People often ask me for my top non negotiables, as if they will suddenly become healthy next week if they follow them. I’m not quite sure why because there really isn’t any golden bullets to health. It’s about forming healthy habits and sticking to them for life.
My one simple tip is to cook from fresh with the best quality ingredients you can afford as often as you can. I’m not perfect so I aim for 6 days a week. I can’t stress the importance of cooking from scratch enough. If it scares you, start simple, in fact my most enjoyable meals are amazingly simple and easy to prepare. I personally thoroughly enjoy tasting produce as nature intended, don’t get me wrong, I can whip up some seasoning, a marinade or a healthy sauce as well, but there is something very satisfying about eating something as it was intended. My husband even says I even have a ‘happy munch’ when I’m eating something totally healthy. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be as weird as me, just start at the beginning and it gets easier, trust me.
In terms of general principles to following, these areas of life are fundamental, here’s my list of seven;
- Nutrition – variety, fresh, ideally organic, no added sugar, high fibre, rainbow colours, variety of high quality proteins, low in processed refined goods (this captures a multitude of sins – salt, transfats etc), low in stimulants (alcohol, sugar, cigarettes etc) Home cooked. There’s so much to cover here, this is a brief summary.
- Hydration – don’t forget that fruits and vegetables contain water too, fluid intake will vary depending on a different factors, for example climate, exercise, gender, age, illness, diuretic foods and beverages(salt, caffeine etc). Interestingly there is no scientifically proven quantity of water that we should drink, despite the commonly recommended 8 glasses or 2 litres of water being touted about (McCartney 2011 .BMJ). One indication that most clinicians agree on, is that your urine should be lightly coloured not dark. Consistently clear urine might in some cases, be a cause for concern.
- Stressors – physical, psychological, and physiological. Learn to become aware and take action to remove/reduce them or seek out tools to manage their impact so they are no longer stressors. There is significant research now that shows a link between how your emotions can alter physiology. Put into English, your thoughts can affect how well your body functions (Mohojari 2018. Nutrition Reviews). Additional ways to alleviate this might be through the next point.
- Relaxation – me time – just do it! Ideally an hour a day. Just you, no interruptions. Doesn’t matter what it is or where you do it, everyone is different. Something which you find calming, requires your complete focus (that takes you away from the ‘conscious you’ here and now). It doesn’t need to cost anything and could be combined with fun and movement which I’m coming to shortly. The aim is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is responsible for relaxation and slows the body down.
- Fun – laughter is the best tonic. Remember that old gem? That’s probably because its true. Happiness and generally enjoying life are linked with a reduction in stress and we know that stress can make us ill (Louie 2016, Am Jn of lifestyle Medicine) Anyway, we’re only on this planet once (depending on what you believe) so why not get the most out of it.
- Sleep – I wrote a post on this the other day. Research categorically finds we need sleep, 7-8hrs daily of uninterrupted sleep to be precise (Grandner & patel 2007) Any less or any more and you are likely to be increasing your chances or cardiovascular disease and /or shortening your life.
- Movement – The most important distinction here is between movement and exercise. You don’t necessarily need to join a gym, go running, swim 50 lengths. Just keep moving. There was an experiment a few years ago which found someone cleaning the house for 2-3 hours burnt just as many calories as someone down the gym. I’m not a big one for calories, but the example highlights the point I’m making. So, the point is, yes go do some classic exercise if that floats your boat, but if not just be active and keep moving sufficiently to get your heart rate up. I could go on about the benefits of walking upstairs instead of using the lift, HIIT workouts or weight bearing exercise for women, or flexibility exercises to ensure you remain supple and agile for later life. Deep down we all know exercise/movement is beneficial. Depending on how you feel about exercise it will dictate what’s the right approach for you. Start at the beginning and see where it takes you, but just do something.