Exercise can help prevent and treat mental health problems, and taking it outside adds another boost to those benefits

Article written by Scott Lear, Professor of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, The Conversation

*Click here to read the full article*

Article highlights:

  • Mental health problems affect 1 in 5 people every year.
  • Exercise can prevent and treat mental illness.
  • Greatest benefits occurred in those people who exercise 45 minutes or more, 3 or more days per week.
  • Even shorter sessions (as little as 10 minutes) can make a difference.
  • Doesn’t matter what type of activity you do – even active household chores.
  • A meta-analysis revealed as little as four weeks of exercise reduced symptoms of depression in people with major depressive disorder.
  • Higher intensity exercise appears to be more effective than low intensity, but exercise is beneficial at all intensity levels.
  • Exercise results in the release of endorphins (feel good hormones) and endocannabinoids (reduces pain and improves mood).
  • Exercising in nature can further improve mental well-being.
  • People who spent at least two hours in nature over the course of a week reported higher well-being compared to those who had no contact with nature.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is important for many reasons and should not be viewed as a punishment, but rather an opportunity to better ones overall health and prevent future injuries, ailments, and diseases. Regular exercise does more than control weight or aid in weight loss; it also improves mood, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, and combats health conditions and diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, metabolic syndrome, depression, anxiety, arthritis, falls, and many types of cancer. Believe it or not, exercise can also be fun and a great way to socialize.

Most healthy adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. For those who claim to not have time to exercise, “Exercise snacks” which are very brief (≤ 1 minute) bouts of vigorous exercise performed periodically throughout the day is a time-efficient approach to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce the negative impact of sedentary behaviour on cardiometabolic health. Quickly running up a set a stairs is a great way to reap these benefits.

Strength training at least 2 days per week is also recommended and has been shown to decrease blood pressure, manage blood sugar levels, promote greater flexibility and mobility, improve brain health, and makes your bones stronger. For general muscular fitness, selecting a weight that allows you to perform 8-15 repetitions for 1-3 sets while maintaining good form is recommended.

If you aren’t sure how to begin or need help selecting appropriate exercises, feel free to reach out to me for some assistance.

Excessive Cardio and Weight Loss – my experience

I was 16 years old when I began my journey towards and healthier body. Unfortunately, the approach I initially took was the opposite of healthy; excessive cardio, extreme caloric restriction, lack of carbohydrates, and the dependence on pre-workouts. I shake my head in shame when looking back at my initial approach. I did lose weight (some fat, a lot of muscle), but I was weak, tired, irritable, and definitely did not look healthy.

Like many others, especially women, I thought the best strategy was to restrict myself in one area, while excessively pushing myself in another. Eventually I spiraled down to a measly 98 pounds, experienced horrible stomach pains, couldn’t sleep, and I looked like I could snap like a twig at any moment. I went too far in the opposite direction, feeling just as unsatisfied as I was with a higher body fat percentage.

It reached the point where everything felt hard, even easy workouts. I lost motivation and couldn’t get a good night’s sleep due to soreness, and the pre-workouts. I wasn’t recovering. I felt like shit.

Luckily I got into lifting weights, and my desire to be strong started to outweigh my desire to be thin. This is where things starting coming together.

Fast forward 18 years and I’m still learning, but I do not restrict myself when it comes to food (that’s not to say I eat carelessly/ poorly) and my days of endless bouts of cardio are far behind me. I now know and respect carbohydrates as an extremely important fuel source for overall health and athletic performance.

I of course still perform aerobic exercise, but I keep it within an hour and make to sure refuel afterwards. Inline skating will forever be my favourite! However, I more often perform conditioning workouts that involves strength training, like circuits including the row machine, loaded carries, sled pulls and pushes.

I am not an endurance athlete, and if you aren’t either, don’t spend all your time performing excessive cardio. Instead, prioritize good sources of protein, lift heavy weights, walk often, reduce or eliminate alcohol, and learn as much as you can about the human body – your body. Respect yourself and things will come together.

Keep moving.

Alcohol & its Effects on the Body

We all know that excessive consumption of alcohol has some serious adverse health effects, both in the short and long term. Yet, it’s the most widely accepted and used drug consumed by people on a regular basis. In fact if you’re someone who doesn’t drink, that is often looked at more strangely than if you are a drinker.

While moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, here a several ways it directly deteriorates your health.

Poor Sleep/ Lack of or No R.E.M.

Alcohol is a depressant, and while it may make you fall asleep quicker due to its sedative effects, the quality and duration of your sleep suffers. Drinking alcohol before bed can suppress REM sleep, REM sleep may benefit learning, memory, and mood (Leonard, 2021). A lack of REM sleep may have adverse implications for physical and mental health. Additionally, alcohol consumption can increase your risk of sleep apnea by 25% (Pacheco, 2022).

Skin Health

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases the amount of water flushed from your body. This can result in the skin looking dull and dry. Chronically dehydrated skin will age much faster, leaving you looking much older than you are.

Alcohol also increases inflammation in the body. Puffy, red skin, broken blood vessels, blood shot eyes -not a very good look.

Additionally, alcohol causes oxidative stress which damages every cell in your body, including your skin. We are exposed to free radicals every day through pollution, smoke, sunlight, food, and yes, alcohol. According to research, alcohol not only releases a flood of free radicals into the body, it also impairs your antioxidant defense at the same time (Emanuele, 2006).

Weight Gain

As mentioned earlier, Alcohol negatively affects sleep. Sleep is an extremely important factor when it comes to weight management. When our bodies lack sleep, it messes up our hunger hormones leptin and grehlin, resulting in us feeling more hungry throughout the day.

Additionally, the consumption of alcohol can contribute to weight gain. Cocktails, wines, spirts and beers are not free from calories. Drinking too much too often can lead to “beer belly.” People also tend to make poorer food choices while drinking. Pair this with high calorie foods like chips and pizza, and your body will be working so hard to burn those calories from the alcohol that it won’t have time to worry about burning the calories from food, and instead store it as fat.

Damage to the Brain, Heart and Liver

Slurred speech, impaired memory, trouble walking straight, blurred vision, unable to recall events – clearly alcohol severely affects the brain. People who drink a lot of alcohol over a long period of time increase their risk of developing serious changes to the brain. This is a result of poor overall health or from liver disease.

People who suffer from alcoholism are often deficient in Thiamine due to poor overall health. Also known as vitamin B1, Thiamine is an essential nutrient needed by all tissues, including the brain. Up to 80% of alcoholics are deficient in Thiamine, and some will go one to develop serious brain disorders (Alcohol Alert, 2004).

The liver, which is the lead organ responsible for breaking down alcohol and clearing it from the body can be damaged from heavy, long term drinking. “People may not be aware that prolonged liver dysfunction, such as liver cirrhosis resulting from excessive alcohol consumption can harm the brain, leading to a serious and potentially fatal brain disorder known as hepatic encephalopathy (Butterworth, 2003).”

To add to all that, drinking too much in one sitting, or a lot over a long time can damage the heart. This can cause problems such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, and high blood pressure (Alcohols Effects on the Body, “n.d”).

Protein Synthesis

Drinking after a workout or a game negatively affects recovery. However, some athletes party harder than your average drinker and its a common practice for sports teams to go out after a game and binge drink.

A study conducted by (Parr et al., 2014) was comprised of 8 physically active males who completed 3 separate trials of 8×5 leg extension at 80% 1RM, followed by a continuous 30 min 63% Peak Power Output and high intensity intervals, 10x30s at 110% PPO.

Immediately and 4 hours post-exercise subjects consumed either:

  1. 500 ml of whey protein (25g)
  2. Alcohol (1.5g ˑkg body mass, 12± 2 standard drinks) + Protein (ALC-PRO)
  3. Carbs + Alcohol (25g maltodextrin) (ALC-CHO)

Subjects also consumed a carbohydrate rich meal 2 hours post exercise. Muscle biopsies were taken at rest, 2 and 8 hours post-exercise.

One of the results of this study was a significant reduction in Muscle Protein Synthesis in the absence of post-exercise protein intake. Even when protein was ingested in the PRO-ALC group, the intake of alcohol reduced MPR by 24% (Parr et al., 2014).

Drinking in Moderation

The Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction does offer Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. This is to promote of culture of moderation. My issue with moderation is it can mean something different from one person to the next, from one guideline to another. If you choose to drink, that is your choice. However if you feel like you are losing or have lost control over your drinking, or you know someone who has, there are resources available to help you.


