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. These can be easily challenged and modified. Evidence suggests unhealthy diet, lack of activity, paucity of social relations, alcohol & tobacco dependency along with poor stress management and sleep are contributing to many of the chronic health concerns – physical and mental. Addressing these early on in life will result in improving overall health and wellbeing. Hence, it is imperative we look at the ways of changing our unhelpful health related behaviours which are causing adverse effects on 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. There are six factors which are identified as the six pillars of lifestyle medicine. Unhealthy diet, lack of activity, paucity of social relations, alcohol & tobacco dependency along with poor stress management and sleep all are proven to have detrimental effects on our body and mind health. These are related to increasing risk of several chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, stroke, mental health disorders and some cancers. Many of these chronic diseases are largely preventable and possibly revertible by addressing our health related behaviours. Therefore, it is essential to develop awareness around what lifestyle choices you are making? How they are affecting your health? And also pay close attention to what impact they have on the quality of your life?
Are there any external factors contributing to poor health?
We ought to look into healthy ways of improving mind, body and gut health through dietary modifications and stress management. 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 as well. 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 your calorie intake and calorie expenditure. Does the diet contain probiotics, adequate proteins including lean and plant based sources, more of unsaturated fats, less of saturated fats, less sugar and salt? Containing 5 portions of fruits and veggies ? Adding different colours of vegetables and fruits daily – at least 3 in each meal. Swap white flour, rice and pasta with whole grain substitutes.
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 to address would be stress management. Practicing mindfulness is an effective way of managing stress and coping better not only with anxiety, pain and feeling low but also 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, in a non-judgemental way. It remarkably improves cognitive function, emotional health, fulfilment and connectivity with life.
Looking into improving relationships, strengthening personal and social relationships, can also contribute to leading a more fulfilling life. Good relations help us feel more connected with the world around us. We feel well supported. Reducing 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.
Sleep well. Between 7-9 hrs of sleep is usually considered adequate for adults. Although babies need more than 15 hrs of sleep, people sleep less as they grow older. As a rough guide, if you wake up feeling refreshed in the morning be reassured you have had enough shut eye. Make it a habit to follow a sleep routine. Stick to regular timings; Going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday, avoid caffeinated drink after 4 in the afternoon and turn off electronic gadgets at least one hour before the bedtime spending this time in relaxation, breathing exercises or playing calming games and activities,
The additional choices you can make around enhancing positive health would be learning something new, expressing gratitude and an act of giving. Continued learning improves a sense of purpose. It also 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 sense of fulfilment 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 now 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!