The start of any new year is a chance to reassess our health and look to where we might improve. This year it is more important than ever, as 2021 dawns amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Lisa de Silva explores how we can help ourselves.
Over the past year we’ve explored various aspects of wellbeing to help bring greater balance and satisfaction to our daily lives. Building on this, over the coming months we will feature a series of health-related articles designed to help you optimise your physical, psychological and lifestyle habits.
Here we introduce the key elements which will help to keep you fit, relaxed and positive during 2021.
While many of us may commit to a formal exercise programme, simply raising our level of daily activity is a great way to improve physical health. Adding more walking, cycling or gardening can all boost fitness. But if the weather is too wintry, doing some housework, enjoying a kitchen disco or taking an online class can also keep our hearts pumping and our spirits lifted.
Strength & Bones
In the same way our muscles strengthen with exercise, so do our bones. As bone density decreases with age, the risk of osteoporosis increases and the best way to counteract this is with regular exercise. Try weight-bearing and resistance exercises which encourage you to work against gravity. These include lifting weights, resistance bands, stair climbing and power walking.
Balance & Posture
Poor posture can be a cause of lower back pain, neck and shoulder tension, poor digestion and even headaches. Good posture will improve these ailments along with your core balance and stability, important to help avoid the risk of sprains and falls. While both yoga and Pilates are excellent ways to increase balance and improve posture, some simple balance exercises, such as standing on one leg will also do the trick.
Essential to our survival, sleep benefits our functionality and performance. When we sleep our bodies have a chance to repair and relax. This applies to both physical and psychological recovery, giving our bodies a chance to restore and our minds a break from constant chatter. One of the main pillars of health, a good sleep routine is an essential element of our wellbeing.
Anxieties and worries are often fuelled by thinking about the past or projecting into the future. Mindfulness is about bringing yourself back into the present moment to bring a sense of calm. It simply requires you to fully engage your senses in the present moment, for example drinking a cup of tea. Instead of listening to any raging thoughts, use all your senses to become aware of the warmth, taste, colour and fragrance of the tea as you enjoy it. Afterwards you will feel much calmer.
Meditation is akin to mindfulness in that it involves focusing the mind on a particular thought, activity or object to bring calm and relaxation. All sorts of activities like walking, losing yourself in music, crafting or cycling can be meditative, but perhaps the easiest way to meditate is to simply focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale. While your thoughts may wander, just practise bringing them back to your breath.
Being able to switch off negative thought patterns is important to reduce stress and increase our quality of life. There are many ways to do this, including sociable activities with friends or hobbies you enjoy alone. You can also benefit by getting involved in community clubs and projects. The main thing is to find things which help you to switch off and relax.
Good nutrition is based on plenty of fruit, vegetables, high quality carbohydrate and protein. Similarly, cooking from scratch, avoiding an excess of caffeine and sugar in our diets will also help us to maintain our health and a suitable weight. Hydration is also vital particularly if exercising, so do ensure you drink a regular supply of water.
While many of us enjoy celebrating with alcohol from time to time, when we drink to excess it can lead to heart disease, cancer, infertility, cirrhosis of the liver and damaging mental health issues. We can minimise the risk by limiting alcohol to less than 14 units a week, which is 6 pints of beer or around one and a half bottles of wine.
Dealing with Stress
If we are constantly beset by feelings of stress, the strain on our bodies and minds can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression. To minimise this, try to identify the causes of your stress and see if you can address them. It also helps to build a strong support network, eat a healthy diet, find a relaxing hobby and use physical activity as a natural mood booster.
Working long hours under relentless pressure will result in burnout and reduce your ability to be productive. So, it’s important to take regular breaks, talk to your colleagues and managers about any difficulties and work towards mutually beneficial solutions. To keep work from spilling into your private life ensure there is a clear delineation between the two, which can be difficult if you’re working from home so, keep the day structured, have a specific area of the house for working and at the end of the day change your clothing, take a shower or practise some self-care to mark the transition from work to home.