose weight. My internal narrative during running at that time went something like,

“keep moving you fat bitch’

‘don’t stop, you’re pathetic’

‘youre so fat, that’s why you have to do this, youre disgusting, keep going you fat pig. you deserve this as punishment for eating’

In those 3 snippets of self-talk it is very evident that I wasn’t coming at myself from a place of compassion. This narrative enforced exercise as a punishment for just being. I did have an eating disorder at the time, so I’m not sure if this is actually an extreme example of negative self talk or if this is the average inner monologue if you’re dissatisfied with yourself.

Exercising as punishment isn’t healthy. Exercising to bring yourself into a constant energy deficit isn’t healthy. I managed to stick at it for a while – because I was unwell and the hatred was so ingrained. Unsurprisingly and much to my frustration, my running habit never lasted. I would never advocate anyone talks to themselves in this way, so why is it acceptable to talk to myself like this? It’s not, I deserved better and you deserve better.

It has taken a long time and may be a whole other journey to learn to love yourself, but through learning to love myself I have an entirely different narrative. It is one of self encouragement, self compassion, and self value.  Sometimes, I even hear my own voice as if it is a cheerleader, cheering myself on. So even if I’m running to that tree on the horizon with my face screwed up I will, somewhere within that creased up face, be smiling. I made it. I’m doing well.

Practicing self compassionate self talk in all areas of life helps build the habit of self-love, which can over-spill into when  you’re running up a hill that  isn’t even steep but is making a bloody big difference to the burn in your legs, the depths of your breath and getting up it is a challenge. Accept the challenge. Embrace the challenge. And congratulate yourself on even taking on the challenge. You’re allowed to feel good about yourself.

Address Health Barriers: Physical and Mental

Some barriers to engaging in an active lifestyle can be overcome with some motivation and positive self-talk and validation. There are some barriers that are physical, maybe you have a dodgy knee that needs specific attention to heal and function well? There is no use pushing through injury to strain your body further – although, maybe getting the medical and physical help you need to heal it would be a positive first step.

Maybe you’re nervous because you’re worried about the effect of exercise on you whilst  taking a medication – it is perfectly fine to seek advice on this. Pharmacists are great for this kind of thing, and massively underrated. They know their shit!

Currently, my meds can make me pretty thirsty, so I often drink a lot pre-workout and during if I can. Sometimes I feel like I’m a camel prepping to trek across the desert for 3 weeks but it helps and as a result it doesn’t stop me working out. If you’re feeling really depressed, then addressing that before you can exercise may be the way forward. Sometimes you need to improve your mood in order to exercise and improve your mood.  It seems odd, but when you contemplate sitting in your own urine because going to the toilet seems like too much of an ordeal, exercising is pretty much not going to happen. This is OK. You deserve help. We all need help in order to help ourselves sometimes. We can’t conquer ourselves on our own.

Most importantly, in this first stage of prepping to get active, you’ve taken the first step even if you haven’t laced up yet. That’s worth celebrating. Every little thing is worth celebrating and acknowledging. It’s not easy, and you can do it.


Other Posts in The Getting Active Series:

2.  Find Your Mind

3. Becoming a Kinetic Energetic