Wellbeing for the Pragmatist - Part 1
We all know ‘Wellbeing’ is important. It gets talked about all the time these days.
Taking care of your wellbeing.
Health and Wellbeing.
Wellbeing festivals, classes and summits.
But what the bloody hell is it? Do we all need to start meditating for 2 hours a day, eat organic kale and stop shaving our armpits?
For many coaches in the Wellbeing space, there is much gravitas in being your “best self”. The internet is flooded with body-positive, intuitive eating, anti-diet, self-love movements, all rife with people telling you endless ways of how to be your best self...ergo, what you’re doing right now is wrong/not enough/if you run into rough patches you clearly haven’t got it right. We end up in a loop of disappointment when our wellbeing rituals somehow don’t stop the kids from scribbling on the walls or the dog from rolling in crap, and we decide the whole thing is too 'airy fairy' for real life anyway.
I am a Health and Wellbeing Coach for normal people. I eat cake, I drink wine and I don’t shop at Whole Foods. I believe that Wellbeing is about feeling well as a human being. It’s about putting a little effort in now, to make life happier and healthier when challenges inevitably do come along. Some days you will be your best self, others you’ll have period pains, eat bars of chocolate the size of your head and make questionable Netflix choices. My mission is to help people realise that they are in the driving seat of their own life and to empower them to make a few more great choices for their body and mind on a regular basis.
Wellbeing has a habit of being a bit wishy washy for my liking. I like stuff I can hold on to and put into action in a practical way. So here is my theory of Wellbeing, designed by and for the pragmatists among us. It’s nothing groundbreakingly new, plenty of experts in the Wellbeing industry have identified these four overarching themes within the space. This is simply a format that makes sense to me and makes it easy to choose to take action. I look at Wellbeing as eight Jenga blocks: a set of four belonging to mental health and four to physical health. In this blog we're covering the physical health blocks, with some actions you can take today to start feeling the benefit.
If you are looking to improve your life or health, understanding these four pillars and ticking off something in each of them is a good place to start. Here are a few suggestions to help get you started on stacking the ‘physical health’ Jenga blocks — kale and quinoa salad free.
Sleep. One of the single most incredible functions our body does...and one of the most underrated. While we’re asleep we heal, process, build and problem solve. We have all felt the sensation of the mental wheels coming off when we are sleep deprived and grasping at the coffee pot. Conversely, we have all felt the benefit of sleep clarifying our thoughts on a problem that our tired brains found insurmountable. The same goes for our physical health. Our ability to recover from illness or even a tough training session is significantly impaired when we get less than the recommended 7-8hrs of quality sleep each night. Most people and clients I speak to don’t miss out on this elixir of life from choice, usually it’s down to subconscious neglect. Whether it being sucked in to watching mindless television, after-work drinks or clearing up after the children have gone to bed, things we don’t outwardly acknowledge as important manage to take precedence over sleep.
Recommendation: Create a 15-minute bedtime ritual and make it easy. Set an alarm on your phone (or better, alarm clock!) and put your phone next to your toothbrush (thus avoiding the temptation to turn the alarm off and continue watching some unknown person’s fake love life unfold). Set the alarm for at least 7hrs and 15 minutes before your morning alarm is due to wake you up. Once you have sought out your bedtime alarm to turn it off, you might as well get on with brushing your teeth, putting on your pyjamas and getting in some ZZZZs.
When it comes to physical nourishment, we’re focusing on nutrition. I am a huge believer in balance, from both my own and countless clients’ experiences — you simply cannot feel happy or fulfilled if you are on a very restrictive diet. There must be balance, though. Habitually consume too many calories for your body and you will gain excess body fat, put undue stress on your joints, risk the health of your heart and other organs, and generally feel a bit like a slug. Habitually consume too few calories and nutrients, and you will lose weight, muscle mass, strength and negatively impact most systems in your body — digestive, hormonal, reproductive...you name it.
