So much is in the media nowadays about a healthy lifestyle and the benefits of this phrase for our overall wellness, vitality and longevity. However, what’s not talked about enough, is the importance of balance and moderation and what a healthy lifestyle actually means.
The fact of the matter is, being healthy isn’t a goal or target to reach before you then you focus on the next task at hand. Being healthy is a lifestyle, a way of living and being, which ebbs and flows just like the tide, and so is sometimes gentle, easy and smooth and at other times, tumultuous, stormy and a real challenge to navigate. Overall though, the idea is, the combination of choices you regularly make are actually supporting your overall happiness, vitality and life in a mostly positive, nurturing and sustainable way so that you can live a healthy life according to who you are as an individual.
As I’ve mentioned before in musings about myself on my website, I grew up with a few health challenges, which meant I learnt from a very young age what was going to support me and what was going to hinder my overall happiness and enjoyment in life. I needed to be mindful about the foods and drinks I chose, because if there was any kind of emotional stress trigger going on for me as a child, young person and even into adulthood, then food just exacerbated my physical symptoms, one of which was rather irritating (and to me, ugly), eczema.
What used to annoy me a lot and still does a bit now too, and it’s something we need to talk about and stop doing to one another, is calling people out when they do reach for a piece of cake, packet of crisps, chocolate bar or similar, when their usual choices are what’s considered healthier. I’ve experienced this a lot in my life, due to having to eat a rather plant-based natural diet, where avoiding refined foods like white bread, cakes, cookies, fizzy drinks and sweets was the norm for me, to support my health and wellness. And yet, I’d often then be teased by other children or judged and ridiculed by adults (including family in these groups) if I did then indulge in a rich dessert or pizza with cheese on top for example.
Let’s make one thing clear here folks…it’s about balance and moderation.
A lot of research has been done around the subject of lifestyle and what constitutes a healthy one. Basically though, positive changes in physical activity, dietary choices, nutrition and supportive lifestyle patterns such as including regular meditation or prayer-type activities into your daily routine have all been proven to contribute to profound and effective differences in the health and wellbeing of people. We’ve got to begin gently though if this is something new to us. And if you know someone who’s doing their best to improve their health and wellness, support them rather than judging them, especially if they make some indulgent choices. It’s about balance remember.
Leading research in what constitutes a healthy lifestyle include the likes of The Blue Zones Team and Dr Dean Ornish. Along with living and working in a supportive environment (which I wrote about in my last article), they all highlight the following as key components to help sustain a healthy lifestyle:
- a plant-based diet – this does not mean being vegan before anyone gets angry and starts shouting at their screen or messaging me…it just means what it says, consuming a plant-based diet i.e. mostly vegetables and fruits, legumes and natural grains. It can include aspects like fish, meat and dairy. What is advised, however, is these additions are not the mainstay of any meal you consume. They are additions. Therefore, most of your plate should be plants…not meat, dairy, fish and potatoes or chips, white bread rice or pasta, with the odd carrot and pea as a garnish. To find out more, a good place to start is here and the graphic below from Blue Zones.
- regular daily movement supports our sustained health and longevity – this will vary from person to person, depending on age, ability and where you are. It’s vital for us all though, that we include suitable daily physical activity into our lifestyles.
- As I also mentioned in my last article, healthy relationships in our social life, at home, at work, including people of faith, all help sustain our health and wellness. Now, to clarify, when I say people of faith, this does not mean we all need to join a church, though for some this will be their preference. People of faith includes those who follow religious doctrine, as well as those who may take time to pray in their own way, be it in a formal building or at the beach, or in the mountains…it can also include people who meditate as well. The scope is huge. It’s about faith in something bigger than ourselves though, a trust in this life we’ve all been blessed with and the positive path it will take for us all. When we surround ourselves with positive like-minded people, who share in our faith, which is rich in love, joy and happiness, it helps us all to thrive. It’s about that community spirit as well.
