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A guide for managers

Building resilience with exercise and diet

Factors such as minimal exercise, poor nutrition and reliance on alcohol and caffeine can all be consequences of stress; but they can also reduce our ability to bounce back – our resilience. Therefore, improving these will help us to improve our overall resilience to stress.

By helping your team to understand the link between looking after their diet and physical health and their ability to face challenges, you can help them become more resilient. Simple changes can make a huge difference to how we cope with stress.

Where to start

Start by paying attention to your team and what they’re saying and doing. Have you noticed changes in habits, or performance? Are people talking about feeling tired, joking about their reliance on takeaways or missing out on their regular exercise sessions? Based on what they say, you can look at ways to help them build resilience.

The importance of exercise

Exercise has so many benefits. Research shows it can not only reduce our risk of major illnesses and chronic conditions, it also helps us tackle stress and has a positive impact on other mental health conditions. It can also boost our self?esteem, mood, sleep quality and help maintain a healthy weight.2

Exercise also helps us to keep a healthy heart, mind and body by releasing crucial endorphins. These neurotransmitters or chemical messengers interact with our brains to reduce the perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling. Getting active helps to burn through chemicals that can increase feelings of stress, such as adrenalin, leaving us feeling calmer and better equipped to deal with what life throws at us.

How to be more active

It’s important to set time aside to exercise, but there are also a number of ways you and your teams can be more active during work.

  • Have standing or walking meetings and 1-2-1s. These are great for boosting our daily steps and getting some fresh air, and can also be done virtually.
  • Get active on lunch breaks. A brisk walk is good for stress reduction and keeping us mentally focussed.
  • Run a weekly step challenge. Challenge your team to take part in a friendly competition based on who can accumulate the most steps in a week.
  • Take regular breaks. Keep active throughout the day with regular short breaks away from your desk. This will clear your head and also help you to feel more energised and alert.

The importance of diet

We all live busy working lives, and so eating healthily can often fall by the wayside in favour of convenience food such as takeaways, snacking and ready meals. And when we’re particularly busy, working late and too tired to cook – the times our work stress levels are highest – we’re even more likely to reach for the pizza menu.

However, making better choices with food can make a huge difference to how we feel. For example, a chocolate bar or a sugary drink may give a boost for a few minutes, but it’s a temporary fix. In fact, once the sugar rush wears off, we can end up feeling lower than we did before. Becoming dehydrated can also mean our concentration drops and we find tasks more difficult than normal.

We recommend encouraging your teams to make one small change each. This could be as simple as suggesting bringing in fruit for a mid-morning snack instead of a chocolate bar, or encouraging people to switch a cup of tea or coffee for water. 

Small changes – introduced one by one – are far more likely to be successful than trying to completely overhaul your eating habits. Furthermore, if everyone is a part of it, this can become a talking point within the team and will mean that the team will support each other.

Alcohol and caffeine

When we get stressed or anxious it can stop us sleeping. So it’s tempting to drink more coffee the next day to boost our energy levels, then have a beer or glass of wine to help us relax at the end of the day. However, too much caffeine and alcohol will actually interrupt sleep further, leaving us even more tired than before.

Here are some tips that you can share with your team:

  • Encourage your team to keep an eye on what they’re consuming weekly.
  • Discuss easy ways to cut caffeine intake: start by swapping one coffee for a decaf or find a fruit?based alternative to a cola.
  • Remember that tea (including green tea) and chocolate both contain caffeine too!
  • Monitor the benefits. Challenge your team to try to make a small change and report back on the benefits. You could even run a competition with a small prize to encourage people to take part.

1 nhs.uk/live-well/exercise (accessed 5 April 2020)

2 mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise

3 Stress: Are We Coping? Mental Health Foundation, 2018

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