How to stay healthy: 5 essential steps towards complete health and wellness
Health problems can very quickly stop you enjoying life and can lead to a spiral of depression. They can affect your self esteem as you struggle to take care of yourself and carry out your duties. Health problems can stop you achieving your dreams, can cause conflict with loved ones, can prevent you working and stop you enjoying your life.
I struggled with many health problems for years. I always had a variety of health issues but was coping but then my health started to go downhill so much, I had to stop working and could barely function around the house. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me apart from to tell me I had chronic fatigues syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Allergies, but nothing they could treat or help me with. All I knew is every day I was so lacking in energy I often couldn’t even carry out basic household chores or it would take me an hour to recover after doing something simple such as having a bath.
Although the main way I healed myself was through diet, there is actually more to good health than just what you eat. Fortunately if you work on just changing one aspect of your health, the other parts will fall into place much more easily. There are 5 main areas that can help you completely overcome your health problems and lead a long happy life. Try to change just one area of your health every few weeks and within a few months you’ll start noticing a dramatic improvement in your health. Once you have learned what the 5 steps to health are, I will let you know how you can very easily carry these out in just 20 minutes a day.
5 Steps to a total health transformation
1) Diet: This is one of the biggest factors influencing your health. If you follow my steps below to change your diet, you will notice immediate improved health. Eating the wrong foods is one of the biggest causes of disease.
2) Sleep: Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 6 hours over a sustained period of time are 48% more likely to develop heart disease. The immune system also takes a battering leaving your much more susceptible to colds and viruses.
3) Exercise: Did you know that when you exercise you heal 8 times faster than if you weren’t doing any exercise at all. There are so many benefits to exercise but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s what we were actually designed to do. That’s why little children can’t wait to run around in the playground. Have you ever heard of a runner’s high? Once you start exercising, it can make you feel so good, you’ll never want to go back to a sedentary lifestyle again.
4) Sunshine/Fresh Air: Sunlight has the power to heal, kills germs, relaxes us and improves our outlook. This is a very important step that is so often overlooked in the journey back to health.
5) State of mind: Stress can affect our physical and mental health and cause us to be severely ill. It’s impossible to be really healthy with ongoing chronic stress in your life. It is thought that 90% of all visits to the doctor are related to stress of some kind. Illness can cause a great amount of stress so it’s important to carry out all 5 steps to wellness so that you can truly eliminate stress from your life. Spirituality is important too. To be aware of something outside your own existence is important so you are able to put stressful things in perspective.
The secret to a healthy diet has never really been a secret at all
The major problems we face in our diets in a western society are:
- Lack of nutrients
- Too much stress placed on the digestion by consuming processed and unhealthy foods.
I believe the healthiest diet is a plant based diet eating whole foods in their natural state, limiting processed foods and eliminating or severely restricting animal products. Some of the longest living people in the world eat a mainly plant based diet with minimal unprocessed animal products. There has been a definite movement towards a vegan diet with celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson, Alicia Silverstone, Lance Armstrong, and now Russell Brand all becoming vegan. Now over 1 million Americans are vegan, and more and more studies and personal testimonies are showing that changing to a vegan diet is the single most valuable thing you can do for your health today. When I became a vegan a few years ago, my health problems massively improved. I healed myself of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, chronic allergies, and debilitating IBS. Within 6 months I had gone from not having the energy to get out of bed to being able to do intense exercise for a few hours a day. I felt like I’d got my life back and this is one of the reasons I want to share with you today how important your diet is and how much it really does affect your health. You will notice a massive difference by just changing this one aspect of your health. If you think it’s going to be difficult to become a vegan, read this NY Times article on The Challenge of going vegan.
Diet: The Seven Steps to reclaiming your health
You don’t have to become a vegan to enjoy increased health benefits. If you gradually improve your diet by following these 7 steps, you will notice yourself feeling better with every single step, which will further inspire you to take the next step. Take each step at a time and feel free to stop whenever you feel more healthy and more comfortable, but the more steps you take, the healthier you will be:
1) Include more fruit in your diet. Add a couple of pieces of fruit as snacks throughout the day. Don’t snack on anything but fruit unless you take more of the seven steps.