Leonard, J. (2021, November 24). What is REM sleep? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247927#stages-of-sleep

Pacheco, D. (2022, January 31). Alcohol and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep

Albano, E. Alcohol, oxidative stress and free radical damage. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006 Aug;65(3):278-90. Accessed January 14, 2021

Butterworth, R.F. Hepatic encephalopathy—A serious complication of alcoholic liver disease. Alcohol Research & Health 27(2):143–145, 2003.

Alcohols Damaging Effects on the Brain. (October, 2004). Alcohol Alert. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.pdf

Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014). Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PloS one9(2), e88384. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0088384

Could testing grip strength predict heart disease risk?

Check out this article:

Could testing grip strength predict heart disease risk?

Article overview:

– The study authors used a longitudinal population study to see whether muscle grip strength can predict the chances of getting a range of diseases.

– 142,861 people across 17 high, medium, and low income countries were Hand gripincluded in this study.

– The grip test could be useful in low income countries.

– Researches said their findings showed that muscle strength is a strong predictor of having a heart attack or stroke.

– The study suggests that people with low muscle strength may be at an increased risk of dying prematurely.

Side notes: Weight training will increase your grip strength and chances of living a longer, healthy life. It’s not about looking good at the beach, or flexing a ridiculously bronzed body on stage – it’s about keeping your cholesterol, blood and glucose levels in check; having energy to get through your day; independence; confidence; and ultimately freedom.

Reasons You’re Not Gaining Muscle

1. You don’t eat enough

If you aren’t getting a surplus of calories, you simply won’t grow. If you’re not sure how many calories/day you should be consuming, the harris-benedict formula is an equation that will help you determine just that. First we must find out your “basal metabolic rate,” which is the number of calories your body would burn if staying in bed all day:

Men BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
Women BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)

After you have determined you BMR, use this table to figure out your daily recommended intake:

Little to no exercise Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.2
Light exercise (1–3 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3–5 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.55
Heavy exercise (6–7 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.9

Finally, now that you have a good idea of how many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight, you need to add calories in order to have the surplus required to build lean tissue. I would start with an increase of 250 calories/day; see how your body responds after a couple of weeks and then increase/decrease from there.

2. You do too much cardio

maxit_treadmill_kl-1303If you are already not eating enough calories, expending more calories via cardio will make it next to impossible for your body to gain lean muscle. The right type of cardio has its place (sprint training, slow long distance) but your first priority should be resistance training.

3. You’re not getting enough protein &/or carbs

Protein is needed for growth and to repair broken down tissue. If you aren’t getting enough, your body will turn to breaking down muscle in order to meet its daily protein needs. 1.2 -1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight should be consumed each day. It may seem like a lot at first, but it can easily be reached through the frequent consumption of lean meats, low fat dairy, eggs; egg whites, and protein powder.

Moreover, restricting your intake of carbohydrates while trying to put on muscle will leave you flat and feeling like garbage. Carbs supply the energy needed to get through intense workouts, and your brain alone needs 130g/day to function properly. 2-3g of carbs per pound of body weight is needed each day when gaining muscle. Make at least 80% of these carbs complex, and only consume simple carbs around your workouts.

Good Carb, Bad Carb

protein4. You’re inconsistent

For anything to work, consistency is vital. Almost any weight lifting plan will work if you’re consistent with it. I used to make the mistake of doing different workouts every time I hit the gym; it wasn’t until I started sticking to a plan for 4-6 weeks at a time did I really start to see gains in both lean muscle mass and strength. Find a plan, log everything, and follow through with it.

If you’re inconsistent at hitting the gym all together, well you have your answer right there.

5. You’ve been doing to same thing for too long and/or you aren’t training hard enough

Opposite from inconsistency, you’re consistent but cannot recall that last time you did something different. Our bodies are good at adapting to repetitive training stimulus, and sooner or later you will hit a plateau if you don’t switch up the exercises and/or the rep and set schemes.

On the same note, you simply might not be training hard enough. If you’re not challenged during your workouts and don’t opt for the heavy weights, you aren’t causing damage to your muscles, if you aren’t causing damage your mueat sleep train repeatscles will have no need to repair itself and heal bigger and stronger. Stop being a sissy and lift heavy things!

