As a former professional athlete, and current service-user, my single most important piece of fitness advice to other service users is abstinence and moderation.
The service-user community has a high level of social drug use, particularly nicotine and alcohol (as well as some prevalence of illegal drug use). Prescription medication is not yet sufficiently advanced to avoid the occurrence of debilitating – not to mention embarrassing – side effects. To overcome extrapyramidal side-effects such as tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movements), obesity and low mood, may I recommend or introduce service-users to moderate exercise, such as walking, cycling and low-resistance weight training, yoga, tai chi or similar; if you’re brave enough, not to mention young enough (I’m 52 years old in 2013) you can also try dancing. Mental illness can be considered to age service-users prematurely, so don’t forget the tried and tested rules of training for strength, stamina and suppleness (the 3Ss):
- Avoid excess in known hazardous – even socially acceptable – drugs, like nicotine and alcohol.
- Maintain a well-balanced, high protein, diet, avoiding carbohydrates, the commonest source of obesity.
- Try to enjoy well-prepared, regular meals; for further dietary advice contact the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (http://www.ion.ac.uk/) or speak to your GP or pharmacist.
Also remember, taking a little bit of what you like and simply enjoying eating does you good.
Vitamin supplements and secondary treatments, such as Chinese herbal medicine, massage, saunas, and maintaining the most achievable level of personal care in terms of clothing and self-presentation will also lift mood, especially if you enjoy shopping!
To end this piece, I offer this advice: if you can’t exercise your body, exercise your mind.
Allan Malik Dennis-Smith is a former personal fitness instructor and employee at London Sports Forum for Disabled People.