2) Include more greens in your diet. Start adding a side salad to your evening meal. If you don’t like salad I find it easier to eat if you put it underneath your hot meal. This wilts it and reduces the size of the salad so you won’t have so much chewing to do. Greens are something we don’t eat anywhere near the amount we need to. Mother always did know best, she knew that eating your greens led to improved health.
3) Change your breakfast to be fruit and vegetable based. Replace your breakfast with a green smoothie or a green thickie (more filling).
4) Eliminate or severely reduce processed sugar and white flour in your diet. Use wholemeal flour, wholemeal pasta, wholegrain rice and dates or fruit as sweeteners.
5) Totally eliminate processed foods from your weekly diet. If you must, have processed foods once a week only. Try to make everything from scratch. If you have limited time, make a big batch of soup or salad and evening meal to last a week. Freeze leftovers. Use beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, potatoes and fruit for the basis of your meals.
6) Increase the amount of raw fruit and vegetables in your diet to 60-90% by eating more fruit, green smoothies, salads and soups.
7) Reduce or eliminate animal products from your diet, including meat, fish and eggs and especially dairy and processed fatty meats. Try more adventurous healthy foods such as sprouts or sauerkraut, seaweed, chia seeds and oat groats.
Once you start eating more healthily, you will really notice an increased ability to be healthy in other areas of your life. You will have more restful sleep with less insomnia. You will probably feel more refreshed with less sleep. You will have more energy so more desire to exercise, and a good diet has been shown to increase the mood and help depression to lift. Of course we all know that smoking, alcohol intake and too much caffeine will not help you to achieve optimum health. It is also very important to drink enough water. Our bodies can’t function without it. You may feel less tired and have less headaches immediately after increasing your water intake. The best thing you can do to remind yourself to drink water is to fill up a 2 liter bottle of water and sip from it throughout the day. Some people also swear by water fasting for optimum health. Although I can’t claim to have much personal experience of water fasting, I know that sometimes our bodies have just had all they can take from the constant abuse and shut down for a while. When we are ill we naturally have a reduced appetite so our bodies can concentrate on healing. The same principal applies to fasting, sometimes our bodies need a rest from digesting food so they can heal. I am just about to start fasting regularly, so I will let you know how I get on with that in future posts.
Sleep: We underestimate the role sleep plays in healing
Did you know that sleep is much more important to your health than diet? When you sleep, your body literally repairs itself. Not getting enough sleep, or actually getting too much sleep can be very damaging for your health. The optimum amount of sleep is between 6-8 hours, much more or less sleep than this can have negative consequences for your health.
Having too much sleep is unlikely to be the cause of illness but it can be an early warning sign of a more serious problem. You may find when you start eating more healthily that you need less sleep and feel more rested.
Researchers found that when you don’t get enough sleep, 2 hormones, ghrelin and leptin are disrupted. These control the appetite so you end up eating more, leading to obesity and other related health problems. I always noticed I got hungrier, had lower blood sugar and more cravings after a bad night sleep. It’s very difficult to get healthy and lose weight if you’re not sleeping properly. You’re much more prone to catching infections as you immune system is greatly impaired.
When I became a vegan, I didn’t get a cold, flu or any type of bug for 3 years. I didn’t think I would ever catch a bug again so I was surprised to find myself with a cold followed by a stomach bug when my baby was 9 months old. She had been sleeping very badly for 3 months so I was always exhausted, and I had tried for 4 nights to get her to sleep, so I hadn’t slept a wink for 4 days in a row. It was after this I got the two bugs one after another. I realised that I can’t expect to have good health when I had gone so long without a decent night sleep. If you don’t sleep for more than 10 days you will die. It was a very scary thought that I was almost half way to death! No wonder I got ill. You can go a very long time without food, but not very long without water or sleep.
What is the best time to go to bed?