(For hypertrophy, 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps is generally agreed upon)

6. You don’t sleep/recover enough

Training hard and eating well plays a huge role in gaining muscle, but just as important is sleep and recovery. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is highest when we sleep so getting the recommended 8 hours each night is a must. Also, those who don’t sleep enough tend to have higher levels of cortisol, which is catabolic hormone (breaks down muscle tissue); clearly this is a bad thing for those wanting more muscle.

7. You aren’t supplementing properly

This should be the last thing to consider, and only if you have perfected the points above. Also, relying on supplements to increase your performance is a poor idea.protein-powder

Personally, I’m all for protein powders, multivitamins, amino acids, and some pre-workouts; they have helped boost my training and aid in my recovery.

Couscous with Lime and Cumin Dressing – Super Easy and Quick to Make

What you’ll need:

Lifesmart Couscous – ½ cup

2 limes, juiced

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Less than ¼ cup

Cumin –  A few shakes

Celery – 1 or 2 stalks

½ Bell Pepper

Red Onion – ¼ of a small to medium onion


  • Use a kettle to boil water, or bring just over a ½ cup of water to a boil on the stovetop. Feel free to use vegetable or chicken broth instead.
  • Pour the ½ cup of dry couscous into a pot.
  • Measure out a ½ cup of the boiled water and pour it evenly over the dry couscous, cover, and let sit for 5minutes.
  • During this time, finely chop up your celery, onion, and bell pepper.
  • After 5 minutes, remove the lid and fluff with a fork.


  • Pour just less than a ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil into a measuring cup.
  • Squeeze the juice of 2 limes into the measuring cup and give it a stir.
  • Add a few shakes of cumin (and a little cracked pepper and sea salt if you like).

Put It Together:

  • Add your veggies to the couscous.
  • Drizzle the dressing on top and mix it together.

Thats it! This will be enough for a 2-4 servings, but feel free to play with the measurements depending on your taste and needs. I keep the dressing to a minimal with this recipe so it stays very light and refreshing, as it compliments the nutty flavor of the couscous nicely.

Couscous 1

On the Ball

The stability ball was originally created as a toy in Italy called the Gymnastic. It quickly gained popularity among doctors who began using it in therapy for such things as reflex response, back rehabilitation, neurological rehab, and postural correction. It was introduced to North America in the 70’s and 80’s, and more than 75% of fitness centres now use them.

When choosing a stability ball make sure you select the correct size for your height, as well as one that is burst resistant. This just means that the air will leak out slowly if punctured, instead of a big pop! Here is a chart to help you pick the right size:

Ball Diameter Your Height
45cm up to 5’0 (1.5m)
55cm 5’0 to 5’6” (1.5-1.7m)
65cm 5’7” to 6’0” (1.7-1.8m)
75cm 6’0 and over

The stability ball uses the neuromuscular system in a way that most exercise equipment does not due to its dynamic base of support (constantly moving). This makes it a great tool for training “core” muscles and will help improve balance and co-ordination. The ball also supports some body weight, reducing stress on the joints. It is great for people of all ages, and exercises using the ball can easily be modified to make certain moves easier or more difficult.

There are dozens of exercises that can be performed on the ball, but here are a few that I stand by. This is a core circuit that I use every now and again. I would not consider this a beginner workout, but it is certainly something that can be practiced and mastered if you’re not that greatest at them initially.

1. Russian Twist – 10 reps (5 each side)


2. Sit-ups – 20 reps (10 quick, 10 slow)


3. Plank In & Outs – 10 reps


4. Knee Tucks – 10 reps


5. Back Extension – 10 reps (hold a plate, dumbbell, or medicine ball for extra resistance)


Repeat this cicuit 3-5 times

Thanks for checking out my post!

Tips Towards Good Health

So far I have 28 tips towards good health! I plan on adding to it as they come to mind, and if you would like me to elaborate on any of them, as I know they are very general, feel free to leave a comment! Thank-you for reading.

