Our lifestyle affects our health; our health affects our lifestyle. It is a classic Catch-22 situation – what to address first? What will be the most appropriate course of action? Or indeed is it worth taking any action, given that the recommendations we are bombarded with are constantly changing?
As writers, we often spend a lot of time on our own, sedentary and lacking fixed daily routine. Our incomes, on average, aren’t perfect, yet stress levels and anxiety go up due to the insecurity of our position and fast pace of life with demands to write fast enough to stay in line with time. In these circumstances, health doesn’t get prioritised.
The challenge with giving healthy lifestyle advice is that one could easily sound patronising. We all know what we need to do, eat and think to feel good; intuitively or consciously, we know what’s best for us. Yet, in recent years, health has become overcomplicated. It is true, that everything in our body is interconnected, as are mind and body as a whole: certain diseases may have causes lying far away from where symptoms appear.
"What we eat will affect how we move; what we think
will affect what we eat and how we sleep"
It is also true, that our lifestyle choices are interconnected: what we eat will affect how we move; what we think will affect what we eat and how we sleep (or, more often, not sleep) and so on. Yet, health is simple and once we remember that there is no ‘one plan fits all’ but rather a range of options to choose from – based on our individual preferences and circumstances – we will feel in control and able to take action.
One of my favourite authors, a Manchester-based GP and ambassador of lifestyle medicine, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, suggests a four-pillar plan in his book The Four Pillars to improve your health. Based on his idea and furthered by my research and experience, I have come up with a set of suggestions I call MEALS (Move – Eat – Apply – Love – Sleep).
Keywords: any movement, stretch, walk, barefoot, regular.
We often hear about exercise, e.g. NHS talks about 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. Exercise might sound scary and hard, something to properly prepare for and… rarely to be done. Yet, if we think about it as movement, we find that movement is much easier incorporated into our life, doesn’t require that much preparation or special equipment and thus can be free or very cheap. A combination of walking and stretching is the best and normally simplest option. For some muscle strengthening, gardening and carrying shopping bags as well as climbing stairs might be considered.
If you feel like doing something more: yoga, Tai Chi and – my favourite – Aikido are wonderful activities, which address not only physical but also mental health.
Small changes to your daily practice can go a long way: short morning walks, stretching at least every 20 minutes, standing up and writing with your laptop on a sideboard or a special stand, abandoning your chair while talking on the phone, walking barefoot at home (or, for those braver souls, in the garden too!), and switching to Freet and VivoBarefoot shoes designed to enhance our walking experience, retrain our feet and improve our balance, thus reducing underlying stress.
Keywords: whole food, plant-based, variety and fixed routine.
If we throw in ‘local’, ‘seasonal’ and ‘organic’ as well, our diets will be perfect. There are a number of techniques to ensure one eats a variety of food every day: Dr Chatterjee recommends thinking about a rainbow of colours, Ayurveda suggests eating six tastes etc. Investing in a good quality blender (I currently use Nutribullet and we are now saving up for a Vitamix with many more functions) and a ceramic slow cooker can help you add to your diet things you wouldn’t normally bother to eat and make them appealing (or unnoticeable – in my case, spinach magically disappears in smoothies).
Mealtimes are probably even more important than what we eat, so fixing your breakfasts, lunches and dinners can be a good move. In the ideal world, you will have 12 to 16 hours before breaking your fast, thus I tend to suggest breakfast at 8-10am and dinner at 6-8pm. But please check with a trusted and well-qualified doctor if you have any digestion issues.
Keywords: less is more, natural, tepid or cool water.
Skin is our largest organ, yet we often think less about what we apply to it than what we put into our mouths. This leads not only to skin issues, but also to slow poisoning of the whole organism and unnecessary stress. In the case of applying creams, cosmetics, perfume, using various washing gels and shampoos, less is more. Occasionally skipping any of those substances in favour of pure tepid (not hot!) warm water can make all the difference. This will also save you money, which can be redirected to purchasing higher quality natural lines. If many house-cleaning products are 'harmful to aquatic life with long-lasting effects', perhaps they’d better be away from our homes as well.
"Skin is our largest organ, yet we often think less about
what we apply to it than what we put into our mouths"
Keywords: me-time, self-indulgence, quality time with friends.
Our life starts with love, we are born of love, but then we often forget to carry it on. Or we remember to love others, yet forget about ourselves. Dr Gabor Mate writes in detail how this affects our health, how many chronic illnesses start from losing oneself. Stress accumulates from having no time to relax, thus it is crucial to prioritise some me-time: listening to a few favourite songs, enjoying a cup of tea in a cosy coffee-shop, reading a book, taking a bath or whatever is the ultimate indulgence for you and you only, and… let go of guilt for spending time by and on yourself.
It is equally important to spend quality in-person time with friends and family. It is not necessarily about the amount of time you spend together, rather about quality and intensity, which generate shared revitalising energy.
Keywords: darkness, tech-free, winding down, pre-bed routine.
As someone, who finds it hard to stop using my laptop or smartphone, I am a big fan of apps that make devices almost useless – temporarily. There are many free and paid options these days; my favourite one is called Freedom (www.freedom.to). It shuts off most of my Internet-based apps (browser, email, WhatsApp etc) between 10pm and 12-noon. I hope to extend my curfew soon and shut off everything at 8pm. This allows me to have some time with no screen glowing in my face before I go to bed, which is crucial for a good night’s sleep. Ideally, lights in the bathroom should be replaced with low-glow red light so that you don’t wake up fully when going to the loo in the middle of the night.
As darkness is crucial to the quality of sleep, investing in a quality cotton or linen eye mask might be a good idea. Last meal is better to be had at least two or three hours before going to bed. Self-massage – especially your feet and toes – for just five minutes before bed will help you relax. Scribbling a few lines in your gratitude journal, strategically positioned on your bedside table, will get you in the right zone and help you feel more positive. If you feel peckish, Ayurvedic golden milk (ideally, non-dairy) will be a wonderful gift to yourself, as will be a glass of water first thing in the morning (enjoyed in the garden or on the balcony, if available).
Way of life
This is just the outline of what you might consider incorporating into your life – for better health, increased energy and a more relaxed state of mind. I’ll be sharing further ideas and recommendations on Wednesday 29 January 2020 at a half-day event in Warwickshire – details will follow.
In the meantime, you might want to read books and listen to podcasts by Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Dr Gabor Mate and Dr Deepak Chopra – they are Western-trained and practising medical doctors, who recognise the importance of approaching health holistically and finding underlying causes of illnesses, thus inevitably looking into the lifestyle choices of their patients.
About Ignaty Dyakov
Ignaty Dyakov, language textbook author, life and health coach. Chair of the SoA's Educational Writers Group (EWG).