After a globally turbulent 2017, here we are at the beginning 2018… and with it the hope of new beginnings. We all make them, New Year’s Resolutions, full of expectation and motivation. However, although the “anticipation” of significant results is enticing, the goals we set are often unrealistic from a long-term perspective. This year, instead of making resolutions for 2018, I suggest turning away from thinking of a healthy lifestyle as a goal. Instead, try embracing health by incorporating good things into routines and considering health as a part of your journey. There is always space for small changes and improvements in our day to day actions.
No doubt that we are all different, and what we can realistically do will differ based on each one’s starting point, life style, as well as personal objectives. From my experience, most of us know what we should or could be doing better for our health. Also, we all know that health is much simpler said than lived, as the balance between our actions, our physical capacity, thoughts, and feelings are all highly intertwined and an integral part of our wholesomeness. To simplify a complex issue, what each of us needs is the motivation to actually convert our thoughts and plans of improvement into measurable and sustainable actions.
With this piece, I hope to inspire or incentivize you to walk [the health] talk by sharing some fun science facts about basic but imperative lifestyle habits: food, exercise, and happiness.
Food: Oh so much to say! The most basic and most complex action that we take every day, many times a day, for as long as we live. Food is not only the prime material for all the physical molecules that make us up, but is also often the barometer of how we are doing. For example, ever notice that eating healthy is the first thing to go out of the window when you are tired, dehydrated, stressed, and/or unhappy?
I often get questions about what to eat and when. However, this is a complex issue, and one that I would be happy to explore with you on a more personal level. Generally, variety, freshness and wholesomeness are key, with plant foods making at least about ¾ of daily intake. This is not only important for our planet, it is also important because the phytochemicals that provide the various colors in plants are highly health promoting. For example, it has been recently shown that leafy greens fosters brain health through ageing. If you would like to read more about food, contact me or check out my book, The Food Anthropologist, available worldwide on Amazon.
Exercise: Moving our bodies is an essential pillar to our health. When it comes to your physical wellbeing, our cardiovascular capacity, flexibility and muscle tone set limits to what we can do… and the balance between maintaining these in tip-top shape is not easy. One thing is clear, it is better to exercise a little every day than to do longer bouts a few times a week. Depending on your own physical objectives, you may need to hit the gym five times a week as you work through different training phases. Or, your goal may be to go for a 10-minute walk outside every day. Whatever the case, moving is key! And not just for your body, but for your mind… as different types of exercise stimulate different parts of the brain! So, challenge yourself, push through current limits, enjoy discovering new ways to sweat, and make 2018 the year that you consider physical activity to be a pleasant and essential part of your day to day life.
Happiness: A great number studies with people and animals clearly indicate that happiness lengthens life and improves health. As I see it, this is decidedly the most important component of our healthy journey… involving the body, mind and soul! The question then arises, what defines happiness? Is it joy? Contentment? Peace? All of the above? From my 52 years of experience and from working with people and healthcare, I think that the definition of happiness varies greatly from individual to individual. Of course generalities exist, and we all need love, creativity, a busy working mind, proper sleep, food and exercise to be happy.
Apart from the necessity of a good night’s sleep, gratefulness and mindfulness, the acknowledgement that perfection does not exist… and so on, here are three things that immediately pop into my mind when I think of what feeds my frequent smile and sense/consciousness of wellbeing:
1- Give back by helping others or making others happy. Be it in the form of volunteering, coaching a team, cooking for an elderly neighbor, giving is highly enriching.
2 – Interact with others in the way you would like to be interacted with. I truly believe we can learn a lot by adhering to the five principles of spirit of the game, which include knowing the rules, being fair minded, communicating respectfully, having a positive attitude and avoiding hurting others. You can read more about these principles in an article I wrote recently to celebrate International Spirit of the Game day.
3 – Realize how ephemeral time is and enjoy the small things. Cooking, going for a walk, the sky at dusk, the moon…. Beauty is everywhere… and, in the large scheme of things, we are relatively… well, irrelevant.
Overall, one thing that has become clear to me while coaching, and that is that health is not dependent on being perfectly well behaved. Quite the contrary, actually, as celebrating life with a little bad is also health promoting! What matters is what we do most of the time, our routines. And that is why what we do on a day to day basis is so important…
In 2018, surround yourself with supportive beings and consider hiring a health coach to help you with accountability as well as to integrate your goals. Most importantly, enjoy every step and misstep of your journey towards being the best version of yourself.
This article was initially published in the 2018 winter issue of the Best Health newsletter (www.besthealth.life)