Mental health conditions are on the rise, there’s no denying it. You likely see it in your communities, among your friends or even in your families.
But physical health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity are also on the rise. Chronic illness is becoming more common and without some serious societal lifestyle changes, it’s not going away any time soon.1
On a positive note, life expectancy is on the rise too. But this of course means we have a longer time to care for and keep our body working at optimal levels.
We might not be able to – or want to – control the arrival of new wrinkles as each year passes. We might be resistant to our bodies softening as we reach middle age and beyond.
But other things, like obesity and heart disease?
We can’t ignore the potential reality of these diseases. Of the likelihood that our bodies will be challenged as we age.
We need to look after this body of ours, the one thing that’s guaranteed to be with us for as long as we live.
We need to take action NOW.
Establishing healthy habits as you get older
This year I turned 39.
The age almost doesn’t matter, except – like any of you on the cusp of a new decade or life stage – it creates a reason to pause. To reflect.
This year I’ve also been hit with some health issues that remind me that my body is ageing. My back needs more care. My teeth are no longer as strong as they once were. It takes a whole lot more effort to stay physically fit and healthy than it used to.
I’ll admit that I’ve felt frustrated. Like I’ve been doing battle with my body. Why hasn’t it been behaving as it always has?
Then I realised – thanks to some wise words from my yoga teacher that slowly filtered in and made sense – that this focus was, of course, fruitless.
There’s something that you can’t change, and others that you can. Focus on the things you can.
And so getting back to something more useful, here are some of the things I’ve been working with instead:
- eating healthily,
- exercising daily and
- getting the sleep I need.
They’re of course the most basic of our physical needs – the most essential – but how easy is it to forget about these basics?
I don’t always manage to tick all the boxes every day. But when I manage to do them most days?
The impact on my life is significant.
Three ways to look after your body
So yes, sometimes we need to strip it back to the basics. We need to be reminded of what it is that sustains us, at a foundational level.
Here is your reminder.
And an invitation to join me and get back to looking after that body of yours.
1. Eat healthily
Being mindful of what you eat is one of the most obvious ways to care for our bodies. But how often and easily do we give into eating a sugary snack or grabbing a takeout that leaves us feeling heavy and greased out?
Some simple ways to eat healthily include:
- staying away from processed and refined foods,
- choosing organic food wherever possible,
- sitting down and eating a meal slowly rather than rushing it, and
- really chewing your food.
Mindful eating is a thing.
Once we realise how good we can feel when we give our bodies the right fuel – the premium stuff – choosing what we put into our bodies can become a bit addictive.
And when we’re in a healthy eating rut or low moment, realising that taking small steps in the right direction is better than taking no steps at all.
So if you’ve just polished off a block of chocolate, it doesn’t have to mean you keep railroading on the junk food train. It can mean yes, I ate a tonne of chocolate, but that’s happened and it’s okay, and dinner can again be something yummy, healthy and nutritious.
Move away from junk in, junk out, and move towards quality in, quality out.
2. Exercise daily
If you look for research that examines the impact of regular exercise, you’ll find thousands upon thousands of journal articles.
Now of course certain types of exercise are ‘better’ than others. Certain exercises are better suited to certain body types or ages or conditions. And some exercise can have unexpected side effects.
But the recurrent theme is obvious: little bits of regular exercise make the biggest difference to our health.2,3
Walking or running outdoors has shown benefits over indoor activity, while yoga and pilates can develop overall strength and help with healing certain injuries and conditions. Dance can exercise the heart and raise endorphin levels and feelings of ecstasy, as can going to the gym.
It goes on.
The point here is that you can pick whatever type of exercise suits you, because you know what works for you. You know what type of exercise feels the least laborious.
And when you don’t view it in a ‘have to do’ light – when you experience the benefits and the way it makes you feel so good – that’s what’s going to help you stick to doing it every day.
That’s when the magic happens.
I’m still waiting for the magic to be on all the time, by the way. Because I very often have this strong pull to just do nothing.
Isn’t it weird how you can feel such an aversion to something that makes you feel so great?
And yet every day that I get out for a walk, each moment I tone and stretch my body, and every time I run around a field kicking a ball with friends, I end up feeling fantastic.
Consciously focusing on that positive feeling is what helps to create the positive habits, says American psychologist, Dr Rick Hanson.4 Creating space to really experience every part of what’s going on for you in that moment is what starts to train your brain to want more of that.
It definitely makes it easier to feel inspired to go out and do some exercise on those colder, blustery days.
3. Get 7-9 hours sleep each night
As new(ish) parents, getting over six hours of sleep a night seems somewhat of a dream for Dane and me.
But research is showing time and time again that sleep is essential if we want to operate at optimum levels when we’re awake. It’s also a key part of staying physically heathy.5,6
When you sleep, your body repairs itself. When you sleep, your brain processes all the many things that have gone on in your day. When you sleep, your parasympathic nervous system (PNS) is activated and your immune system gets a chance to power up.
Maybe you’re an exception to the rule, but very few people can function on fewer than 7 hours sleep per night.
So tools down.
Go. To. Bed. Now.
(And do like Dane and take lunchtime naps at the weekends, if you like ;-))
How are you looking after yourself? What’s your physical self-care plan? Which type of exercise gets you in the flow and feels the most effortless to you?
References and further resources
- PwC. Chronic diseases and conditions are on the rise. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/healthcare/emerging-trends-pwc-healthcare/chronic-diseases.html. Accessed 12 Jul 2019.
- Tierney, S., Mamas, M., Skelton, D., Woods, S., Rutter, M. K., Gibson, M., Neyses, L., & Deaton, C. (2011). What can we learn from patients with heart failure about exercise adherence? A systematic review of qualitative papers. Health Psychology, 30(4), 401–410.
- Lee J. The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J Gerontol Nurs. 2018;44(10):22-29. doi:10.3928/00989134-20180814-01
- The Jordan Harbinger Show. 192: Rick Hanson: The Science of Hardwiring Happiness and Resilience. https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/192-rick-hanson-science-hardwiring-happiness-resilience/id1344999619?i=1000436872462. Accessed 4 Jun 2019.
- Kawada T, Kuratomi Y and Kanai T. Lifestyle determinants of depressive feeling and a feeling of unhappiness among workers: A study in Japan. 2009. Work 33 (2009) 255–260 255 DOI 10.3233/WOR-2009-0873
- Gibson MH, Chambers L. Sleep matters: Can a good night’s sleep help tackle the obesity crisis? Nutrition Bulletin. 2019;44(2):123-129. doi:10.1111/nbu.12386