Physical activity can help you sleep better, feel happier and manage the stress of everyday life. In this Q&A, Sally Wilcock from the Strawberry Line Cycle Project looks at the benefits of physical activity on mental health, and what activities are available.
Q. Now that restrictions on travel and activities have loosened, what activities are available for people with learning disabilities if they want to get out and about this spring?
It is great that people can get out and about more. Although we can’t do everything we used to do, there is still a good variety we can do and much of that is outdoors. Getting outdoors is something that we, as a project, love to encourage people to do.
Outdoor activities include walking, cycling, picnics, yoga, outdoor swimming (although please only do that with a qualified outdoor swim coach; there are plenty around and we could recommend a great one in North Somerset), outdoor pursuits such as archery, golf, lawn bowls, tennis … the list is endless.
Sometimes, it is hard to see past the fact the cinema is still shut or that we are unable to go ten pin bowling, but there is a great number of outdoor activities. For example, planting seeds and seeing the results grow or taking a countryside walk with a camera to get some wildlife photos – both can be hugely rewarding. What’s more, these activities are accessible to all, regardless of any additional needs. A further benefit of outdoor activities is they tend to be more inclusive, allowing people with additional needs to participate along with friends and family.
Q. What benefits does physical activity have on mental health?
The benefits of outdoor exercise on mental health are well documented for reducing stress and anxiety and creating feelings of calm. It is believed the natural light, fresh air and endless feeling of open space all contribute to these benefits. Couple this with the endorphins (the feel-good chemical released by our brains during physical exercise) and people are set to feel the rewards.
There are, of course, also the benefits of who you choose – or don’t choose – to do the exercise with. For some people, that may be time on their own to unwind and enjoy the peace. For others, this could be the opportunity to participate in exercise with friends and family, or the chance to have fun with people you love away from the routine elements of life.
Q. What other benefits can participating in physical activity have?
The benefits of physical activities have long been known and documented, such as having a healthy weight and an improved cardiovascular system. However, there is more to this – more that can empower individuals.
Participating in a range of physical activities allows us to use a variety of muscles and motor skills, in turn allowing us to learn further skills for life. For example, playing lawn bowls and gripping a ball will strengthen the muscles and motor skills of an individual’s hand. This, in turn, could allow for better fine motor skills when using cutlery.
Another good example of how we benefit relates to ageing. As we age, muscle throughout the body will deteriorate but physical exercise, such as team sports or strength training, can counteract that, allowing us to maintain our skills and independence into our older years.
Q. Tell us about yourself and Strawberry Line.
Our project, the Strawberry Line Cafe and Cycle Project, began life 10 years ago when we opened a small cafe in what was a derelict train station waiting room. The project was established as a not-for-profit organisation that offers paid employment to people with learning disabilities. Over the years, numerous young people with learning disabilities have either trained with us or been employed by the project.
Following on from the success of the cafe, the team saw the opportunity to expand and that was when the cycle hire was opened. The hire is again an inclusive employer, offering both paid and training opportunities to people with learning disabilities.
As an inclusive employer offering valued community facilities, we also wanted to ensure we were inclusive for all members of the community. This is why we have a fantastic range of adaptive bikes in addition to our regular bikes.
Our project is based at the start of a 10-mile off-road trail, enjoyed by walkers, joggers and cyclists. We have a range of bikes available and enjoy enabling people with a range of additional needs to use our bikes. Getting out in the fresh air is such a simple pleasure with wide-ranging benefits. Making this accessible for more people is fantastic.