Better Bodies, Better Minds

May 28, 2021

The mental health of Canadians has been drastically impacted by Covid-19. According to Statistics Canada, since the pandemic began, fewer Canadians reported having excellent or “very good” mental health. But there’s good news: the Canadian Mental Health Association, Vancouver-Fraser (CMHA-VF) says that regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety. We asked Fitness World’s Fitness Class Director Ingrid Knight-Cohee what small activities/exercises we can do to ease our body and our mind. —Vita Daily

How do you incorporate mindfulness within your routines?

My daily plan always includes establishing the when/where/how of getting in a workout or self-care in some way. Without doing that, I recognize that I’m not at my best and less effective. Depending on my self-scan, I may need a brisk walk, an intense run, or a gentle yoga practice to “reset” and get to a better place, both physically and mentally. I think the goal is to honor one’s body and mind, avoid pushing through injury or self-punishment. I enjoy tough workouts and inspiring outdoor adventures but take the necessary rest days. It’s important to work with where you’re at and go from there, with the aim of balancing a positive mindset and confident energy levels to achieve whatever you want to accomplish in the day.

How do you think fitness and mental health correlate?

When you engage in regular exercise you become more body aware. You gain an understanding and appreciation of how your body and mind positively respond to working out, and the alternatives (i.e. being sedentary, making poor eating choices, etc.) become less desirable. Beyond the physiological and psychological, a workout is often social which has even farther-reaching positive impacts to one’s psyche. A few of the many correlated benefits:

  • You’re better able to recognize muscle tension due to stress, making you more likely to take stretch breaks
  • You acknowledge hunger cues, and aim to properly fuel your next workout, making you more likely to choose healthy snacks
  • You realize that a workout results in better sleep and lower stress levels, so you’re more likely to sustain the habit
  • If you work out with a friend and grab a coffee afterwards, you make that positive connection between working out and experiencing enjoyable relationships
  • The workout itself can be an opportunity to escape worries or even gain perspective on a problem, allowing you to feel that much more focused and at peace
  • You gain strength and grit when you put your body through physical challenge, which translates into mental toughness and resilience

How do you think the updates to restrictions (ie group fitness starting soon!) will impact the mental health of British Columbians?

A return to some aspects of normalcy will have a profound positive impact on the mental health of British Columbians. We are all craving to resume the physical and social activities we so enjoy. These past months of social isolation and limited physical activity options have altered reality for so many in such negative ways, leading to increased rates of depression and anxiety. Reopening and broadening our avenues and opportunities of being physically and socially engaged will most certainly help us return to moving more, resulting in enhanced well-being and a collective optimism about the future. Our team of Fitness Class Instructors have been patiently waiting for this moment and are beyond excited to return to motivating, inspiring and educating our members through fun dynamic classes “in real life” and not just virtually. Our low impact options such as Yogathletic, Weightless Warrior and Body in Balance will resume on June 1. There is social connectivity, satisfying sweat and pure joy found in our studios – we all thrive with togetherness and fitness classes have a uniquely powerful ripple effect on our clubs and communities.

What are some easy exercises you do to ease your mind from stress during the day?

There is a lot to be said for incorporating deep breathing with simple movements. Some of my favorite stress busters are:

  • Shoulder Rolls: A tight trapezius muscle is incredibly common and often leads to headaches. Take 20 seconds to pause and sit or stand tall. Lift shoulders up towards ears while inhaling, roll shoulders back to expand chest, then exhale while pressing shoulders back down. Repeat x5
  • Overhead Reach: This is a wonderful way to flush the body with oxygen that leads to feeling more energized and mentally alert. In a seated or standing position, extend arms towards floor. Sweep arms out to sides and overhead while inhaling deeply, pause in the “Y” position overhead. Draw palms together overhead and exhale while drawing hands to chest or “heart center”. Repeat x5
  • Sit Down/Stand Up: Another terrific energy booster that increases blood flow and a provides a mental break from any seated task. Simply rise up out of a seated position, when standing, place palms on the low back for support and inhale while gently arching the spine and squeezing glutes, return to seated position on exhale. Repeat x5

Do you have a favourite exercise (or stretch, or yoga pose) to relieve stress and boost mindfulness?

Depending on my available time, my two favorites are spinning and yoga. Though a cardio-based activity, spinning incorporates a great deal of mindfulness. You have to continually focus on breathing and technique while imagining your road, and the pulsing beat of a great playlist can make it almost meditative. The best state is that euphoric, effortless feeling of pedaling at 90-100rpm in tempo with a classic hip-hop track. When I don’t have time for the necessary shower after spinning(!) I choose yoga for the beneficial deep breathing and stretching which enhance relaxation and a sense of calm. Even just 10 minutes of a few sun salutations and an opening posture such as Half Moon, truly serves to ground me and reset my intention for the rest of the day.


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