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Sunday, 25 October 2015

Drop Everything And Read (DEAR)


It's no secret that I love to read, but recently I've been struggling to find the time. A few years ago, I used to read at least one book a week, now it's more like one book a month. Friends of mine who also love to read complain that they struggle to pick up a book at all.

Life is busy, and there are often a lot of things on our to do lists that we consider 'essential', like catching up on work or paying bills. Unless we have all of those things ticked off (does that ever happen?) it can be hard to let ourselves switch off the screens and pick up a book.

I am currently in the midst of planning a wedding and have found that since I got engaged, my reading pace has slowed a lot. My pointless internet surfing, however, has increased. That's the issue: even if you're procrastinating and not doing what you're meant to be doing, you'll just pass the time doing other things to distract yourself and the next thing you know, you're neither doing what you should do, nor what you want to do.

In my book club, we are currently reading Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin (which is equal parts fascinating and irritating... but that's a post for another day) and a few days ago I came across a very brief mention of the DEAR campaign, which until then I didn't know existed.

Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) is an American campaign run by children's author Beverly Cleary and supported by many organisations including National Education Association (NEA) and HarperCollins Children’s Books. The campaign is a national month-long celebration of reading, held each April, designed to "remind folks of all ages to make reading a priority activity in their lives".

The campaign couldn't be simpler, and involves teachers simply scheduling time in to their students day (or as homework) to drop everything they are doing and pick up a book. There are also events and free resources to encourage students to analyse what they're reading or try their hand at creative writing.

Just the very notion of dropping everything and reading really struck a cord with me. Of course it could be that simple outside of a school setting too. By simply allowing myself a slot in my day or week to make reading the priority it should be, I could get back the reading time I've been cheating myself of.

Reading, after all, is so important. Especially with several recent surveys indicating that reading for pleasure among the younger generations is in steep decline.

Literacy campaigner and iconic author, Neil Gaiman, recently gave a lecture for the Reading Agency in London during which he explained why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens. The lecture was edited in to an article which you can read here.

"I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing."

To read more about the DEAR campaign and how it's implemented in schools in the US, visit www.dropeverythingandread.com.

The National Literacy Trust here in the UK also runs a series of campaigns to improve literacy for all ages. Find out more at www.literacytrust.org.uk.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Using exercise to fight depression


Globally more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression, and many people don't seek treatment for a variety of reasons. I am one of those people and I struggled for years, but luckily I discovered a way to feel better that was manageable, cost free and most importantly for me at the time: private.

I have never been an active person. I was never in to sport at school. It was never a priority for me and I was always naturally slim growing up. Only in my late teens and early 20s did I start to notice my body changing and inevitably realise that no, I probably can't get away with doing no exercise for the rest of my life, and so I started to consider how to make a change.

I tried to get myself active multiple times, but it was also over these years that I had started to struggle with depression, and my state of mind and lack of confidence made it impossible to imagine going to a public gym.

It was only through stumbling upon a very structured, fun and home friendly online exercise programme that I found something that stuck and very quickly I noticed not only my physical health improving but, to my surprise, my mental health too.

I've since learned that people with depression often feel a loss of control over their lives, and doing exercise gives them back control of their bodies and can be the first step in gaining back control elsewhere. The structure of the plan was exactly what I needed.

I also discovered that when you exercise, your body releases serotonin and endorphins which interact with the receptors in your brain that trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Hence that little buzz at the end of a good workout, or the famous "runner's high". In fact, studies have shown that physical exercise can be as affective as anti depressant drugs, with none of the scary side affects.

This isn't to say that exercise is a 'cure' for depression - simply an effective treatment, and one I believe should be more widely talked about.

Have you had an experience with treating mental health issues with fitness and exercise? If so I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.