- Lastly, which I will focus on more in my next article, having a purpose in life is also vital for our sustained health and wellness.
To be able to sustain this kind of lifestyle, we need to have a ‘why’ which is intrinsically ours and motivates us to take positive action regularly. I’ve been exploring this very concept myself in a lot more depth lately, across many areas of my life. The King of knowing your ‘why’ is Simon Sinek, whose work really has helped inform some of my thinking, motivation and actions. Though he focuses on leadership, the principles can be applied to any area of life. So I’d encourage you to watch his TED talk to get your creative juices flowing. Once you know your ‘why’ for taking positive action about your health and wellness, we can then look at what actions you can take. See if you can list 20 ‘whys‘ for making positive changes towards your healthy lifestyle.
Now we have your ‘whys‘, let’s look at diet and nutrition in a bit more detail, to see what the basics are and what we can do now. As mentioned above, the research is clear, a diet based on plants is best for our overall health and longevity. You do not need to be vegan…adding in some animal products is acceptable. The portion size and quality of this protein source are worth investing in, however. Where possible, avoid the processed, fast-food type food sources. They are what we call empty foods because you’ll most likely feel hungry again soon afterwards. Not only that, they are processed with ingredients which are not going to support your health and wellness goals. Rather, they’re more likely to contribute to your inflammation, pain, swelling and skin conditions for example. So it’s best to avoid them.
A good habit to get into when faced with a decision around your food and drinks choices is asking yourself this question, “Will this food/drink take me closer to or further away from my health and wellness aspirations, based on my current daily patterns and choices?”. And remember, we can all enjoy some indulgences, just keep the regularity and portion size of these indulgences in balance. Be honest with yourself, because it’s only yourself you’re fooling otherwise. Think of your food as medicine, as fuel to support your overall health and wellbeing. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change e.g. eating cake or cookies every day is not going to give you the medicine and fuel you need to sustain a healthy body at a healthy weight. Therefore if you look at them as the enemy to your goals, their appeal lessens. It’s also important we ask ourselves why we may be reaching for these empty comfort foods or drinks regularly…what is the emotion behind these choices? What are we masking, hiding or trying to blank out when we eat to comfort ourselves? Understanding these choices also helps to rebalance our way of doing things…and a great tool which I use all the time in my practice is EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), which helps to rebalance the mind-body-social aspects within us again, thus supporting our return to health and vitality once more.
Remember, what you eat is important…but it isn’t the whole picture, as explained in previous posts. Your emotions, your beliefs, your environment, your organ health all play a part. What you eat and drink is just a part of the greater whole. Here are some ideas to help get you started on making healthier choices:
- Start to take action, experiment and learn what supports you and what hinders you.
- Fully remove fizzy, sugary drinks and alcohol from your daily routine. It may work for you to enjoy them occasionally further down the line, once you’ve got a firm grip on your habits again. For now though, fully remove them.
- Reduce or better still, remove tea and coffee for the time being. They are diuretics (increase your need to urinate and dehydrate you) and do not support the journey towards health and vitality when you’re in recovery.
- Remove processed foods – learn about this by reading labels on anything you buy. If it has ingredients which are not natural or pronounceable, it’s a sign these are additives, so put the item back on the shelf.
- Swap your white carbs for whole grains e.g. eat brown rice, rye sourdough bread, wholegrain pasta.
- Make each meal mostly about fruits and vegetables. Most of your plate or bowl should be plants. We want to increase your fruit and vegetable intake here.
- Learn about healthy fats and proteins for you and increase these e.g. flaxseeds, avocados, oily fish like salmon or sardines are all good examples of healthy fats and proteins. Others include beans and legumes such as red lentils or mung beans, or nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, sesame and pumpkin seeds. The latter need to be consumed in moderation. Do not make the mistake I’ve made (a few times) and think you can eat a lot of nut butter because it’s homemade or heaps of nuts because they’re natural and unsalted. We only need a few nuts or a small handful of seeds a day to benefit. More than this each day and you will pack on the kilos and not help yourself.
