We human beings are very unique, complex creatures with different things that make us tick. This diversity is what gives us such a fascinating society.
In my ongoing quest for great health and happiness I’ve been thinking about things I try to do regularly that make me feel great. Some of these tips have medically proven health benefits and others are things that I have found help me personally.
1. Sleep – Good sleep is one of the cornerstones of health. It is currently thought that six to eight hours is the optimal amount of sleep for adults. The time that you go to sleep is very important too. Your body does the majority of its re-charging and detoxing between the hours of 11pm and 1am so if you are not going to bed until 12:30 you are missing most of this restorative period. Try to spend the hour before bed winding down. Stop working if possible, turn off the computer and social media! Even think about turning off the television. I find reading a book for half an hour or so before bed helps me get to sleep much quicker once I’ve turned the lights out. When I was pregnant I often found it difficult to get to sleep. One thing that seemed to help was my Hypno-birthing CD. I would try to listen and take it all in but on the occasions it didn’t seem to result in hypnosis it definitely resulted in sleep! There are lots of meditation CD’s out there that are great for bedtime relaxation.
2. Coconut oil – Coconut oil has recently come out as a bit of a “Superfood”! I make sure I always have some in the cupboard and use it for a variety of different things. The best thing about it are its proven health benefits. It contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) which are medium chain fatty acids. Don’t worry, these don’t make you fat! The MTC’s in coconut oil can increase energy expenditure compared to the same amount of calories from longer chain fats and are thought to have a therapeutic effect on brain disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s. Coconut oil also contains Lauric acid which can kill off bacteria, viruses and fungi. It is also thought to reduce blood cholesterol levels which can help prevent heart disease. I also find coconut oil to be a fantastic moisturiser. In the summer months I slather it on my skin. It doesn’t contain any chemicals unlike a lot of manufactured creams and it smells so deliciously summery you’ll be good enough to eat! I also imagine it would make a pretty good moisturising hair treatment, possibly mixed with something like Avocado but I’ve not actually tried this yet! I would recommend an organic Coconut oil in a glass container as it may be possible for nasty chemicals in plastic to leach into the fatty oil.
3. Meditation – I’ve always quite liked the idea of meditation but until fairly recently I’ve struggled to master the practice. For me it was a case of allowing myself to get into a state where I could even think about sitting down and emptying my mind for ten minutes or so when I was so busy. I’d sit there and try to think of a tree and instantly a though such as “ooh, have I taken the washing out of the machine” would pop into my head! I actually found taking my meditation out of my home environment worked quite well in the end. From having acupuncture sessions where I would drift off into a blissful state of euphoria on the treatment couch to the “Shavasana” at the end of my Yoga sessions, I slowly started to find I could get into a meditative state much easier wherever I was. I would love to practice meditation for ten minutes to half an hour every day but sadly I often don’t manage this. I do find though that when I do manage to get a session in it clears my mind so that I feel not only more energised but more focused and therefore productive! You might like to start off by trying a guided meditation session run at many yoga centres or just give it a go in the bath (not when sleepy!) or a place you find safe and relaxing. Meditation is thought to have myriad health benefits such as; better sleep, anti-ageing, increased attention, improved brain function, reduced stress, increased immunity, faster metabolism, lower blood pressure, increased energy levels and it mediates adrenal function. As you can see it’s a win, win situation!
– Recorded on my iPhone at Zighy Bay
4 . Sunshine – Everyone feels better when they’re in the sun, right? For me this is a major one. I’ve never been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but even my friends and family have noticed how I’m practically a different (better) person in the Summer! Sunshine just seems to make everything good and I’m sure it must be more than just psychological. One of the major benefits of sunshine is in the production of Vitamin D. In some circles the enormous importance of Vitamin D has been known for quite some time but it’s only fairly recently that it seems to be getting the awareness it so desperately needs. More and more studies are coming out showing the benefits of Vitamin D in the prevention of chronic disease such as cancer and auto-immune diseases. Some say it’s possible that all the press about sun exposure being linked to melanoma is causing people to be extremely deficient in Vitamin D therefore possibly leading to a rise in other types of cancer. It is thought that up to 90 percent of ordinary breast cancer may in fact be related to vitamin D deficiency. Whist Vitamin D can be supplemented, the best source is sun exposure. I’m not a fan of most commercial sun creams as they often contain toxic chemicals. I believe the safest sunscreens are barrier creams containing Zinc Oxide. Sadly these are the ones that come out white and streaky! If you are suffering health problems it may be a good idea to get your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor and remember whilst the sun has immense health benefits (after all, plants need sun to grow, why wouldn’t we!), don’t get burnt!
5. Socialise – People living in active communities are generally thought to be healthier and live longer than people with a fairly solitary existence. As humans, we are meant to be around other human beings and create families and communities. As a Mum I’ve definitely realised the importance of having a strong network of support both in the form of other mums I’ve met through anti-natal classes for example and family. My husband works long hours in the winter months and is often away and so at these times in particular I need a social support network around me to stop me from going mad! I often feel that as a nation we don’t seem to have the same strong sense of community that we have done in the past, however when I chose to up sticks and live in a tiny village in the English countryside I soon realised that community spirit does still exist in some places. There is something truly wonderful about virtual strangers coming together and helping each other out for purely selfless reasons. Nurture and cherish relationships and get together with friends and family to both laugh and cry. It’s amazingly stress relieving.
