How often do you think about your own health?
It’s a question I’ve been mulling over recently. I think it’s mainly because I changed jobs last year and now work for a charity initiative which promotes healthy living to prevent serious health problems.
I must admit that I don’t tend to think about my own health all that much, although I am much more aware of my mental wellbeing nowadays.
No, I think about the health of my children and spouse first and tend to put myself last, like a lot of other parents I suppose. I know I should be more selfish in this regard sometimes, but it doesn’t come naturally.
As a working parent, it can be hard to keep all those virtual plates spinning at the same time. I know I’ve dropped a few before now and they’ve mostly been the ones that affect me directly, such as diet, exercise and work-life balance.
I spoke to Dr Jenny Leeser, the clinical director of occupational health at Bupa Health and Wellbeing UK, about the impact your lifestyle can have on your health. She said, “Unhealthier lifestyle habits…will naturally [lead to] an increased risk of obesity and illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and some types of cancer.”
I want to start taking things a little more seriously and have decided now’s the time to start. It’s important to be kind to ourselves, but I don’t think we always give ourselves permission to do that. I’ve already starting making some changes to my lifestyle like trying to get a good night’s sleep and setting work-related boundaries, but there’s more that I can do.
If, like me, you want to start looking after your physical – and mental- wellbeing better, here are some healthy lifestyle tips to get you started.
It can be so easy to let work pressures overwhelm you. I’ve been there and I got the t-shirt. When work is the last thing you think about before you go to sleep and the first thing you think about when you wake up, something’s not right. If you’re dreaming about work on a regular basis, something’s not right. If the very thought of work makes you feel anxious, something is definitely not right.
Set clear boundaries for yourself and, even more importantly, allow yourself permission to behave according to those boundaries. Let people around you know when you will and won’t be working – and stick to those times. If you work in an office, resist the urge to check emails when you’re at home. Above all, don’t feel guilty about it – you have a family to think about as well as a job!
I always try to keep in mind that my employer has me for seven hours a day. That’s it. Sometimes there might be occasions where it’s necessary to work longer, but that shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence. If you’re having problems keeping on top of your day-to-day workload, speak to your manager rather than let things fester.
Allowing yourself time to relax and de-stress is vital. If you feel like you are constantly ‘on’ all the time, your body won’t get the downtime it needs to recuperate.
Sleep is not for the weak.
Don’t scrimp on sleep. Getting too little sleep can have an impact on your physical and emotional health.
If you’re having trouble getting a decent amount of shut-eye, try my tips for a good night’s sleep.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
There’s good evidence that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can reduce your risk of obesity and illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and some types of cancer.
I’m not suggesting that we suddenly all start eating nothing but salad and fruit – heck, I enjoy a takeaway or slice of cake as much as the next person. It’s more about eating those more unhealthy foods once in a while rather than all the time.
Aim for three balanced meals a day with healthy snacks in between. To improve your diet, try to eat more fruit and vegetables – a recent survey discovered that many of us only eat one to two portions per day instead of the recommended five – as well as foods high in fibre and wholemeal rice, pasta and bread.
Watch your portion sizes.
As well as eating healthily, watch how much you’re putting onto your plate. Eating fruit is definitely good for you, but if you eat too much you will still put on weight.
It can be hard to know what a good portion size is. Check out this handy guide to help you with healthy eating and portion control.
Keep your activity levels up.
Being active reduces your risk of physical health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer and is good for your mental wellbeing too. Exercise boosts endorphins – ‘feel good’ hormones – in the brain, helping you to feel calmer and happier.
The Government recommends spending 150 minutes each week on moderate physical activity combined with strength exercises such as yoga twice a week. While it can be difficult to fit exercise into an already busy day when you have a job and family to juggle, try to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. Moderate exercise includes walking, jogging, cycling and swimming.
Even a small change to your physical activity levels can help to make a big difference to your health in the long-run.
If you drink and/or smoke, start cutting back.
I don’t smoke, but I do drink now and again (although not as much as I used to pre-kids). Obviously both can be bad for your health, smoking in particular. They can affect your quality of sleep as well as increase your risk of conditions like heart disease and some cancers.
If you smoke, try to give up or at least cut down. Your local NHS Stop Smoking service should be able to offer some support. When it comes to alcohol, stick to drinking within recommended limits.
Make time for your family and friends.
Relationships are important for our mental wellbeing so stay social (and I’m not talking about the online kind of social). We are sociable creatures at our core and there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction with fellow human beings.
It can be hard at times, but try to organise get togethers when you can, no matter how small. You could also try arranging activities with your colleagues, outside of work.
Plan when you will do household errands or tasks.
This links back to the very very first tip of setting boundaries to make sure you get sufficient rest. As well as setting boundaries at work, do the same at home. After all, housework is called work for a reason!
Plan household chores and errands into your weekend, but still ensure you leave some time to rest. This can help prevent you feeling overwhelmed and not being able to sleep.
Is there anything else you do to be kind to your body and mind? Tell us your other healthy lifestyle tips.