Recommendation: Stop buying meal plans and track what you like to eat. Unless you have just arrived on this planet, I genuinely believe you know what you need to eat, you’re simply not managing to execute it to plan. The challenge with executing someone else’s plan is that it’s not and never will be designed for you. Even the bespoke ones, written by somebody who has worked with you for years, will not take into account your cravings on a Wednesday evening after taking the kids swimming, or how hungry you are now that you’ve suddenly decided to take up Jujitsu on Saturdays. It’s time to step up to the plate (all puns intended) and start paying attention to what and how much you’re putting in your body. Unless you are secretly Rain Man, you’re going to need to write it down or use an app like MyFitnessPal or Noom. Once you have this data — what you like, what agrees with your stomach, whether you are gaining, maintaining or losing weight and so on — you can start making one or two simple swaps to increase the overall nutritional quality of your chosen food.
Simply put, we need to use our bodies to look after them. I’m not talking about daily gym trips, I’m talking about fulfilling their purpose of moving, walking, lifting and generally being fully capable of the physical demands of life. When we neglect to use our bodies as they were designed to be used we see deterioration and revolt...sore backs, tight shoulders, knee pain, the list goes on. Our bodies are designed to be used fully on a daily basis, not left in a glute-weakening, spine-compromising desk chair for hours on end.
Recommendation: Here are two: 1. Start the morning with a stretch. Find an intro to yoga video on YouTube and pinch a couple of moves. My favourites are a standing stretch followed by downward dog, some lunges and cobra. It takes about 2-3 minutes and I am awake by the end of it.
2. Get an activity tracker. A FitBit, Apple Watch, whatever you want to use. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just something that draws your attention to whether or not you have moved in the past hour and how much you move in total during the day. (Note, I don’t recommend using these as an accurate means of tracking calorie burn during a workout, but they are a useful tool to remind you to pace around the office on your next phonecall.)
Get out of your comfort zone. Get out of breath. Struggle to move something heavy. Try a movement you have never tried before. Our bodies need new challenges to develop and strengthen, exercise even helps build new neurological pathways keeping our minds young.
And yet, in a 2017 study, over half of Brits reported that they seldom played sport or exercised (Kantar UK Insights). Regular exercise has an undeniably astounding impact on countless illnesses and still it seems it is inaccessible or undesirable to the majority. Put bluntly, you cannot thrive if your body is fighting numerous diseases caused by a lack of wellbeing.
Recommendation: Take ownership of your health status today and start where you are. There is no benefit to staying at home, lamenting that you didn’t start exercising when you were 3 stone lighter and before your knees started hurting. You can and should make a change to that, starting today! Not because I say so, not because of the advertising of gyms and studios nearby, but because you have the right to thrive in your life. Take ownership of your story and start writing the next page with some exercise.
Avoid the pitfalls of unhelpful social pressure. If you have not exercised for many years, it is unavoidable that your body will be weaker and more susceptible to injury than if you were physically fit. So take it slowly. Start with 15-25 minutes a couple of times a week of anything you can stand to do (note, I’m not being so ambitious to say you enjoy — that might not happen straight away). Go for a brisk walk, head to an exercise class (ahem..I hear Miff Fit classes are pretty epic...just sayin’) or go swimming. Get out of breath, feel your muscles ache, let your heart pound in your chest.
Wellbeing doesn’t have to involve green smoothies and hours of silent contemplation — and if those things aren’t your bag, it doesn’t automatically mean that ‘Wellbeing’ isn’t for you. You can still enhance and strengthen your health, fulfilment and happiness on a daily basis by making small choices that focus on your version of health.
Pick one recommendation — the one that sounds the easiest for you — and get started RIGHT NOW. If the action needs to happen in a couple of hours or tomorrow morning, set a reminder. As with all things, it’s the application that matters. You can read this blog, picture yourself starting your day with an energising stretch and finding time to fit some exercise in, but still wind up running through the motions of a normal day.
Taking action is key and only you can take responsibility for that.