The term self-care is often accompanied by images of bubble baths, minty facemasks, fluffy slippers and soft white robes. While pampering can be an important part of any routine it isn’t the be-all and end-all of self-care. While it can include activities that make you feel good, self-care is about taking the time to look after yourself whether that’s mentally, emotionally or physically. And while you can focus on improving the one, all three go hand in hand.
When you’re feeling emotionally strong, you’re more capable of taking care of yourself physically which feeds your mental wellbeing. Regular exercise and nutritious meals help improve your mood or emotional wellbeing which in turn helps with your mental wellbeing. And part of any wellbeing journey is figuring out what type of wellbeing to prioritise.
For me, my physical wellbeing is my top priority at the moment and here’s why:
My physical wellbeing journey
By June 2019, I was the fittest and healthiest I’d been in a long time. I enjoyed weekly workouts and I was actively trying to include jogging into my daily dog-walks. Then in July, I was diagnosed with a venous sinus thrombosis – a blood clot in my brain. I was quickly put onto warfarin – a blood thinner – and told that apart from pilates, I had to stop all my other exercises as they were too risky for my health. Seemingly overnight, all the fitness I’d built up disappeared.
Fast-forward ten months to May 2020 when I was given the all-clear and trying, eagerly, to get back into my fitness routine. Unfortunately, I quickly found out that while my form remained solid, my stamina was non-existent. Five mere minutes of cardio was enough to drain the colour from my face and leave me breathlessly on the floor. So instead of jumping back in, I’ve had to restart my journey from scratch – an experience I’ve found to be very frustrating.
I kept looking at others and comparing myself to them, especially when in a class. I came close to falling into the trap of wallowing in self-pity and not actually doing anything about it. I knew that I had to focus on physical activities that looked after my mental well-being too. This is why I turned to outdoor activities. They feed my soul, body and mind as I feel less exposed, less judged and more comfortable exercising outdoors.
Hiking is a fantastic way to take care of yourself physically. It’s an all-body workout and you get to choose the difficulty level. If you’re worried about your fitness level, choose a short and easy 2-kilometre hike with fewer inclines. If you’re unsure about the difficulty of the hike you’re planning on doing, google the trail as most websites rate trails as moderate, easy or difficult.
Yoga has many benefits as it combines flexibility, strength training and balance in a holistic way that also combines the mind, body and spirit. And unlike other forms of cardio training, it’s not as obviously taxing and it’s great for all fitness levels.
Taking your yoga outside or joining an outdoor yoga class helps make that mind-body-spirit connection easier. Partly because when you reach for the sky, you’ll actually be reaching towards the sky and when you centre yourself on the ground, you’ll actually feel the ground beneath you. You can even spice up your outdoor session by joining an alternative yoga class like full moon yoga or yoga with puppies (or any baby animal really).
While horse riding probably won’t be on most people’s lists, it’s always on mine because it improves my physical, mental and emotional wellbeing all at once. Horses have been used as therapy animals and have worked with children with various disabilities for years as they connect with us on an emotional level.
Horse riding also helps improve our mental wellbeing and riding outdoors is a great workout. Non-riders will scoff and say that the horses do all the work but just an hour in the saddle and you’d be surprised by the muscles you use.
Swimming is another great outdoor exercise and while after a good swim you’ll feel physically exhausted, it’s easy on the joints. Swimming has been the go-to exercise for rehabilitation and physical therapy for several years for that very reason.
The water holds you afloat, allowing you to exercise your muscles without straining them. You can also swim at your own pace and if you do get tired, floating from one end to another is always an option. I’d recommend finding a natural pond, dam, river or rock/tidal pool for your swim for an extra dose of the great outdoors.
Easy ways to take care of your physical well-being
Knowing that outdoor physical activities were going to give me the best results I quickly worked on developing a routine by following these steps:
- Trying something new
By involving friends and family in outdoor activities, you make a commitment that you’re more likely to keep. You can then turn those activities into a routine by planning various outdoor activities on a monthly basis. Find a schedule that works for you, start off slowly and then gradually build on it and incorporate new activities.
Go for a cycle in the countryside or take that surfing class you’ve wanted to try for ages. If you really enjoy it then it might just become part of your regular routine. And if instead, you found it demotivating then you can confidently say that you’ve tried it and it wasn’t for you.
Trying new forms of outdoor exercises can be fun especially when trying new ones with friends for the first time like outdoor yoga with baby goats!
Having a variety of activities at your disposal that you know lifts your mood and leaves you feeling deliciously stiff the next day means you can be flexible with your routine. Rough week? Add some extra yoga. Busy week behind a screen? Enjoy an extra-long device-free hike. Trail running too taxing on your joints? Switch to swimming.
Knowing what works for you, and what doesn’t, gives you the freedom to adapt and change your routine depending on the needs of your mind and body at any given time. Taking your physical self-care routine outdoors and into nature has the added benefit of lowering your stress levels and improving your mood.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alicia is a curly-haired, 20-something freelance writer and photographer. She’s also an avid horse rider, a bookworm who doesn’t read enough and a proud dog mum. She comes from a tiny village in France, was raised in Cape Town and lived a few years in England. She enjoys travelling, loves food, enjoying eating out and finds cooking soothing.
In July 2020, she launched an online portfolio to showcase her writing and photography where she shares her journey with you. If you want to know more about Alicia, you can check her website here.