  1. Drink lots of waterWater
  2. Consume more fibre
  3. Whole grains only, not white
  4. Relax on the dairy
  5. Fill up on vegetables
  6. Use healthy oils
  7. Move more than you sit
  8. Skip the sauces and condiments
  9. Processed foods suck
  10. Prepared frozen meals also suck (in most cases)
  11. Deep fried foods really, really suckNo fast food
  12. Learn how to cook
  13. Make most, if not all your meals at home
  14. Take a good multivitamin everyday
  15. Omega 3s are your friend
  16. Exercise regularly
  17. Adopt/keep a good attitude
  18. Don’t use food as a reward
  19. Eat breakfast every morning
  20. Try new things
  21. Eat frequently & never starve yourself
  22. Know your body and how it responds to certain foods
  23. Light & healthy snacks before bed onlyKnow thyself
  24. Have healthy snacks on hand, always
  25. Alcohol = excess empty calories
  26. Even too much of a good thing is still too much
  27. Work on controlling portion sizes
  28. Find physical activities you enjoy

Why Hire a Personal Trainer?

1) Coming to the gym and exercising is a new experience for you.

If you are new to the weight room, all of the machines and equipment may seem a little overwhelming at first. A personal trainer can put your mind at ease and ensure you get a good understanding of equipment set up, and proper execution.

2) You’re bored and need some new moves

If you are an experienced exerciser, you’ve probably never considered hiring a personal trainer. However, a trainer can add some variety to your workouts and offer new ideas to challenge your body and mind. A trainer can help you overcome a plateau, and even if you just do a few sessions, or meet every few weeks, you will find it beneficial to have new exercises and equipment to master!

3) You need accountability and motivation.

Not only are you investing in a great program, your also investing time. Trainers are great motivators, and a regular appointment can get your ass in gear and keep your workouts consistent. A trainer also provides some accountability, even if you don’t have a session, your trainer will be asking if you did your planned workouts. Knowing this may make you think twice about skipping out!

4) Program design – Specific, individualized programs designed just for you.

Everyone is different, what works for one person may not work for another. A personal trainer will develop an effective program for you based on your current level of fitness and personal goals.

5) You have a specific injury, illness, or condition.

If you have specific issues like arthritis, heart disease, shoulder impingement, etc., working with an experienced trainer (who works with your doctor) can design a program to help heal injuries and avoid any further problems. It’s also a great idea to work with a trainer if you are pregnant and want a safe, effective workout.

6) Sports specific training.

Many amateur and professional athletes hire personal trainers during the off season to prepare them for the in season competition. Perhaps you want to move quicker on the ice, or improve your golf swing; a trainer can design a program to improve athletic performance.

7) Safety and supervision.

Personal attention while training is the primary function of a personal trainer. Need a spotter? How about feedback on your form? It’s a personal trainer’s job to observe, assist, and correct if necessary.

8) A trainer is an excellent resource.

Besides providing education in the field of anatomy and physiology, a good trainer usually has a network of other specialists in the area of nutrition, massage, etc. A trainer may be able to help you with your other non-exercise health needs.

9) Its less expensive than you think.

Let’s face it, most things worthwhile cost money. Different gyms will have different prices when it comes to personal training. You can usually expect to pay 40-100$ per hour depending on the location and the trainer. However, you’ll receive an individualized program, motivation, supervision, education, resources, and much more. Perhaps you can cut expenses in other areas of your life (i.e. Dining out, buying coffee or pop everyday); investing in your health is investing in your future. Plus, think of all the doctor trips and prescriptions you won’t need by living an active and healthy lifestyle!

10) Ego boost!

It’s a fact-feeling good makes you look good and vice versa. While helping you achieve your goals, a trainer will provide positive feedback on your performance and may help raise your confidence to take on new challenges.

Before You Commit

Before you commit your time and money towards training with a trainer, make sure it will be worth your while. Whoever you choose should be certified from a reputable organization and have experience training clients such as yourself. Feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like to ensure you’ll receive the best bang for your buck. Also, a personal trainer should practice what they preach; they don’t have to be fitness models, but if they aren’t fit how will they motivate you?

Committing to training regularly with a personal trainer could be the best decision you’ve ever made, but please keep in mind that a trainer can only care as much as you do. If you constantly cancel, or half-ass your workouts, don’t point the finger at your trainer (as long as they have been doing all they can to help). Also, nutrition plays a HUGE role in weight loss/gain, and overall health. If you struggle in this area, your trainer may be able to help, or refer you to someone who can.