Monday, 10 October 2011

Are we more mentally unfit than physically unfit?

Around 1 in 4 men and 1 in 3 women in the UK are obese. 25% of young boys and 33% of young girls are also obese. The gov keep telling us that the numbers are growing despite 'efforts' to reverse this trend. Even though we shouldn't ignore this growing trend, my concern is the apparent decline in our mental fitness. Confused? Check this out.

We all know that we need to eat less and move more (sort of) to lose weight. It is the worst kept fitness secret out there, yet people seem to ignore the advice. Others put it down to motivation, time money...yet if we look behind the reasons, there appears to be something else going on as to why we can't lose weight. First we need to look at other growing trends.

The highest percentage of road rage victims are found in the UK. The UK is the road rage capital of the world with 80% of people being victims. Domestic abuse is also on the rise. Hospitals are seeing an increase in shaken babies. It needs to be stated that this can be seen during times of economic gloom. Alcohol intake and treatment has risen sharply. The number of units consumed doubled between 1997 and 2008. Unsurprisingly, there has been a 24% increase in the number of drink related deaths. Is this all down to the economy? Even if the economic climate makes us feel down in the dumps, why does this make us consume to excess?

People are stressed everywhere we look. But what is stress? If you perceive a situation stressful, you will experience stress as if it were real to you, despite the fact that you are getting worked up over not getting the dishes done. My observation is that we are becoming less able to deal with the demands of day to day life and we are becoming less mentally fit. If you become physically fit, your body is better equipped to resist the physical exertions placed on it. How much of the day is spent on getting our minds better equipped at resisting the stresses of day to day life? We are even now so afraid that our kids can't deal with not winning at sports day that everyone has to win. Getting back to the food issue, we have also lost the fine art of resisting urges as despite economics or finances, there is an abundance of the things which can do us harm. We seem to also have lost the art of saying 'no'. Someone asks if you want some of their deep fried chicken. We are so afraid of hurting their feelings, we would rather damage our own health than speak our minds. Many years ago, someone asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I said, "eerrr, I'm OK thanks." I had to back step and acknowledge my nervous response and tell them that I didn't smoke and for some reason, I gave the impression that I did as I didn't want to appear rude. The parent's of obese kids were asked if they thought their kids were obese. Most said no as they don't want to label their kids. Haven't the parents done that already with their diet and lifestyle?

Obesity isn't about just about being overweight. In my experience, there is always a mental issue that has not been addressed which manifests itself physically as weight gain. Smoking, drinking and now eating are all being used to seek comfort. So it makes sense that the more 'uncomfortable' we feel, the more we will use a 'crutch' that makes us feel better. Education only informs people about the consequences of comfort eating, smoking and drinking to excess. It doesn't deal with the issue as to why we need comfort. Dealing with emotions, managing expectations, negativity, conflict resolution, taking responsibility for your life.....this is what we experience everyday yet we don't even touch these issues. Any youth worker who deals with the 'disaffected youth' will tell you that kids today don't know how to deal with their emotions and feelings and it manifests itself in criminality.

I know plenty of guys who are physically super fit yet can get wound up easily. Footballers spring to mind. I watched a game where a player was moaning about being fouled and the referee not acting on it. He ran up to the ref, showed him the mark from the challenge and said "he got me first look, see!" When have you seen a ref say, "oooh, that looks bad mate. You know what, I think you're right. I'll have a word with him. You'd better get some TCP on it." Yet this is seen by most (not me) as the accepted way to behave. Golfers and gymnasts on the other hand have to be aware of their emotions, then in control of them as they only get one chance to execute a shot or move. They get direct feedback that something wasn't quite right. The flip side is this can make you over critical which also isn't good.

So what do we do? Firstly we need to stop labelling people with mental illness as 'them'. We are all on the same spectrum, just further down. We all have our 'stuff' to deal with. When you get wound up, ask yourself this question. If I had won the lottery, would I care? How much time in the day do we spend unwinding compared to being wound up? How much negative talk do we use? Do you use a vision board or have an end step so you know all the hard work is for a reason? Do have have an anchor to help you put life into perspective when you get mad? I use a picture of my wife and son. Do you meditate? When was the last time you stepped outside of your comfort zone? I believe the balance we need for optimum health addresses all the elements of fitness, not just the physical. Also, most people need to use their mind more than their body, so surely it's worth spending time getting it in shape?

If you have any other ways which you work on mental fitness, feel free to post.


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