Physical wellbeing | Education Support Partnership

Physical wellbeing

Your physical wellbeing is key to your mental performance. The stronger you are physically the better your mind and body will work. Chess master Garry Kasparov swears by his exercising routine to keep his brain in shape.

Exercise also affects our mental and emotional health which in turn increases the performance of our prefrontal cortex (rational brain).  Exercise can help stimulate parts of your brain that aren’t as responsive when you’re feeling depressed. It also produces serotonin and dopamine which are our feel-good chemicals, as well as giving us a sense of efficacy and achievement.

We can feel better by going for a run or playing a game of tennis or even by stretching our arms into the air for as little as a minute. It also helps stop our internal dialogue that can be so unhelpful by turning the dial down on some of our errors in thinking like catastrophising. labelling (e.g. I’m stupid) or blaming self or ourselves (e.g. it is all my fault or it is all his fault). These types of thinking come from our emotional brain and physical activities reduce this and boost our prefrontal cortex. It is like putting up a big stop sign to the things we tell ourselves that are unhelpful, erroneous and reduce our ability to perform.

In addition, the links with physical health and exercise are indisputable.  We cannot control some of things that may affect our physical health or our genes but what we can do is significantly influence them by keeping fit and building our physical resilience.  

It is also worth being aware that people who physically exercise are also more likely to reduce eating, smoking or their alcohol intake. It works as a ‘Keystone Habit’ (described in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habits) i.e. where one habit creates many others.  

Here are some top exercises but the headline is to exercise three times a week for 20 minutes or more, ensuring that some of this is cardiovascular.  

  • Walking is simple but powerful.  It can help raise your heart beat, change your mood, burn calories as well as getting you out in nature
  • Swimming is a great work out which puts less pressure on your body.  It can also be meditative as you move through the water
  • Strength Training burns calories and builds your muscles to keep you fit and healthy.  As you get older you should incorporate some strength training into your exercise routine to keep your body strong
  • Tai Chi/Yoga or Pilates; these are good for stretching, toning, building muscle and good for the mind
  • Kegel Exercises; these exercises strengthen your pelvic muscles and prevent incontinence as well as improving your sex life for both men and women
  • Walk or run a mile a day with your class or students or introduce 5 minute aerobic sessions to boost the energy in the classroom; it will keep you healthy and is likely to boost performance for all

How to stick to it

  • Exercise with a friend
  • Reward yourself for sticking to your plan (not with unhealthy snacks or other things!)
  • Remember many types of daily chores or activities are good exercise like gardening or running around after children
  • Find things that you love or like otherwise it will be an uphill struggle
  • Get it into your routine, so it becomes a no brainer like brushing your teeth i.e. you do not have to think about doing it.  As Charles Duhigg states in his book, The Power of Habits, if you can integrate exercise into your routine, it will become part of your automatic brain and you will do it without thinking.  E.g. I come home from work I put on my running shoes

In their book Be Bullet Proof James and Simon Brooke state “Our thoughts and feelings become encoded in our muscles and continue to send signals to our brain for some time after the initial incident….notice how when you stretch out your muscles you feel better…we know that we tend to feel better if we stand in a more confident way…most people say they feel better when they smile.  Tense and highly-strung people often appear to carry a lot of physical tension in their body”. (p.227)

Ben Michaelis, PhD, a psychologist in New York City says, “you can become mentally tougher by becoming physically stronger, through cardiovascular exercise. The data indicating the link between physical and emotional health is airtight at this point. This is why I often suggest that people who want to build their emotional resilience begin by strengthening their endurance either through running, which I personally believe (and there is data to support me on this) is the most natural form of exercise for human beings, swimming or cycling.” (Quoted in Alice Wharton’s article Recovering Resilience in Huffington Post)

What can you do if you are feeling overwhelmed:

Ask yourself: