Start your fitness journey

Paul Slater, Vice President of Health, Safety and Environment shares tips for improved health

As we move further into the new year, many of us will be trying to stick to resolutions to get fit, lose weight and eat healthier. The benefits of taking regular exercise have been scientifically proven. Unfortunately, it is apparent that we are generally less active nowadays; this can be partially contributed to the fact that technology is making our lives easier. Moreover, manual roles are reducing significantly, with many of us spending our days behind a computer screen. With this in mind, it’s important that we find alternative ways to stay active.

So what are the benefits?
The National Health Service in the UK have identified many benefits of taking regular exercise, probably the most inspiring is that it can reduce the risk of major illnesses such as heart disease, strokes, type two diabetes and cancer by a staggering 50 per cent. Benefits also include:

  • A 30 per cent lower risk of early death
  • Reduction in weight when done in partnership with a healthy eating programme
  • Improves mental health – during exercise your body releases endorphins, these are often referred to as ‘feel good chemicals’
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Reduces the risk of dementia by 30 per cent
  • Improved focus and concentration levels

How much exercise do I need?
The American Heart Association recommends that 150 minutes of ‘heart pumping’ physical activity per week is needed as a minimum. If this is increased to 300 minutes, even more benefits will be observed. This should include both aerobic activity and moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity. Examples of aerobic activities include running, swimming, cycling, skipping, football etc. Boxing and other forms of martial arts also provide an excellent form of aerobic training.

How do I start?
Just getting off the sofa in the evening is a start. So, ditch the remote control, get up and get out. Walking is a great place to start. Aim to walk briskly each evening, starting at 15 minutes and increasing as you become fitter. This can gradually build into a run/walk, where you increase your time spent running and reduce your time walking. Before you know it, you will be running for 15 minutes. There are plenty of couch to 5k beginner running apps available, so get one downloaded and get started! Dubai has innumerable gyms catering to all price points. If you’re an absolute beginner, it’s advisable to work with a personal trainer (PT) to start with. Gym classes such as Cross Fit, body pump, etc. will provide you with a great workout in a group environment.

How can I stick to my goals?
Sign up for a 5k fun run with a friend or partner. Get your family involved. Start a fitness journal, record your daily activity and how you felt; use this to track progress. Finally, don’t be hard on yourself, this is a journey not an overnight miracle. Try to remain consistent and consider this as a part of your daily routine. If you miss a session, forget it and move on. Remember, it takes around 60 days before a new behaviour forms a habit, so stick at it! Combine your exercise with a healthy eating routine and you
will reap the benefits over time.

Look out for each other

Head of Safeguarding and Child Protection, Sara Hedger is focused on the well-being of students but also staff

The 2018 Dubai Student Well-being Census identified that 81 per cent of the 95,875 students surveyed were satisfied with life. At GEMS we have a strong focus on student well-being and rightly so, with more still to be done to ensure that all our students, whatever their experiences and backgrounds, are happy and safe.

However, how satisfied are we, as adults, with life? School staff well-being needs to also be a priority across the UAE. As educators we know that unless we are mentally healthy, we can experience stress, anxiety, lack of productivity and less emotional availability for our students and families.

The holiday season is a wonderful time of year when school staff and school leaders can enjoy some time off to recharge and prepare for the next term. For some, particularly those finding it challenging to transition to a new job or a new country, pressures of work and being away from family, this can be a challenging time of year. This is often exacerbated by social media where it can appear that everyone is having the best time, which can reinforce loneliness and isolation.

Lack of routine, overspending and having fewer opportunities to interact with colleagues can also add to negative feelings and a perception of having a lack of control over your lifestyle. On a positive note, the good thing is that we work for GEMS and our schools have many initiatives already in place.

So what can we do to help ourselves and each other?

If you are a school leader, make sure that you publicise well-being initiatives to staff and follow up if you notice someone who may need
some encouragement.

As a colleague, take action if you notice a colleague may be struggling. There can be a perceived stigma about feeling overwhelmed or feeling low but nothing could be further from the truth. GEMS is a family and as such we all have a responsibility to look after each other. Most staff will recognise the challenges of starting afresh in a new country and new job so will be empathetic and want to help. If you are struggling, please reach out and know that people will be interested and want to help you.

Positive routines
Routines are important for your brain and one of the most important is getting enough sleep. This can be a challenge if you’re feeling stressed but research indicates that getting enough sleep is a vital component of feeling well and fostering a feeling of control and choice. Many of our schools have mindfulness programmes for students but it would be great if we could also prioritise this for staff.

If sitting in a group meditating or engaging with yoga is not your thing, there are many other ways to introduce simple relaxation and meditation techniques. Used by a range of groups, from professional sportsmen to CEOs, mindfulness strategies can lead to huge benefits. Controlling and concentrating on your breathing is a great way of slowing your heart rate and taking back control of your thoughts. We often miss out on great moments because we’re planning the next thing or overthinking the past, so please invest in yourself and the health your colleagues.