6 . Exercise – I’ve always loved participating in sports ever since I was a child. I was on most of the teams at school and always looked forward to sports day, however I realise that this is not the case for everyone. Whilst I do still love to play sports when the opportunity arises, as I get older exercise for me means much more. I took up Pilates about 4 years ago and now I couldn’t live without it. I love the mental aspect of it as much as the physical. The breathing and the concentration that seems to bring a calmness and mental clarity. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work but since taking it up my body both looks and feels stronger than ever before. I’ve also recently taken up Iyengar Yoga. I’ve dabbled in yoga in the past and never really enjoyed it but this class has me hooked. I don’t necessarily always love it and at times I really can’t be bothered but I always feel much better afterwards. I think it will really help my stiff, tight muscles and I’ve even heard that inversions (upside down stuff like head stands) are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect! The thing I’ve really noticed as I get older is how much better exercise makes me feel. Sometimes when I’m having a really tired, sluggish day I realise that I’ve not done any exercise for a while and it all makes sense. Exercise releases endorphins which help relieve stress, reduce pain and give you that real feel good factor. Also weight-bearing exercises can help strengthen bones and prevent diseases like Osteoporosis. It’s all about finding an activity you love (or at least can tolerate). Some people prefer competitive sport or maybe something social like dance or Zumba. One of my favourite forms of exercise is a brisk walk through the countryside! It gets your heart-rate up, clears you head and often comes with the added benefit of fresh air and sunshine. You can even socialise at the same time!
7. Eat real food – Nutrition is a complicated subject. My mother is doing a degree in it and some of the bio-chemistry stuff she has shown me is mind-boggling. Real nutrition is a hugely complicated scientific subject with more discoveries being made all the time. For this very reason and as I haven’t spent years studying it I’m going to keep this simple. Eat real food! By this I mean stuff that comes out of the ground. If you wish to eat animals try to make sure they have been raised outside on organic stuff that comes from the ground i.e. grass. For me it is all about keeping it natural. I try to stay away from food that comes with lots of packaging. This way you are generally avoiding anything processed, anything genetically modified, anything refined. If it’s in a packet check the ingredients. Lots of nasty things are hidden under less harmful sounding names. Take time to do research if you’re not sure what these names mean. Often packaged food that’s marketed as healthy is actually full of rubbish. As far as I can tell a mainly plant based diet does seem to be the healthiest but I do also like to get my animal protein so I choose organic, grass fed meat. I also like to avoid grains as I generally find my body doesn’t react well to them. Don’t get me wrong, my diet is not perfect. I slip now and again. I love the odd glass of wine or three and I love my chocolate but by sticking to these rules most of the time I find I feel my best and maintain my normal weight.
8. Do what you love, love what you do – Great news…having fun is good for you! Some people are fortunate enough to have a job that they love. Others try to find a way to make the most of it. If you have a job that you really don’t enjoy, is there a way you can change it? Sometimes it just isn’t possible and it can be scary to step off the career ladder but I so often hear stories of people who have been forced to do so through poor health, redundancy etc and have found themselves fulfilling their dreams! Either way it’s so important for our wellbeing to do things that we love and give us a sense of fulfilment. This could be through taking up a hobby, studying, learning a new skill or even starting a blog! If there is something you’ve always wanted to do, stop putting it off until tomorrow. Take a deep breath and jump in! It’s great to be able to look back and say “I did that!”
9. Detox- By this I don’t just mean diet. It can be great for your body to have a break from dietary toxins like alcohol, coffee, sugar etc but what about other toxins you may not think about as much. A build up of toxic chemicals in your cleaning products can make your home into a toxic environment. How about switching some of your products to more natural ones or even try making your own! Recipes can be found on the internet. Also how healthy are your beauty products? Daily use of chemical containing skincare, make-up, deodorant etc can add up to a very toxic environment. Studies have found that a large number of these chemicals can enter through your skin into your body. Be aware of ingredients such as parabens and sodium lauryl sulphate. Always check the label. I’m always raving about Weleda products as they are so natural! Lastly, do you have toxic people in your life? Those who bring you down and make you feel bad about yourself? If they’re not prepared to change their ways, maybe it’s time to change your friends!
10. Be positive – The mind is a very powerful tool and we can use it to change the way we feel physically as well as mentally. We all know that person who when asked “how are you?” will begin to reel off a great long list of everything that is wrong in the world! Not only is it stressful and boring to listen to time and time again but it will only serve to make them more negative and unhappy. I’m not suggesting you don’t share your problems as the old saying goes “A problem shared is a problem halved.” but often by trying to put a more positive light on things you realise that actually they may not be as bad as you once thought. The other thing is, positivity is infectious. I normally find that when I spend time with naturally cheerful, positive people I start to feel more positive about everything too. We all have those friends that make you feel great when you spend time in their company and I often find I leave vowing to be a better, more positive person. Also there is no end of heartbreaking, sad and worrying stuff in the news. Whilst it is a good thing to be socially aware, seeing too much of this stuff can leave you feeling really down. Limit your exposure to the awful stuff and try reading things like “The Positive News“.
I hope you find these points interesting and maybe you might even find something that helps you to feel the best you can. As I said, everybody is different so what works for one may not work for another.