On this World Health Day (7/04/2021) I wish healthy living for all! Many of the chronic health concerns stem from poor lifestyle choices, hence it is imperative we choose to challenge our lifestyle choices and look at various ways of changing our unhelpful health related behaviours in order to optimise the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. How is your physical health? How is your mental health? Activity level? Sleep? Your diet? Addictive behaviours? Social relations? Ability to manage stress?
As more research is emerging, it is evident how we live has a bigger impact on our physical as well as mental wellbeing. Approximately 70-80% of chronic diseases have been linked to poor lifestyle choices. Evidence suggests unhealthy diet, lack of activity, paucity of social relations, alcohol & tobacco dependency along with poor stress management are all contributing to several chronic health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, stroke, mental health disorders and some cancers. Many of the chronic diseases are largely preventable and possibly revertible by addressing our health related behaviours. Hence, it is essential to develop awareness around what lifestyle choices you are making and also pay close attention to how you are living.
Are there any external factors contributing to poor health?
We ought to look into healthy ways of improving mind, body and gut health through lifestyle modifications. Staying in good health is important for all of us more so in later years. Mind and body work in unison. Psycho-somatic connections not only decide how healthy and happy you are but also play a role in deciding how connected you feel with life, and how fulfilling life’s experiences are for you. Similarly, the link between gut microbiota and the gut-brain axis is also emerging. The latter is a communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. Interestingly, 95% of serotonin, a happy hormone, is produced in the gut. Through research, brain-gut and gut-brain dysfunctions are being studied. Psychological stressors are known to cause gut dysfunction, including, chronic colitis and irritable bowel syndrome; Likewise poor gut health can affect cognitive function, anxiety and mood related behaviours.
We need to make healthy choices early on. Looking into meal plans – Is the diet balanced? Does it compliment gut microbiota? Assess calorie intake and calorie expenditure. Does the diet contain probiotics, adequate proteins including lean and plant based sources, more of unsaturated fats and less of saturated fats, less sugar and salt? Use different colours of vegetables and fruits daily – at least 3. Swap white flour, rice, pasta with whole grains.
The second lifestyle choice you can choose to challenge is the physical activity. Exercise helps keep the body and mind fit. The more we move the more calories are burnt and more neurochemicals are released in the brain. Thus regular aerobics style exercises keep us fit, improve our cardiopulmonary health and mental wellbeing keeping anxiety and depression at bay. They also help enhance performance and concentration.
The third beneficial lifestyle modification is addressing the stress management. Practicing mindfulness is an effective way of managing stress and coping better with anxiety, pain, feeling low and improving sleep, self-esteem and self confidence. Mindfulness trains us to be more aware of the moment and everything arising in that particular moment- thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and our surroundings. It remarkably improves cognitive function, emotional health, fulfilment and connectivity with life.
The fourth step in leading a more fulfilling life would be looking into relationships; strengthening personal and social relationships. Good relations help us feel more connected with the world around us. We feel well supported, which reduces a feeling of isolation. Well nurtured relations also make us feel valued improving self-esteem. Furthermore, you can offer a helping hand or provide emotional support to your family and friends in their times of need and derive much comfort in knowing their valuable support would be available to you as and when you need it.
The additional choices you can make around enhancing positive mental health would be learning something new, expressing gratitude and an act of giving. Continued learning improves a sense of purpose. It leads to developing new social bonds when you take up new hobbies, courses or join activity clubs, uplifting self-esteem. Learning also improves cognitive function by strengthening neuroplasticity where new neural connections are established. No matter how small or big the learning goals are – such as cooking something new, learning a new word, solving a puzzle, or taking a new hobby, they are all related to a sense of achievement, enhanced self-confidence and positivity. Likewise an act of giving and helping others in any form promotes a sense of satisfaction and increased happiness. Any small act of kindness or volunteering can also lead to feelings of self-worth and connectivity with the external world leading to a more fulfilling life and a positive outlook.
Through preventative measures and by adopting a healthy lifestyle, it is possible to achieve optimum wellbeing, feel physically fit and feel good about ourselves. Look into ways of taking your health in your own hands. Overcome chronic health concerns by taking charge of your health and by choosing wisely!
Look after yourselves! The old adage prevention is better than cure is still most fitting and applicable in today’s world!