- Drink natural water. Tap water is fine if you know it’s not polluted with chlorine or other such additives like fluoride, which are claimed to be helpful. They are not helpful. DO NOT be fooled. If in doubt, install a water filter system at home or buy a water filter jug. Avoid buying plastic bottled water. Aim for eight glasses of plain water per day.
Now, what about movement, physical activity, exercise…? We all know regular physical move and activity is good for us for many reasons e.g. it helps to control our weight; it’s good for our brain and reduces stress, anxiety and depression; it also supports a healthy heart and helps to reduce symptoms which contribute to conditions like diabetes; it helps to improve your sleep quality and thus also helps to improve your longevity; it sounds counter-intuitive, but exercise improves bone health and thus also helps with muscle strength too; and how about it helping to improve your sex life too, not to mention having a healthier bowel as well. So what’s not to love about getting some regular movement and physical activity into your daily routine…?
We don’t all need to be ultramarathon runners, Olympic champions or super flexible yoginis. There is a scale and we all fit on it somewhere. Where we fit will all depend on your current vitality, health and age. None of these need be a barrier to beginning to get more active, however. In fact, they can act as a motivator to get you going. What you choose to do is up to you…the best place to start however, is with an activity you know you will do regularly, no matter what. The trick is to start small. A while ago, I read a book titled Mini Habits by Stephen Guise which is all about creating and starting with smaller habits for bigger results. e.g. if you want to begin exercising, start with one sit up a day. It may not sound like a lot, but after 100 days, you will have done at least 100…and in all likelihood, you will have done a lot more…and improved by a huge percentage over that time.
So if you enjoy walking but haven’t walked in a long while, begin with just 100m per day and see how you get on. As you master that distance, increase it over time. An easy way for many of us to monitor this with distance or steps these days is via the smartphone. Most of them have an inbuilt health app, which counts your steps and distance walked over the course of a 24 hour period. It can be an easy way to keep track of what you’re doing.
Some other ideas to help get you moving with daily physical activity include swimming, pilates, tai chi, dancing, weight training, boxercise classes, aerobics, Zumba, cycling, tennis and hatha yoga to offer just a few examples to try out. There are of course many many more. The key is to find what works for you on a regular basis and stick to it. If you’re like me, you need a variety of activities to stimulate and motivated you to keep going. So I mix things up. I walk regularly, I attend boxercise classes, I also do some of my own sessions at home (HIIT and yoga), I am also currently loving skipping and with the weather (slowly) improving, I will be in the ocean a lot more for swimming too. I also like to get out on a bicycle, as well as attend group HIIT classes when I can too. It’s up to you though. The key is finding what you love and doing it regularly, even you just start with 30 seconds per day. This is how I have built up my skipping. I was tripping up a lot, to begin with, as well as getting out of breath quickly too. However, I dedicated a small amount of time to it regularly and can now easily skip for 10 minutes with only a few trip-ups.
You too can achieve the results you desire by making small and regular changes to your daily routines. Simple changes like taking the stairs instead of the escalator or lift; getting off the bus or tube one or two stops earlier and walking the rest of the way to/from work; getting together with a few trusted friends and joining an exercise club or group together, to help motivate and hold each other accountable. The list is endless. Beginning is key however. And the key to beginning is in your hands.
Day one or one day…you choose.
And if you would like a partner in your journey, this is part and parcel of what I offer in my practice. Together, we can find the root cause of your symptoms and then co-create a bespoke plan for you, to help you get on track towards your health and wellness aspirations. Then you too can not only have your cake but also enjoy eating it too.
So what are you waiting for? Get in touch now to begin your new journey and a new you. What better time than the new moon in Gemini, which arrives on 3rd June. New moons are a well-documented time for setting new intentions, goals and plans to work on. So let’s get started today.