Health and Wellbeing
Our health & wellbeing is so important as it has such an impact if it's not right. Here we explore some of the key elements, such as mindfullness, physical & emotional health and healthy eating.
Looking after our health is crucial to live a long and happy life and a big part of this is our wellbeing - having a strong and well-adapted sense of wellbeing can help us overcome difficulties and help us acheive our goals in life.
Awareness, connection, insight and purpose
Many people believe that we have the power to train our brains to improve both our mental and physical health. Richard Davidson is the founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin and says that his career has been driven by a central question: ""Why is it that certain people are more vulnerable to life's slings and arrows, and others are more resiliant? And how can you nudge people to promote more resiliance and well-being?"".
There are four components of well-being that people can be trained in; awareness, connection, insight and purpose.
Awareness is about being able to pay attention, be self-aware and focused - so being present. Smartphones are part of everyday life and most of us are often distracted by them. Now, we're not suggesting you never use your phone but try to be more aware of how much of distraction it is. If your mind is distracted it can affect your well-being.
Connection is linked to successful relationships with others and the emotions involved; kindness, empathy and maintaining a positive outlook. Meditation and mindfullness can help you develop these emotions.
Insight is all about self-awareness and being able to prevent self-defeating narratives and bouncing back from difficult or negative events or experiences. Purpose is having a clear direction in life and feeling that life has meaning - this has been linked to faster recovery from negative events.
Looking after your physical health
People who are physically active and at a healthy weight live about seven years longer than those who are not active and are obese. But how does this help your mental well-being? Exercise releases endorphines which is a mood lifter. It can relieve stress, anxiety, depression and anger. But, it's not just about exercise, it's also eating well, getting enough sleep and drinking in moderation. Do you wake up full of energy ready to the face the day? Or do you feel foggy, struggle to concentrate and have headaches and pains? All of these thing contribute to these feelings and the more you invest in your physical health the more you will see improvements in these areas.
It can be daunting to try and do all of these things so it's important to design a plan that works for you. That may be solely focussing on one of these things or doing a little bit in each area. So you could set yourself a physical challenge like a 5k and train towards this, or you could do smaller things like eating more vegetables and going to bed at the same time every night. The key thing is to look at the areas your strong in and apply these methods to the areas your weaker in. You may be really good at sleeping - how did you get to this? Did you have to try a few different things? Did you invest in things like balck out blinds or a new mattress? Now think about how you could apply what you learnt and did here and apply it to exercise.
To help you kick start your physical well-being journey, think about:
- Being accountable; you and only you are responsible for you so no more blaming others or procrastinating.
- Measure & analyze; keep a record of your journey and track your progress. Have you noticed a difference in your blood pressure or weight since you've been eating more vegetables and walking more - this can be a great motivator.
- Hire; none of us have got all the answers so we may need to get an expert on board. You could consider using a personal trainer or dietician, of course we can't all afford to do this but there is also so much free information out there that can help as well.
- Fire; on the flip side there may be people that you need to distance yourself from. Is there anyone who is a bad influence or draining your energy? Perhaps it's time to move on?
- Action, action, action - once you've planned your journey you need to implement it, success is in the doing!
Looking after your emotional health
Although you may not think it, your emotional health can have a huge effect on your body. Have you noticed that when your feeling a bit down you get more colds and illnesses? This could be because poor emotional health can weaken your immune system and when your stresses, anxious or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should.
There are many steps to mental well-being but the key ones are:
- Connecting with other people
This can help you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth, gives you an opportunity to share positive experiences and also provide you with emotional support. Make sure you are making time each day to be with your family or friends, try to have dinner together. You could arrange a day out or a phone call with people you haven't seen for a while. Switch the TV off and have some conversations or you coul volunteer at a local school, hospital or community group. It's very easy to just text or message people, why not pick up the phone instead?
- Be physically active
Physical activity is a great way to raise your self esteem and build confidence. You can set yourself small goals or challenges and feel that sense of acheivement when you hit them. Exercise causes chemical changes in your brain that can positively change your mood!
There are loads of free activities to help you get fit, why not try the coach to 5k challenge? The Body Coach has a great YouTube channel with lots of different workout sessions on there. It's important to find something you enjoy so you'll stick to it. All of this can also help you connect with people!
- Learn new skills
We are constantly learning and research shows it can also improve your mental well-being. Even if you feel like you don't have time there are things you can do as part of your normal routine. Why not try learning to cook something new? You could ask to take on an additional responsibility at work like mentoring a junior team member. You could tackle that DIY project you've been meaning to do, sign up for a course or try a new hobby.
- Give to others
Small acts of kindness can create positive feelings and a sense of reward. It could be as simple as smiling at people, saying thank you, asking friends how they are and really listening ot volunteering.
- Mindfullness (pay attention to the present moment)
If we are always looking back or to the future, we can miss the joy of what is happening right now. Mindfullness is paying attention to what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. An important part of this is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations we are experiencing. Do you rush through your day or do you take a moment to listen to the bids singing in the trees, or feeling the leaves crunch underfoot? Meditation is a great way to reconnect and stop your mind from drifting. Even 10 minutes a day can help and there are great apps out there like Headspace.
Healthy eating and nutrition
There are obvious benefits to healthy eating such as living longer, lowering the risk of serious problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, but it can also improve your energy levels!
The key thing is to eat the right amount of calories for how active you are - If you eat or drink more than you need, you'll put on weight as your body stores the energy you don't use as fat. You also need to eat a wide range of foods to have a balanced diet and make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs.
The recommended calorie intake for men is around 2,500 a day and 2,000 for women. Tracking your calorie intake on an app really helps some people but you need to find what works for you
Here's some tips for healthy eating:
- Carbs aren't the enemy
Some people think that carbs are fattening but gram for gram the carbs in starchy foods provide fewer than half the calories of fat. You need to be aware of the calories you are adding via the cooking process, e.g. butter on bread and creamy sauces on pasta.
Starchy carbs should make up just over a third of what you eat. This could be potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals - you should choose higher fibre or wholegrain varieties as they will help keep you feel full for longer. We tend to crave the things we don't have so instead of completly cutting carbs out try adjusting the carbs you are choosing.
- Eat lots of fruit and veg
The recommendation is to eat 5 portions per day and this can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fibre that may help to prevent cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. Make an effort to eat a range of colours and don't forget your greens as they are great sources of iron, folic acid and nitrates.
It's easier than you think to get your 5 a day....add a chopped banana to your cereal, jazz up your rice with peas or sweetcorn, make your own vegetable crisps, use tinned tomatoes in your sauces instead of ready-made sauces, swap out your sugary snacks for fruit, carrot sticks and hummus.
- Eat more fish
Fish is a great source of protein and if you can you should aim to eat 2 portions a week, including 1 oily fish as these are high in omega-3 fats, which help prevent heart disease. Oily fish include salmon, trout, hering, sardines and mackerel. Non oily fish include haddock, plaice, cod, tuna and hake. Again these can be fresh, frozen and canned
- Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
You need some fat in your diet but it's important to pay attention to the amount and type of fat your eating. On average men should ahve no more than 30g of saturated fat and women 20g. Saturated fat can be found fatty cuts of meat, sausages, butter, hard cheese and biscuits. Try healthier choices like vegetable oils, oily fish and avocados.
Many packaged foods and drinks contain a surprisingly high amounts of free sugars. Try and make things from scratch where you can so you know what's in them