World Health Day – Five tips to improve your whole-person health

To celebrate World Health Day, here are five simple but effective ways to improve your whole-personal health, focusing on mental, physical, social, and financial wellbeing (or the four pillars, as we like to call them!) 

Get up, get active

Regardless of age, there’s strong scientific evidence to show that physical activity is the “magic pill” that can help us to live happier, healthier and longer lives, but are you doing enough of it? 

As well as helping us to achieve the common goals of losing fat, toning up and building muscle, regular exercise also lowers the risk of developing many long-term (chronic) conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers

Studies also show that staying active can help to boost mood, self-esteem, sleep quality, and energy levels, while lowering the risk of depression and dementia by approximately 20% to 30%, according to a report by Sport England.

The Government’s physical activity guidelines for adults recommend doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g. swimming, brisk walking or cycling) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (e.g. running or playing sport) per week. One study found that, for people aged 40 years and over, sticking to this yields approximately 3.4 extra years in life expectancy or 4.2 years if doubling the recommended dose.  

The guidelines also advocate building strength on at least two days a week and minimising sedentary time (e.g. sitting at a desk, driving or watching TV on the sofa), which has been linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Try to break up periods of inactivity as much as possible throughout the day. Make it your mission to go for a lunchtime walk and/or set reminders on your watch or phone to move around regularly. 

If you really want to take your physical activity to the next level, consider joining a gym or sports team, where you’ll also reap the social benefits!

With all of the above in mind, if there’s one thing you do to improve your whole-person health, make sure it’s getting up and getting active! But, of course, we’d love you to read on, so don’t stop here…

Dump the junk!

During the pandemic-induced lockdowns of the past year, junk food may well have become a coping mechanism – a way of adding a little spice and happiness to each week.  

But, as we all know, regular junk food is incredibly bad for us. Most of the time, it’s high in unhealthy ingredients like added sugar and refined grains, but low in fibre, protein and macronutrients, providing nothing but empty calories! 

According to research by Harvard Medical School, foods such as red meat and sugary treats (think burger and milkshake) may also trigger inflammation, raising the risk of cardiovascular disease. Of the 210,000 people who took part in its study over a 32-year period, the most pro-inflammatory diets had a 46% increased risk of heart disease and a 28% increased risk of stroke compared with those who had the most anti-inflammatory diets.

So, why do we keep craving it? The answer is, it’s no accident! These highly processed foods have been purposely engineered to activate the body’s pleasure centre – tricking our brains into overeating and even encouraging “food addiction” in some people. Our message – don’t succumb to being a pawn in someone else’s game!

The next time you’re yearning for your favourite takeaway or throw-in-the-oven meal, why not try some healthier alternatives, such as baked veggie fries instead of chips or fruity frozen yoghurt instead of ice cream? You may find you like them better and your body will certainly thank you for the extra nutrition and reduced health risks!   

Catch some extra z’s

The power of good quality sleep cannot be overstated but is often low down the list of health priorities. We want to make sure you’re putting it back up to the top, and here’s why…

Sleep deprivation might just seem like something that makes us feel heavy-eyed and groggy, but it can cause insulin resistance, play havoc with our appetite hormones and negatively impact our physical and mental performance. 

Additionally, poor sleep has been strongly linked to depression and is one of the leading causes of weight gain and obesity. In fact, one study linked “short sleeping” children and adults to an 89% and 55% increased risk of obesity, respectively.

What’s more, research by the University of Warwick discovered that “people who sleep for less than six hours each night were 12% more likely to die prematurely than those who get the recommended 6-8 hours”. Interestingly, it found that “consistent over long sleeping (over 9 hours a night) can be a cause for concern” – meaning it’s all about finding that sweet sleep spot!  

Now that you’ve been given the lowdown on sleep, you may want to replace “one more episode on Netflix” with catching some more z’s! It might take a little while to find your new routine and build those healthier bedtime habits, but you’ll feel much better for it!

If sleep just isn’t your friend and you struggle nodding off, then check out these tips from the NHS.  

Prioritise your relationships

In the madness of everyday life, it can be easy to neglect – or spend less time – on our social relationships which are crucial for our mental and physical wellbeing.

The health advantages of having close friends and family have been well documented, with one study showing that stronger social relationships can help us to live longer. 

Even if your week is jam-packed (show us one that’s not!), try to make time to socialise. Something as simple as going for a 15-minute evening stroll with family, scheduling a weekly call with friends or playing a group sport can provide a whole host of benefits, from improving your mood and self-esteem to promoting purpose and improving brain health.  

Track your spending

Financial fitness – or wellbeing – can be easily overlooked, but it’s a key component of the whole-person health mix. Feeling in or out of control with our finances can have a massive impact on our overall health and should be given equal importance alongside mental, physical and social wellbeing. 

The first step to achieving better financial health is budget setting. Boring though it may sound, it can be completely life-changing. In the same way a balanced diet helps us to improve our physical health, a budget helps us to improve our financial health. 

While creating a budget is relatively straightforward, sticking to it can be trickier. Whether you opt for a trusty pen and notebook, a good old Excel spreadsheet or an app like Money Dashboard or Moneyhub, there are plenty of ways to keep tabs on your spending and see how much you have left when your regular bills and payments have left your account.

Being conscious of your income and outgoings can help keep your finances under control, allowing you to spot areas where you can cut back and (the best part) watch your savings stack up!

If money worries are impacting your health, make tracking your finances your number one priority. Sometimes, just seeing everything written down, so you can take the appropriate action, helps alleviate the anxiety, making a world of difference to your happiness, health and outlook on life. 

Put these five evidence-based tips into action and you’ll be on the road to a much healthier body, mind and soul, both now and in the longer term. Let’s go!

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