We’re midway through the 2017 European Week of Sport – a week dedicated to encouraging nations across Europe to be more active. ukactive were chosen to be the UK’s representative organisation for the EWoS #BeActive campaign, which means that we’ve been getting involved in a number of exciting events to help celebrate all the wonderful things that being active can bring!
On Monday 25th September, mental health charity Mind organised the Be Mindful event at the London Olympic Park to highlight the benefits that physical activity can have on mental wellbeing. I was lucky enough to be asked to help out with (and, occasionally participate in) the mindful walks, bike rides, parkour lessons, yoga tasters, and boccia games that were on offer. This meant that most, if not all people who attended tried something completely new.
Trying something for the first time can seem like the biggest hurdle to many people, regardless of whether someone suffers from mental illness or not. Trying a new activity involves stepping outside of your comfort zone, which is why it can seem somewhat daunting to immerse yourself into something new. For a number of those who do have a mental illness, stepping outside of the comfort zone can seem almost impossible; when a haven is built out of familiarity and routine, anything unknown can be the most frightening thing in the world.
While I was at the Be Mindful event, I was witness to people taking the plunge – despite any fears, hang-ups, or negative thoughts. During the parkour class, there were trembling legs and white knuckles clung to ropes, but everyone had the determination to see it through. The most moving moments were when you could see the sense of achievement on people’s faces when they did something they never thought they could ever have done, or seeing the fun people were having when they realised they’d found something they truly enjoy.
When someone mentions parkour, what usually springs to mind is young urbanite gymnasts somersaulting from one rooftop to the next, using the occasional wheelie bin as a springboard. But the class didn’t involve any acrobatics or wheelie bins: it was all about starting small and encouraging people to build their way up. The first challenge was simply to get to the other side of the bridge. The challenges got progressively more difficult, but everyone went at their own pace. It was an active display of how small steps can conquer mountains. This is the best way to approach any new activity, as the prospect of throwing yourself in the deep-end can make it seem all that more terrifying.
I also saw how much trying a new activity can bring people together – whether it’s a group of total strangers or lifelong friends. The adrenaline and the hilarity involved in giving something a go can be one of the best ways to form bonds and reconnect with loved ones.
The spirit of the day was the best we could have hoped for; it was exciting, fun, and a true celebration of all things active. The loveliest part was hearing about how much people had enjoyed the day and the different activities they’d tried. Some people left with the intention of keeping up the activities they’d tried for the first time that day! It’s in this way that a relationship with activity can be ignited.
A ‘new’ activity doesn’t have to be anything wild or exotic. It could just be something different – something you’ve never tried or something you’ve always wanted to have a go at. It could be an exercise class in your local hall or simply adding a few 30-second jogs to your walk each day.
Asides from improved sleep quality and the rush of endorphins that being active can bring, the sense of pride when you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone – and actually enjoyed it – will do amazing things for your mind.