Growing up I never understood people who said they enjoyed exercise. To me, it was this laborious chore that involved sweating profusely, and I found the whole narrative of burning calories and building abs to be quite damaging. But then I realised it didn’t have to be so competitive.
While boosting physical strength, exercise has been shown to have major benefits on your mental wellbeing. For example, it can:
- Lift your mood through the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins
- Reduce feelings of stress and anxiety by controlling the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline
- Improve quality of sleep
- Relieve tension
- Boost concentration, attention and memory
The problem is, while you may feel good during and after a workout, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do it in the first place. So how can you maintain your level of activity? Well, a great way is by trying out new sports and finding one you truly enjoy. By that I don’t mean something which feels intense or painful. It’s got to be fun; it’s got to be accessible; and you want to feel confident doing it. You may also find exercising with others increases your enjoyment and motivation.
If you’re looking for some fitness inspo, check out our guide below to mood-boosting workouts and VI-focused resources or get-togethers.
Yoga is not only beneficial for your strength, balance, and flexibility. It’s super calming and can help you empty your mind.
Some yoga videos out there aren’t particularly descriptive which, if you have little useful sight, can make them difficult to follow. But there are some fantastic resources out there, like the Heru Yoga for The Blind podcast.
Created by yoga teacher Hanna Wroblewski in 2020, this podcast presents audio-described yoga routines for all abilities. There are two seasons and it’s available on a range of platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. In addition, Hanna hosts free, virtual yoga sessions over Zoom. These take place on the last Saturday of the month and VI people from all around the UK can join. There’s also a very reasonable 6-week course which costs £48.
Hanna said: “I’ve always found movement to be a great medicine and tool for emotional well-being and I wanted to share that with as many people as possible.
“What I’m really passionate about is creating a community. I leave microphones on at the start of the Zoom so we can all hear each other. We have people of all ages and it’s about 50-50 men and women.”
Now, I cannot dance to save my life. But when you put on your favourite tunes and just let yourself go, it can really boost your confidence and mood. Like with the yoga, Hanna teaches accessible dance. She recently partnered with Eyes for Positivity and esteemed dance company Rambert, to hold dance classes for VI adults. These take place at their site in Waterloo every Saturday.
Each session lasts two hours but Hanna emphasises that they don’t spend the whole-time dancing. She said: “For the first half an hour, we want our participants to walk around and get familiar with the space. It’s also a chance for them to socialise and chat, and for us to get to know them. Guide dogs are welcome, and we can meet participants at Waterloo station and guide them to the venue.”
Riding a bike can help you de-stress and there are different ways you can do it. For example, your local gym will almost certainly have a spin bike class. You could invest in an at home exercise bike like the Peloton. Meanwhile, cycling in the outdoors is proven to have additional benefits. If you’re blind, I recommend a tandem bike and getting a sighted friend/loved-one to ride on the front. Not only is it safer, you get to chat with your fellow rider which makes the time go a lot faster. There are also lots of VI cycling clubs around the country.
Martin Eatherly and his partner Jules are members of Tandem Trekkers: a VI cycling group in Huddersfield, Yorkshire.
“There’s a real sense of freedom when cycling in the outdoors” Martin told me. “And there’s a lot of friendship and camaraderie amongst the group. You get to chat with your sighted pilot (this is the person on the front of the bike) and they can give you an audio description of your surroundings.
“As well as our regular bike rides, we have a residential trip in September.”
Below are some links to more VI clubs:
Crank It Up Cycling for All britishblindsport.org.uk/directory/crank-it-up-cycling-for-all
Wheels for Wellbeing wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk
HSBC UK Disability Cycling Hub www.britishcycling.org.uk/go-ride/article/20151027-goride-static-Disability-hubs—East-Midlands-0
Bury Blind Tandem Club www.bury-tandem-club.org
Tandem Trekkers everybodymoves.org.uk/opportunity/tandem-trekkers
If team sports are more your thing, you may enjoy blind football. Players are blindfolded to ensure fairness (this is because some players may have more vision than others). They then have to listen for the ball which contains ball bearings, and they are directed around the pitch by other players, the manager, a shooting assistant behind the opponent’s goal and the goalkeeper.
Azeem Amir, 24, is a blind footballer from Rochdale who plays for the England team. He says “the buzz” he gets from the game is like nothing else.
“I love being part of a team and the game is an escapism for me” he explained. “When I’m playing, I don’t have to think about work or other stresses in my life. I can just focus purely on football. I’ve also had some amazing experiences playing games around the world. Last year we visited eight different countries.”
Alongside training on the pitch, Azeem regularly works out at his local gym whom he says have been very accommodating.
“I only have light perception and I’ve found gyms can be really difficult to navigate” he said. “They’re very busy. It can be hard to find machines and you can bump into or trip over things. I like to bring somebody to work out with. But I also recommend going for a local private gym, as opposed to a big commercial one.
“The one in my area has been fantastic. They’ve made it accessible for me and because there are less people, I often recognise them, and they recognise me.”
Playing tennis can help improve your coordination, strength, and agility. Moreover, it has been shown to lift mood. According to a study conducted by the Tennis Industry Association, 74% of players reported increased feelings of happiness and positivity after playing regular games.
Naqi Rizvi, 33, from west London is currently the world’s no.1 blind tennis player. Having previously enjoyed goalball, he began attending VI tennis sessions run by Metro Blind Sports in 2016. The game uses a ball with a rattle in it, and while the standard rules for tennis apply, there are a few modifications. Totally blind players are allowed three bounces and partially sighted are allowed two.
Naqi said: “I was not very good to begin with; I kept knocking the ball into the car park. But I enjoyed it, and I was determined to get better. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, and Metro Blind Sports have been amazing throughout. I am very thankful for my mainstream club too, Globe Tennis Club. They’ve been so accommodating of my visual impairment, and I have incredible volunteers who play with me every week.”
Last August, Naqi won gold in the International Blind Sports Federation World Game which was held in Birmingham. He then won gold in Poland at the Blind Tennis World Championships. But although he is a pro, Naqi emphasises that blind tennis is a fantastic sport to play as a hobby and a way to meet new people.
Just 10 minutes a day of brisk walking can have a positive impact on your mental health. It releases those feel-good endorphins; improves blood flow around the body; increases our energy levels and also helps us achieve deeper sleep. If you would rather walk with others and meet new people, you could join a local group. For example, London Blind Ramblers is a membership group for blind and partially sighted people that meets regularly for guided walks.
If you haven’t tried goalball, I would definitely recommend giving it a go. The game helps to improve your communication skills, reactions, and spatial awareness. But ultimately, it’s fun and, by providing a distraction and focus for the mind, it can help to relieve stress.
By Charlotte Bateman
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