We all have different interpretations of what makes a bank holiday. Some of us might jump in the car and head over to the seaside, some of us might take the opportunity to stay at home and catch up on our TV viewing, while some of us may head out with friends for food and drinks.
The March to May period in the UK brings an abundance of bank holidays; and as we become used to our three-day weekends over the spring, we might find ourselves making fewer plans, and simply going with the flow on our extra day off. ‘Lazy’ Sundays and Mondays may then become a familiar fixture as bank holiday season wears on.
Of course taking time to relax and be leisurely is important. But planning your weekend ahead, and organising your extra 24 hours of freedom wisely, can have a positive and significant impact on your health.
With May Day this coming Monday and Spring Bank Holiday also on the horizon, this week we thought we’d discuss some of the ways you can use your extra free day to your advantage. Here are five bank holiday tips to help you give your physical health and mental wellbeing a boost:
Get Some Country Scenery
It can be easy when living in an urban area to get stuck in a work-commute-home routine, and become accustomed to the surroundings. But one of the dangers of this, particularly if we have jobs in the city and live and generally socialise close to our place of work, is that mental fatigue can set in. By never venturing very far from the workplace, we essentially never really leave, and this can affect our mood and serve to perpetuate stress.
Experiencing a change of scenery every now and then can have substantial benefits. Spending time in green spaces and natural environments has been associated with a reduction in stress and facilitating feelings of calm. A bank holiday walk in the countryside or around a national park helps to provide some mental breathing space between you and your place of work, as well as giving you an opportunity to increase your step count.
Make the Most of Your Gym
January and February are, as we’ve discussed before, the busiest months for gyms and health clubs. It can be tough getting time on the machine we want, and the hustle and bustle can subsequently put us off venturing there for our regular workout.
However by the time May rolls around, most gyms tend to be a little quieter, and particularly so during bank holidays; many regular gym-goers may choose to spend the weekend elsewhere, enabling you to make the most of the facilities available and get in some quality workout time. So if joining the gym and starting a fitness routine is something you’ve been meaning to do, the bank holiday weekend is perhaps the best time to do it.
Do Some Healthy Food Prep
Hectic schedules encourage us to eat on the go. If we don’t have time to prepare food at home to take to work with us, or if we tend to arrive home late after a busy day, then we may rely more on eating out than is necessarily good for us.
Of course food outlets specialising in healthy food are available, but in many towns and cities this type of establishment does not constitute the majority. More often than not, cooking at home is a better option than eating out from both a nutritional and financial standpoint, as it allows us to exercise more control over what goes into our food (such as salt, sugar and oil), and is cheaper.
That’s not to say that you should eliminate eating out from your life altogether. Going out for a meal at a restaurant or enjoying the occasional takeaway is fine as a treat; but relying on fast food and takeaways on a frequent basis is not typically conducive to good dietary health.
If you struggle to prepare healthy food at home during the working week, then an extra bank holiday day provides a perfect opportunity to get ahead. Cook some healthy dishes you can store and keep in the fridge or freezer, and take to work with you for lunch, or eat in the evenings. If advance food prepping for the week is something you’re new to, then the extra bank holiday day gives you the chance to look at recipes and do some research (and learn how to put your new dish-prepping skills into practice on a regular basis).
Don’t Couch Surf
Staying in touch with friends and family is tough to do when we’re busy at work. And if we are putting the hours in and not getting much free time for ourselves, the prospect of a lazy, solitary bank holiday weekend in front of the TV may seem all the more tempting.
However, spending time on the sofa isn’t always the best way to switch off from a typically busy professional schedule. Remaining largely sedentary over the weekend doesn’t do our cardiovascular health any favours, and without much to distract us on our days off, our thoughts might naturally lean towards work. Subsequently when we return to the workplace, we might not feel like we’ve made the most of our free time.
Again, variation and activity helps to alleviate mental and professional fatigue. Experts are increasingly extolling the values of relationships in maintaining good mental health. So try to make the time to catch up with friends or family on your extra day. Go for a walk together, or organise an outdoor activity.
Keep Alcohol Intake Within Lower Risk Limits
It’s safe to say that in the UK, our drinking culture has traditionally been one of weekend excess; and for some, the extra day of weekend freedom presents an opportunity to drink even more.
However, the health effects of excess alcohol consumption remain the same, whether it’s a bank holiday or not.
The term ‘holiday heart syndrome’ is one typically used in reference to the symptoms someone might experience after one or more days of binge drinking over the Christmas period; namely, heart palpitations and arrhythmia. But the same essentially applies to bank holidays too. Drinking over the lower risk limits, particularly on consecutive days, can have an effect on heart function, not to mention liver health, digestion, and more.
Moderation is therefore key to staying healthy over the bank holiday period, as it is during the rest of the year.
If you aren’t sure what the lower risk guidelines for alcohol are, you can find more information over at the NHS Choices site.
And remember that social activities which don’t involve alcohol are just as (if not more) fun.