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A healthy mind in a healthy body

The idea of the connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body was further strengthened recently with the release of a research paper via the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The research, which reviewed thirty-nine existing studies, focused on the way in which staying fit and healthy could help to stave off brain degeneration, particularly in the over 50s.

Interestingly, optimal levels of exercise identified consisted of a mix of aerobic and muscle training activities. Apparently muscle training helps to improve both memory and the brain’s ability to plan and organise whilst aerobic exercise helps areas such as thinking and reasoning.

Before you sign up to those gym classes, it’s worth noting that carrying out the required amount of exercise to help brain power needn’t be all that taxing. For example, simply carrying a heavy shopping bag could count towards muscle training, whilst walking or cycling to work could be enough to tick the aerobic box. Of course that does depend on individual circumstances so if you work from home and have groceries delivered you may have to think again about your exercise regime.

Commenting on the survey Dr Justin Varney from Public Health England highlighted the way in which even ten minutes of exercise can prove beneficial. However, he also pointed out that we’d be better off undertaking 150 minutes of exercise each week as this has been shown to cut the risk of dementia and depression by a third.

Whilst exercise is good at any age, the report’s authors highlight the particular link between exercise and brain health in the over 50s. One of the authors from the University of Canberra commented that the results were ‘convincing enough to enable both types of exercise to be prescribed to improve brain health in the over-50s.’

Apparently exercise can be good for brain health even in those who have already started to show evidence of cognitive decline, perhaps making it a complimentary treatment for those who are suffering in the early stages of dementia. Adding to the mix is the fact that physical activity has also been shown to help to reduce the risk of certain conditions including some cancers and type II diabetes.

Having said that, the level of exercise undertaken has to be appropriate for the individual. Suddenly moving from a sedentary lifestyle into marathon running whilst dressed as a weightlifter may not be the best of ideas! Starting out with a health check up or taking advice from a health professional such as a sports physiotherapist may help to identify what options would best suit an individual.

Another option may be to contact local sports clubs, many of which now offer social sporting activities for older people. Sports such as walking football, kick golf and rambling rugby are all growing in popularity and can be a great way of getting fit whilst maintaining an active social life; another identified brain booster. The importance of staying fit in order to help to boost brain health shouldn’t really be a surprise; but when studies such as these come along to highlight the benefits to be gained from even a moderate amount of exercise, perhaps a time that we all looked to stepping up the desire to stay fit.

Supporting health in the workplace

In our last article we examined the challenges facing the baby boomer generation and the way in which employers can help them to remain in the workplace. Now we are moving on to look at some of the ways in which employers can help all employees to stay on top of their game.

Our article has been prompted by a workplace mental health review which has recently been launched by Prime Minister Theresa May. The review which is to be led by Lord Dennis Stevenson, formerly chair of HBOS, and Paul Farmer who is the Chief Executive of Mind aims to promote best practice concerning mental health issues within the workplace, reduce discrimination, and work with industry to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

The workplace review is part of a wider package of measures which also aims to improve mental health provision for young people within schools and colleges as well as improving the way in which mental health issues are approached within the NHS. Facing up to mental health problems within the workforce is vital if we are to remove stigma and help people to receive the treatment and support which they need. As the Prime Minister commented “mental well-being doesn’t just improve the health of employees, it improves their motivation, reduces their absence and drives better productivity too.”

But mental health is only one area in which employers can better support employees. Health and safety regulations may require employers to ensure the safe provision of equipment, including desks and chairs, but there are plenty of other ways in which employers can help employees to stay fit and healthy.

For example, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has recently highlighted a January fitness programme launched by physios at the South Warwickshire NHS trust. Following on from an earlier initiative in which they produced a thirty minute workout which staff working at the trust could use to boost their fitness over the period of one month, the new Workout at Work programme aims to help staff to stay fit through the busy winter period.

Of course the South Warwickshire NHS trust has the benefit of physiotherapists on the premises but other organisations could follow their lead by organising a staff fitness program in conjunction with a local physiotherapist or fitness trainer. Other options could include the provision of a chiropractor for those staff who are on their feet for lengthy periods of time or even simply providing staff with access to a health nutritionist who could provide guidance on the link between nutrition and physical and mental well-being.

Finally, never underestimate the importance of basic hygiene practices such as sanitising shared equipment and deep cleaning restrooms and kitchens on a regular basis. This, taken alongside the policy of ensuring that staff who are sick stay at home to avoid infecting others can make a measurable difference to the overall health of the workforce.

It’s only January and already we’ve had reports of health resources being stretched well beyond capacity with the government looking at removing the four hour A&E treatment limit for non-urgent cases. Supporting health in the workplace is one way in which employers can play their part in helping to improve the overall health of the nation and reduce the strain on the health system.

Celebrating World Mental Health Day

Despite all of the positive work which has been done over recent years, when it comes to discussions about mental health it is still all too easy for them to be to be clouded in misinformation or somehow seen as being something shameful. In many walks of life mental issues are simply not talked about or in some strange way are seen as being part of home life and therefore playing no part in the world of work.

It’s hardly surprising; after all it’s not so long ago that stress was seen as being a personal failure rather than a product of working conditions. But the fact that it’s not surprising doesn’t make it right. That’s why World Mental Health Day which is celebrated on 10 October each year is so important. It’s a chance to raise awareness of mental health issues across the globe as well as providing “an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.”

Although World Mental Health Day is a global event, it also provides an opportunity for individuals and businesses and healthcare providers to speak up and share what they are doing in the field of mental health. For example, the Bank of England has released a video in which its staff speak out to help to end the stigma around mental health issues. Called ‘This is me’ the video highlights the personal stories of some of the people who work at the Bank of England.  It is hoped that their testimony will help others to seek help if they need it. The bank’s actions also reinforce a pledge which they signed in 2013 as part of a time to change initiative.

World Mental Health Day is designed to raise general awareness and promote discussion but it also seeks to highlight one particular aspect of building help or awareness each year. In 2016 the overall theme is psychological first aid. Covering psychological and social support, psychological first aid aims to help those who may come across people who are distressed or in crisis, helping individuals to understand how to act and what to say as they essentially provide front-line support.

Those who may be called on to give psychological first aid could be in the emergency services or in the health sector, in education or business, or they may even be a passerby who has encountered a crisis situation. Whoever they are, by providing appropriate early intervention they could help to alleviate the immediate crisis; with advanced support then being provided by health and mental health and social service professionals.

The general information provided on the World Mental Health Day website is well worth a browse but the essential message which society needs to take on board is that mental health has to come out of the shadows and be accepted as a normal part of everyday life. Whatever the cause, whether it be stress or anxiety, addiction or any other sort of ongoing condition; being able to talk openly and with acceptance is an important step in ongoing management or recovery.

That’s why steps taken by organisations such as the Bank of England are so important; they help to open up debate and to remove stigma. But it’s up to all of us, whether we are in the health sector or not to play our part in reducing the stigma and discrimination which for too long has been faced by those with mental health challenges.

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