We are living in the most challenging of times. The cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine, the fuel crisis and, of course the long waiting times not only for A&E but for planned NHS treatment. It’s a perfect storm and it is an alarming one. We have just all come through Covid 19 and thought we were in the clear when another major set of challenges came along. It sometimes feels like we are careering from one stressful situation to another. We hardly got the time to recover from the last period of stress and now we find ourselves in another protracted period of stress. This stress can have such a negative effect on our health. Stress can come out in our emotions, our body and how we behave. The hormones in our body (adrenalin and cortisol) are released in fight or flight situations and continual release of cortisol can suppress the immune system leading to all sorts of recurring infections. Furthermore, it can reduce digestive activity in the gut causing bloating, gas and abdominal pain plus other more serious conditions. Your sleep may be disturbed leading to fatigue and anxiety. In short, stress can cause numerous health problems.
It's not just stress that leads to disease in our bodies and minds. An unhealthy diet is a major contributor to our ill health today. Our eating habits are now unrecognisable compared to what they were 40 or 50 years ago. We never ate on the run and we hardly ever ate processed food or fizzy drinks. Energy drinks did not exist, and we did not have the plethora of extreme high sugar products that we now have. Obesity in the UK is increasing and is linked to a variety of serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, at least 12 types of cancer and respiratory disease. And then there are the associated mental health problems and stress arising from having to deal with obesity.
Data from the Active Lives Adult Survey estimates that 25.3% of adults aged 18 and over were living with obesity in November 2020 to November 2021, which is an increase from 24.4% the previous year. Obesity is a very complex issue, and it is not simply about what people eat (although that has a lot to do with it). There is large geographical variation in the prevalence of adult obesity ranging from 10.5% to 40.3% and it tends to be more deprived communities where obesity it at its’ most prevalent.
The upshot of this is that we must no longer rely on our wonderful NHS to take care of us.
Here are some ideas for improving your lifestyle and supporting your own health. My big tip is to start small, set small goals at first so that you make small changes and then gradually work to making your goals more challenging. Don’t change everything at once otherwise you are setting yourself up to fail.
1. Start the day with a healthy breakfast
This is one of the best things you can do for your body and your mind. Get the day off to a good, healthy start. You will feel more alert, have more energy and be ready to begin the day. A bowl of porridge is a fantastic way to start. It takes 2 minutes to cook and you can add all sorts of delicious fruit and nuts or seeds (or both) to it. It is full of fibre and will therefore keep you fuller for much longer than a sugary breakfast. It will also help lower your cholesterol and keep your bowels moving (thereby giving you more energy). All of this means that you will not need sugary snacks half-way through the morning to keep you going. If you really don’t like porridge, then how about 2 poached eggs on wholemeal toast or bananas on wholemeal toast? These ideas are not only nutritious but also inexpensive.
If you really do feel like a snack mid-morning then how about a piece of fruit or some nuts such as almonds, walnuts or brazil nuts? They are all very filling and extremely good for you as they are rich in valuable nutrients for your body such as magnesium, vitamin E and fibre. If you are in the office, keep some in your desk so that they are easily accessible.
The best way to start the day in addition to a good breakfast is having a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice in it. This will help give your liver a kick-start ready to perform the hard work of continually detoxifying your blood. It is also better for you to drink about 15 minutes before you eat as this supports your digestive process. Drinking with your meal dilutes the number of hard-working enzymes in your saliva which help to break down the food so it’s better to drink before or after food.
2. Get some exercise!
It has been medically proven that exercise is beneficial for just about every aspect of your life. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Supports your mood with the increased production of endorphins – the happy
hormones. It will also help you to feel less stressed.
- Exercise is great for flexibility, strength, and toning.
- It will improve your cardiovascular health. In other words, it is good for your heart
leading to a lower chance of heart attack and stroke.
- It can be sociable, especially if you are part of a team or a group eg walking group.
- It will help to lower your blood sugar therefore reducing the chance of type 2
If you think that exercise is all about joining an expensive gym then think again. You could walk to work or go for a walk at lunchtime instead of sitting in the office. You could join a walking group. There are literally thousands of free classes on YouTube for pilates, yoga, stretching and conditioning where you don’t even need to leave the house. That, combined with some gentle walking every day would help you so much and make you feel better about yourself.
3. Get your bowels moving
An awful lot of unease in our bodies comes from constipation. You are likely to be
constipated if you have not had a bowel movement at least 3 times in the last week or if your poo is large and dry or hard and lumpy of if you are straining or in pain when you try to go. This is something you might have simply got used to and think that that’s the way your body works however just think of the waste material that is stuck inside your body. No wonder we start to feel bloated, gassy, sick, uncomfortable, and irritable. Another side- effect of the toxicity associated with constipation is acne and skin breakouts. This happens when toxins and waste are re-absorbed back into the bloodstream via the colon, rather than being eliminated.
Rarely is constipation caused by a medical condition. Some of the causes are not eating enough fibre in your diet, not drinking enough fluids, lack of exercise or the side effects of medication. It can also be common during pregnancy and for 6 weeks up to after giving birth. Finally, it can be simply because you delay going to the loo when you need to.
Here are a few tips to get you going – literally!
Spend some time really looking at what your diet is like. You could keep a food diary for say a week itemising everything that you eat and drink. What areas do you think your diet lacks? For example, are you eating enough fruit and vegetables? Fibre is the one thing that will help to get your bowels moving. It aids the movement of food through the digestive tract, increases the bulk of your poo and prevents constipation – all of this will help to prevent bowel cancer. There is fibre in a huge amount of fruit and vegetables. For example: wholegrain bread, pasta, nuts, carrots, seeds, cucumber, cabbage, onion, courgette, celery, apples, bananas, pears, and strawberries.
Do you drink enough fluid? Have a look in your food diary (and be honest!) to see how many sugary / diet / energy drinks / juices you are having every week. Quite simply, water is the best thing you can drink. I appreciate that it is not the most interesting of drinks so you could think about adding slices of lemon or fruit or cucumber to make it more palatable. Herbal teas are also a good way of increasing your fluid intake and there are some very good ones which will help the digestive process. For example, peppermint, ginger, and fennel. Teas that will specifically support constipation are green tea, liquorice, dandelion and
4. Get a good night sleep
All sorts of things can lead us to not sleeping well. From anxiety and worry to eating late, working night shift, or drinking too much coffee or alcohol. Ask yourself when you last slept well. When did you last have an uninterrupted sleep that meant you wakened up refreshed and ready to start the day? A good night sleep will help you prepare for almost any eventuality.
One of the keys to a good sleep is preparing to sleep well. Literally plan to have a good night sleep. Have a bath with Epsom salts before bed – these salts are a great muscle relaxant and will aid your sleep. Don’t eat any large meals for about 3 to 4 hours before you go to bed or drink caffeine / alcohol as these are stimulants and will disturb your sleep. Cherries (believe it or not) are a great choice of pre-bed snack because they help to increase the body’s production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
Start with switching off your phone or ipad for at least an hour before lights out. That will start to rest your brain. Make sure your bedroom is very dark or wear an eye mask to block out the light. Try some deep breathing techniques. There are hundreds of breathing and meditation techniques available on the internet which you could try. This will slow down your breathing and your mind.
That’s all for today. I hope you have enjoyed reading the first part of this series of blogs on how to take responsibility for your own health. We owe to ourselves to have the very best health we can – go for it!