The journey to becoming an Ironman is more than just crossing a finish line at the end of a race, it’s a lifelong adventure of being the best you can be and improving yourself. Every person’s story is unique and everyone has a different reason for wanting to complete the challenge which is known for being one of the most mentally and physically demanding endurance races in the world. Ultimately, I chose to do it for me, follow through with the commitment to myself, and to prove that the body is much more capable than what we realize. Anything is
This year, “Movember” felt a little different, with all those glorious ‘stashes hidden behind a necessary mask. The constraints of the ongoing pandemic; loss of sport and gym time, along with changes in social structure and interaction can be significant disruptors. It is important that men talk about the elephant in the room and strategies to overcome disruptions to mood and mental health. There is a lot to be positive about and much to consider when looking at ways to improve wellbeing.
Vitamin D and living in the great white north
The change in season in Canada can be beautiful, but with it comes natural changes that can be disruptive. The onset of cold weather and its increased clothing reduces exposure to ultraviolet B radiation and with it vitamin D synthesis. As winter approaches, Canadians become vulnerable to seasonal vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency[i]. Vitamin D is important not just for bone health but also for mood and may be helpful inwarding off depression and seasonal affective disorder[ii]. Both Light therapy and vitamin D supplementation have been found to be beneficial in helping significantly reduce symptoms of seasonal depression and should be considered. As always when it comes to mental health, know when it is time to talk to someone.
Get your groove back
The role exercise plays in improving mood is well documented. Exercise improves endorphin release and helps provide a physical outlet for mental and physical stress. Cross-sectional studies examining 1.2 million individuals in the USA have found that individuals who exercised had approximately 43% fewer days of poor mental health compared to individuals that did not exercise[iii]. This benefit was noted to be maximized in those whose exercise sessions were between 30-60 minutes, three to five days per week. This is where it gets tricky, not everyone is motivated by individual sport activities and pandemic restraints have many searching for new sports and exercise routines that they enjoy while waiting for normal activities to resume. If you are someone who prefers team motivation; consider social or family challenges – this can be a family yoga session or a group 30 minute workout from YouTube. Work with a friend to keep each other accountable. Don’t be afraid to crank the tunes, find your groove and get sweating.
Diet – Food can help restore mood balance
Stress eating happens. There, it’s been said. We know it is a short term solution to a problem that isn’t likely to go away without positive decision making and motivation. Exercise is one very important piece of the puzzle, but it is important to fuel your body with whole foods and avoid refined sugar, trans-fats and calorically empty foods. These empty calorie choices are leached of nutrients needed to support mind and body; specifically the B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D as well as omega 3 fatty acids[iv]. Improvement in consumption in whole foods can help play a part in restoring the balance. LaChance and Ramsey identified a number of nutrient dense foods that are thought to help prevent and promote recovery from depression including seafood such as oysters, mussels and other fish. Plant based foods such as leafy greens, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables including Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower are also important. You are allowed to wander off the path but it is essential, in times of stress and increased need, to fuel your body and mind to help promote recovery and prosperity. You don’t have to swear off sweets or your favourite indulgence but recognize when you are out of balance and look to restore it.
Men’s mental health and overall wellness is celebrated in November. But, you should be sure to take the time to reconnect with yourself and others throughout the year. Social distancing is not the same as social avoidance and recognize when you are in a pattern that doesn’t support you. Rediscover your passion for movement, strength and flexibility and consider using this time to try a new physical activity. Make sure you take the time to check in with your body and fuel it with the right foods and supplements to offset daily stress and anxiety.
[i] Hanley, David, et al. “Vitamin D in adult health and disease: a review and guideline statement from Osteoporosis Canada.” CMAJ 182, no. 12 (2010): E610-E618.
[ii] Penckofer, Sue, Joanne Kouba, Mary Byrn, and Carol E Ferrans. “Vitamin D and Depression: where is all the sunshine?” Issues in Mental Health Nursing 31, no. 6 (2010): 385-393.
[iii] Chekroud, Sammi, et al. “Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1.2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study.” Lencet Psychiatry 5, no. 9 (2018): 739-746.
[iv] LaChance, Laura R, and Drew Ramsey. “Antidepressant foods: an evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression.” World Journal of Psychiatry 8, no. 3 (2018): 97-104.