We all have mental health, just as we have physical health, and for the most part we can gain and maintain good mental health in the same was as we do with physical health. So, here's my 5 reasons why cycling is good for mental health:
1. It gets you outdoors
Getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine is healthy, it feels like you're blowing away the cobwebs, looking beyond the concerns of your mind and finding strength in nature.
2. It focuses your mind
I believe that exercise is as good for your mental health as it is your physical. When I'm cycling my mind is focused on what I'm doing and so it becomes clear of everyday clutter and worries.
3. Your own pace, your own time
Cycling is low impact, you can get fitter without putting too much strain on your body and you can do it when and where you feel comfortable. I find it far easier than running and more enjoyable than feeling like I 'have to go to the gym' :)
4. Positive Vibes!
It changes my mood. I can wake up feeling low in energy and mood but if I make myself (and sometimes I really have to make myself!) get outside and out for a ride, by the time I return I'm buzzing and extremely glad I went.
5. Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
It's a step towards a healthier mind and a healthier body which will build your confidence, the two go hand in hand quite often and one will definitely help the other.
So, why not give it a try?
You don't have to already be fit to take up cycling. It is a good activity for those wanting to start on their fitness journey and is becoming very popular these days, with more and more people realising the health benefits. I started off on an old mountain bike we had in the garage. To begin with I went around the block and took it in the car to places that were very safe for cycling. Gradually, my confidence and ability grew and now I am doing rides that would have seemed crazy to me at one point!
Take your time getting into it, be safe, don't take risks, go at your own pace and above all, enjoy it!
I hope to publish more posts on how I got into cycling, beginner tips etc. Please let me know if there's anything you'd like to know about. For now though, thanks for reading!
Going Vegan can feel, and be, difficult initially as you are changing some deep set habits and your taste buds. Doing it gradually and not being too restrictive on your self helps. For me, it was a slow but sustainable change. Almost without realising it I ended up vegan and have never felt or ate healthier than I do now! So here's my five ways to make going vegan easier:
1. Find Plant Based Snacks
We all have moments where we want to eat some cake, tuck into something hearty and heart-warming or simply just dip into whilst we watch a film, so knowing what your go-to snacks and treats are going to be will stop you reaching for animal products and overly fatty or processed food. My go-to's are toast and hummus or jam, cereal and rice milk, dairy free yoghurt, ginger nut biscuits (if vegan), oat and honey bars.. I'm not saying these are healthy but if you can find plant based (and preferably healthy) snacks then you'll have your 'comfort' moments covered :)
Read the First 3 Changes I Made When Going Vegan
2. Use CRON-O-Meter
CRON-O-Meter is a great tool for keeping track of the nutrition in what you're eating. If you want to make sure you're getting all your nutrients on your plant based or vegan diet, click here to check out CRON-O-Meter. Also, here's a video showing how easy it is to get all your nutritional needs on a Plant Based diet, using CRON-O-Meter as a tracking tool:
3. Start the day right, preferably with fruit
If possible, eat or drink fruit first thing in the morning. There's plenty of smoothie ideas online and if rushed, blend it, bottle it and drink in during your commute. Or start with a glass of fruit juice or shop bought smoothie then follow with a bowl of oats or cereal. When you've got time start the day with a green juice, that feels really good!
4. Don't be too restrictive on yourself
I don't believe in counting calories or setting yourself unrealistic goals. Sustainability is the key here. There's no point attempting to be healthier in a way that means you're only going to continue for the next 6 weeks or 6 months! Our bodies respond to consistency so play the long game. Don't try to be too 'pure' about it, it's better to be eighty or ninety percent plant based and stick with it than try to go 100% and drop off a few weeks or months in. I don't say this so that you can 'treat' yourself have an excuse to 'fall off the wagon' but so that you will develop a mindset that doesn't think in terms of wagons, treats and diets. Think Whole-foods, Plant Based and eat plenty of the good stuff so that your body is nutritionally satisfied.
5. Keep it simple
Eating Plant Based doesn't have to be a dramatic change or mean buying a whole bunch of fancy new ingredients (unless you like cooking!) There is a lot of easy foods out there that are simple and quick to cook, fill you up nicely and taste great! Veggie burgers, frozen veg, soups, potatoes (baked/roasted/boiled/mashed). I make a lot of stir fry style dishes with rice as that's straight forward. For getting salad in, buy some wraps, a bag of mixed salad leaves, cook up some rice (or buy the microwaveable packet type), throw in a tin of mixed beans and anything else you'd like, maybe a salsa or sweet chilli sauce and make your own burritos! It can be as simple as having your usual Sunday roast but leaving the meat off, or initially simply cutting the amount of meat down and increasing the amount of veg. Roast veg is always delicious! You can still have a cooked breakfast on Saturday, just make it veggie sausages, mushrooms, hash browns, fried onions and baked beans. Add a couple of slices of toast and enjoy. On a healthier note, how about rice with a stir fry mix of peppers, mushrooms, onions, sweetcorn and anything else you want to throw in?
Thanks for reading, happy eating!
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"Everything was impossible until somebody did it" - Scott Dinsmore
I just did my biggest day ever on the bike. 127K in a day! Up until now, my longest ride has been 64k, this is twice that long and I want to talk about it. Aside from this being an awesome achievement for me I feel that it holds a valuable message on mental strength which inspires me, motivates me and I hope it will you too.
We never set out to do 127k, we were going to cycle into London and then, most likely, get the train back out. As we were approaching the train station I was getting more and more tired, I just wanted to reach the station and enjoy a warm, relaxing ride back home. My legs were aching, I felt I couldn't go no further.
We reached the station and a big sigh of relief escaped me as I slipped off my bike feeling like I had completely reached my limit.
We quickly realised we would have to wait more than an hour for the train which would mean us getting home a lot later. We could do this. Or we could ride the distance. I don't know what exactly it was but I decided let's ride. I want to do this. Maybe it was a combination of the beautiful pink and orange sunset out toward the west, the knowledge that I had already done so much, what would a bit more be and the desire to simply give it a go and see what happened.
Either way, I decided to go for it and so we left the safe option of the train station and set off into the night, it was already getting darker by then. Another couple of hours on legs that had once felt like they simply couldn't do another rotation but by the time we neared home those little legs were spinning around as if independent from my then quite worn out mind.
You could say I was physically fitter than I thought I was but I believe that I managed this ride because I am mentally stronger than I thought I was. Those legs kept going another two hours because my mind decided to do it. My body is as fit as my mind believes it is.
It amazes me that I had felt so tired when I arrived at the train station, if asked then I would have thought I could go no further, that THAT was my limit. I had reached my limit, my boundary, my breaking point and there was no more fuel left in the tank.
But there was. There was two hours worth of fuel and by pushing past that perceived limit, I had raised my game to a whole new level. I had gained new found confidence in my abilities. I had opened up new possibilities for myself and my aim to ride from London to Paris just got a little bit closer.
I slept a lot afterwards, mind and body having given all they had, until that limit gets pushed ;)
Perhaps this post hasn't been the most interesting to read but I wanted to put this experience down in writing because it was the day I broke past the limits I had been putting on myself both mentally and physically. It was the day I gained confidence, self-belief and some truly epic memories.
Follow my journey on..
YouTube: Plant Based and Positive
Strava: Sarah Vickers
This September I will be cycling from London to Paris to raise awareness of what is possible even if you are currently struggling with Anxiety, Panic Attacks and other forms of Mental Health.
This isn't a charity ride or sponsored, I'm doing this to mark how far I have come, to share the tips and techniques that have helped me and inspire others to become the best version of themselves.
We all have mental health and it operates much the same as physical health. We have a lot more control over it than we think we do, we just have to maintain a sustainably healthy lifestyle, putting the best fuel we can into our bodies and doing the best we can to eliminate stress on our bodies.
Obviously there are certain health issues where we can do very little to alleviate but I am talking generally here and focusing mainly on Mental Health issues such as Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Depression and so forth, all of which I think can be helped, and in the main avoided, through natural methods with changes to what we eat, think and do.
A bit of back story:
I used to get very, very anxious and have panic attacks plus lots of other side effects of that. I went to the doctors over it but I didn't want to accept a label and think “I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder” or “I live with a Panic Disorder” and so on and then go down the route of recovery, therapy and all these other words that just made me feel like there was something 'wrong' with me.
Truth is, there wasn't anything 'wrong' with me, nothing was disordered. I was just extremely run-down, worn out. You could argue that that meant there was something wrong and that having a diagnosis and going down the route of therapy and recovery and medication and all that is extremely helpful. I'm not saying it isn't.
What I believe is that simply looking on mental health issues as something that we 'struggle' with or 'suffer' from or 'have to live with' or 'are in recovery from' is putting a negative view on it and weakens us mentally because we feel that we are not 'normal' and 'not capable' of things and so we feel like a victim of something that is bigger than us and we accept help from those we think have the answers but in reality we have FAR more control over our mental health than we think we do.
I found that making dietary and lifestyle changes had a MASSIVE affect on my mental health and now three years later I have very little anxiety and have not had a panic attack in those three years.
What I did to get from where I was to where I am now is what I want to share with you, and raise awareness of, over the next few weeks.
Please follow my progress and help me share my story - Thank you :)
What was the first step I took to heal my mind?
I stopped, I rested, I relaxed. I prioritised my health. I took some time out and I was kind to myself, my body and my mind. I did this in my own home. I didn't go anywhere special, or adopt any specific routine (mainly because that wasn't really an option), I just allowed myself to sit with everything and absorb it all.
