Most of us spend our days focusing on accomplishing goals for others – at work and at home. We work to progress our careers, perhaps with the goal of better pay and security for our family as well as to fulfill our vision and purpose. We work to keep our family healthy and happy because we love them and want the best for them.
But in this day and age, work for our career and family often leads to feeling stressed and drained, and can sometimes lead to burnout and health problems.
Maybe we have time to keep up one or two aspects of health – e.g. going to the gym a few times a week and eating a green salad at lunch. But are we really paying attention to our whole health – mind and body? I find that most people feel that they do not have the time to do much more than the minimum because they cannot risk their job or neglect their family. I agree that these things shouldn’t happen.
However, as a result, we have a tendency to take a ‘magic bullet’ approach to health. For example, there was a study that showed people who bought kale did not always make healthy choices with the other food items in their basket compared to other shoppers. Whether conscious or not, they believed kale – a ‘superfood’ – would somehow counteract other unhealthy food choices, which is not true of course. Another example are people who run on a regular basis but sit at a desk or on a couch the rest of the day. They believe the running will cancel out sitting all day – but it doesn’t.
I focus on four areas with my clients, which I refer to as the Four pillars of Health:
1. Diet (food and drink)
2. Movement (exercise as well as natural movement throughout the day)
3. Sleep (quality and quantity)
4. Stress management (this includes correct breathing, breath awareness and mindful movement and meditation, but diet, exercise and sleep are also important for stress management)
All of these pillars – along with a supportive social network – work together synergistically to either move us towards or away from good health. To focus on only one aspect of health, assuming it will cancel out bad habits in the other areas, doesn’t really work.
But, don’t dismiss those healthy habits that you have in place e.g. eating superfoods or going to the gym. Use then as a stepping stones to develop more healthy habits. It’s easier to create new habits by building onto old habits.
Another aspect of habits is that it is easier to change habits when you have had a big change in your life. And I think we can all agree that last few months have been a big change for all of us and we probably won’t completely ever go back to the way things were. So, ironically, this is the perfect opportunity to continue building good new habits or shift old bad habits (even those that have developed in the past few months!).
So, what specifically could you explore? A few possibilities include:
· Add more whole plant foods to your diet, e.g. vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Maybe explore new foods, new recipes, new items at your favorite restaurant?
· Move through the day in addition to your current exercise routine. Take a walk between meetings even if it is just walking around the house. Stand up and stretch at least once an hour. Get outside at lunch time. Ride your bike to the gym or to run your errands.
· Start an exercise routine if you don’t already have one. It should be one that you enjoy and can keep up with.
· Create a positive sleep routine, e.g. going to bed and getting up at the same time. Avoid screens (i.e., your phone, pad or computer) for at least an hour before bed.
· Be more mindful through the day of how you are breathing and what you are doing. Instead of thinking of your list of ‘to dos’, can you be present in your current activity?
You don’t have to do everything at once and you don’t have to be perfect. Never let perfect get in the way of progress.
But just imagine what it would feel like if you paid more attention to all these aspects of your health. Maybe instead of taking time away from work, family and friends, you would have more energy and focused attention for them all. And how would that feel?
Julie Morrow, PhD, is the founder of Morrow Health, aiming to provide clients with practical and individualized nutrition education, health coaching, and bodywork to support each person’s journey towards better health and a happier life. You can find more information about her and contact her directly at morrow-health.com.