The art of wellness.
Wellness is defined by the Global Wellness Institute as “the pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health”.
Unlike well-being, wellness has a prominent physical dimension. Elements of wellness include staying connected and active, eating well and sleeping well. In life, all these elements overlap and are subjective and personal to the individual.
Having supportive social connections can provide physical and emotional benefits. Studies have shown that rates of illness and premature death are lower in socially connected people. One study showed that greater social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death1. These connections help people to manage their stress and anxiety and provide a way of being heard and understood by someone who can empathise with their experiences. Connections also prevent isolation which can trigger mental health issues such as depression.
Being able to pick up the phone and connect with someone you know and who is there for you offers comfort, which is essential for someone’s wellness.
Eating together is another way to stay connected and an excellent opportunity to introduce someone to your friendship group. Research from Oxford University has shown that people feel happier and more satisfied with their life the more often they eat with others2. This study suggests that communal eating increases social bonding and feelings of well-being while enhancing a sense of contentedness and embedding within the community.
What can you do?
· Take 10 minutes out of your day to call someone you’ve been thinking about. This is a great way to connect and catch up with the people that matter the most to you.
· Organise a dinner party for new colleagues or friends to introduce them to others.
· Join a club to meet people with shared interests, such as a book club or exercise class.
Physical activity is essential to wellness and has been shown to have significant health benefits, encompassing both physical and mental. Certain activities such as yoga or swimming can be done alone, embracing spirituality and mindfulness while engaging in team sports or organised sporting events can help to promote social connectedness.
Research has highlighted the degree to which physical activity can positively impact your health:
· Reduces dementia risk by up to 30%
· 30% reduction in all-cause mortality (death)
· Cardiovascular disease reduced by up to 35%
· Type 2 diabetes reduced by up to 40%
· Breast cancer by up to 20%
· Depression by up to 30%
Research has also shown that physical activity is 1.5 times more effective than medication at reducing mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety3.
You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of keeping physically active, as walking helps maintain bone health, muscle mass and healthy body weight. Research has shown that it lowers dementia risk in later life4. During the spring and summer months getting outside also ensures you’re getting plenty of vitamin D, which is good for your mental health.
What can you do?
· Try to engage in group challenges with friends or work colleagues, as this is a great way to meet new people and promote social connectedness.
· Government guidelines recommend that every week we do the following:
· Minimum 150 minutes of moderate exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both.
· Strengthening exercise on two days.
· Reduce extended periods of sitting down.
The topic of nutrition has become a minefield of information. Still, the best approach is to start by getting the basics right. We are all individuals, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all. Still, the basics can always be achieved, whatever your food preferences, time constraints, or cooking skills.
Nutrition is essential to wellness, and one of the most well-documented diets is that of the Mediterranean. Many studies have shown how this diet helps to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, dementia and type 2 diabetes. One study found that women who followed a Mediterranean type of eating pattern were 46% more likely to age healthfully5. Components of this diet, such as oily fish, have also been shown to help reduce the risk of depression through the essential omega-3 fatty acids found in them6.
Food is also connected to mood; nutrients such as magnesium and B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism and the happy hormone serotonin synthesis. Low iron intake is widespread, especially among women, which can result in fatigue and depression. The timing of meals can also affect your mood, so avoid skipping meals and getting ‘hangry’.
What can you do?
Follow the Mediterranean diet:
· Include wholegrains in your diet which are high in fibre.
· Choose healthy fats in foods such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
· Stick to lean proteins found in fish, poultry, Quorn, tofu, beans and pulses while limiting your red meat intake and avoiding processed meats.
· Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Approximately one-third of our lives is spent sleeping, an essential involuntary process without which we cannot function properly. While you sleep, your body works hard to keep you in good health; protein is replenished, and growth hormone is released to support growth and repair while blood, skin and immune cell production are increased. Most notably, during sleep, your brain processes information, memory and experiences.
While you can choose something healthy to eat or go for a run, deciding to sleep is more complex. If you have trouble sleeping, you are more likely to feel anxious or depressed. At the same time, daily life can become strained as you struggle to decide and concentrate. Poor sleep may also leave you feeling isolated or lonely if you lack the energy to keep in touch with people or if they don’t understand what you’re going through.
What can you do?
Try creating a personal sleep ritual and use the acronym BED (behaviour, environment and diet):
· Behaviours include avoiding blue light from electrical appliances, taking a hot bath or shower before bed (let yourself cool down before hitting the hay), reading a book before bed or practising mindfulness like breathing exercises or meditation.
· Environment is all about creating the perfect sleep oasis. Keep your room just for sleeping, keep the light, wash your bedding regularly and burn your favourite relaxing candle.
· Diet means eating and avoiding foods that influence your sleep. Combine tryptophan foods (poultry, tofu, legumes, oats) with carbohydrates to make melatonin and eat magnesium-rich foods (nuts, seeds, whole grains and dark green leafy vegetables) to help your body relax.
The art of wellness is multidimensional and personal to you. Address the areas of your life that are preventing you from finding balance and harmony, then take small steps to make the changes necessary to secure your path to a more holistic approach to how you live.