This, I believe, is very important. To heal anything you must rest. My own experiences and those of others has led me to believe that rest for the mind and body is crucial to preventing or curing anything.
Sleep is one of the main ways in which we rest but in this post I want to focus on resting whilst awake. Taking time out to 'just be', to make time for conscious breathing, relaxation, reflection and doing nothing.
I realised that trying to hold up the image that 'everything was fine' or simply 'push on' with life was not going to help. To continue on the current trajectory was not an option. It was hurting me and it was hurting those around me. It was stressful. I was stressful. Something had to change. Quite simply, I couldn't do this anymore.
To emphasise this I had a car accident, I ended up on a spinal board with a head brace (precautionary measures because I couldn't move my neck) in the back of an ambulance. Thankfully it turned out to be bad bruising but it was enough to send me a strong message that I needed to stop. Right. Now.
I felt awful. I felt like I had disappointed everyone around me, I felt a failure, I felt like I wanted to hide. And I did. I hid and whilst hiding from the world I reached out to anyone and anything that spoke to the depths of myself, that seemed to understand, that inspired, motivated, encouraged, resonated..
I watched ted talks on youtube, I watched documentaries about the earth, nature, how we're made. I read and read quotes about anxiety, panic, solitude, people, society and SO much more to connect with those who had spoken these wise words and knew what I wanted to know. As a result I found some interesting people.
I read about anxiety, about the mind, the body, what did the ancient people used to believe? What did our ancestors believe? What was natural for us? How were we supposed to live? What was wrong with our society? Why did anxiety happen? What was going on, really going on, in life?
I peeled back all the layers and connected with my soul, my spirit.. I had a desperate desire to 'get rid of everything' and reach the source. I loved the idea of simple humanity, connection with others and with the earth, with nature.
It was not answer enough for me that I had a variety of 'disorders' that I 'suffered from', 'struggled with' and therefore had to learn to 'live with' or 'cope with'.
In the depths of my being I believed that there was a reason why this was happening and this was my chance to understand, to learn and to really, truly connect with my body. I didn't know how but I knew that although I was in a dark place, I was on the verge of something very exciting.
I had been bought up to believe that mental health was not an issue with labels and diagnoses, it was a natural part of health, wellbeing and life.
It was okay to not be okay.
So I rested. I relaxed. I reflected.
Rest created a breathing space for my mind. A space in which to step back and deal with this influx of emotions. A space in which I cried, slept, thought, writhed, wrestled, loved, laughed, talked, wrote, listened, watched, learnt, went forwards, backwards, sideways, sat, walked and spent a lot of time 'zoned out'. This period of complete rest didn't last that long but it was intense. Intense rest.
I had it somewhat enforced upon me but as it says in the twenty third psalm “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”. He maketh me. I am thankful for that.
Four years ago I was sat in a doctors surgery having a blood test and talking about why I was having severe symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety. Why did I feel out of control, scared of myself? Why did the doctor have to hold my arm to the table in order to keep it steady enough to take blood? My arm was shaking uncontrollably. Why could I not control that? Why did my neck freeze up sometimes with an excruciating sharp pain?
I told him of my depressive thoughts, my panic attacks, I told him how I had completely lost it.
He referred me for CBT sessions. I met the therapist, she was nice. I told her lots of things. She told me one thing, just one thing:
“I think you already have the answer inside you. You're a strong woman, I think you can do this yourself.”
Hearing a stranger, someone who didn't know me, say those words deeply affected me. Deep within me there was a little voice that frequently screamed “you are not like this, this is not you, you are better than this”. Her words found this little voice and answered it. I am forever grateful to her insight, her ability to see through my crazy, to see past all the barriers I'd put up, the stories I'd told myself and to place the control firmly back in my hands.
Yes, I was currently out of control but I knew this wasn't me. So who was I? And how was I going to become that person?
These questions were much too big to be answered right then but I vowed that if I was going to deal with this, then I was going to do it myself. That sounds brave but in reality I was at my wit's end. I could do CBT sessions but in all honesty, I wanted more than that. I didn't want to learn how to deal with situations, how to cope with anxiety. I wanted to stop. Listen to my body. Understand what on earth was going on, why it was going on and rebuild my life in a way that felt true to me.
It's hard to explain and I have great appreciation for the many ways in which one can deal with mental health issues but for me, going this route gave me a sense of control, a sense of purpose.
These days my anxiety is very, very low. I have not had a panic attack in 3 years. I am cycling, running 5k's. I'm currently training for a London to Paris ride in September. I eat a plant-based diet and have never felt healthier.
I have created Plant-based and Positive to share what I have learnt and am still learning, in the hope that it might help others to find their way to better health and fitness of both body and mind.