You know that old saying, an hour before midnight is worth 2 after midnight. Well there is definitely truth in that. The type of sleep you have changes throughout the night. At the start of the night you tend to have deeper sleep, and the closer you get to morning you have more REM sleep where you dream and are easily woken. For the body to be able to restore and heal itself you need to make sure you’re getting enough deep sleep. The body gets the best deep sleep between 10-12pm. It’s when our bodies naturally start shutting down as in our natural environment the sun would have gone down by now. As it gets darker the body produces more melatonin which prepares us for sleep. Try getting ready for bed at 9pm so you are ready to sleep for 10pm and see how much better you feel the next day. What happens if you live in a climate like I do in the North of Scotland where for half the year it can get dark as early as 3pm and in the summer it can stay light until 12am only to get light again at 3am. So what are we to do? I bought a black out blind for the summer and an alarm clock that has a light that gradually gets darker at night and gradually lighter in the morning so you can wake up with a simulated sunrise. It really works and I always feel more refreshed if I ‘Wake up with the sunrise’ instead of my baby waking me up earlier than I would have liked.
Why don’t we get more sleep?
We’re either too busy to sleep more, or prefer to stay up watching TV or surfing the Internet when we should be sleeping. Then when we do go to sleep, we lay there awake suffering from insomnia. So what’s the solution?
11 Steps to help you get more sleep at night:
1) Set a bed time for yourself. Make sure you’ve finished all your chores an hour before your bedtime. If you haven’t done everything you need to do, set your alarm for earlier in the morning. If we’ve had a good night sleep, we are often more productive in the morning than last thing at night when we’re tired and just want to get to bed.
2) Start a bedtime routine before going to bed. Do the same things every night in the same order. It mentally prepares your body for sleep.
3) For 30 minutes before your bedtime routine, read some light fiction. This really helps the mind to turn off and relaxes you.
4) Keep a notepad beside your bed. Write down any thoughts that are keeping you awake.
5) When you are lying in bed, focus on each part of the body in turn. This will relax your body and focus the mind on getting ready to sleep.
6) Even if you can’t sleep, tell yourself that a rest is still good for the body and try and relax as much as you can. Studies have shown that insomniacs think they haven’t slept all night, but they have drifted in and out of a very light sleep. This sleep is better than nothing. Don’t get out of bed unless you’re getting very frustrated.
7) Watch your diet. Cut out caffeine, chocolate and sugar. Don’t eat anything 3 hours before going to bed and eat healthily during the day. The body works hard to digest food and this can keep us awake. Stay away from other stimulants, drugs, smoking and alcohol should be avoided.
8) Do exercise earlier on in the day. If the evening is the only time you can do exercise do something more gentle, but do some kind of exercise every day.
9) Get some fresh air. This really helps your body sleep.
10) Don’t work in your bedroom or use any devices. Get your room as dark as you can, turn off anything electrical and if you need to block out sounds that are keeping you awake, put on some white noise or a fan.
11) Keep the bedroom temperature comfortable. Make sure your room is between 16-20 degrees Celsius. It’s very difficult to sleep when you are too hot or too cold.
Try everything you can to help yourself get a good night sleep, as it’s the key to good health. If your kids or someone else is keeping you awake, try the above strategies with them to see if you can improve their sleep.
Exercise: It takes less exercise than you think to make a big difference in your health
We all know exercise is good for us. Was I the only one who had the fun knocked out of exercise at school? I loved dancing as a young girl, but I would have done anything to avoid sports in school. To me it was like torture! Why do we have to exercise? We are literally born to move. We should have to move to get our food, to stay alive but we invented cars and now we barely have to move our bodies at all. What are the benefits of getting your body moving?
1) Exercise reduces your appetite, makes you crave food less and helps you be satisfied with less food.
2) Being fit helps our minds work better. You will think more clearly and increase your productivity by squeezing in a bit of exercise.
3) You are much more likely to stay at your ideal weight.
4) You will suffer less ill health and injury over your lifetime
5) Exercise prevents depression and anxiety
6) Exercising for 3 years can increase life expectancy by 3 years
7) Exercise creates endorphins which are mood enhancers, making you feel amazing. This can get very addictive. Try it and see what I mean!
The best thing we can do to exercise is find something we really love doing that doesn’t actually feel like exercise. Take a dance class, play sports with friends, sign up to run a race, play with your kids, go hiking somewhere beautiful or workout with a friend. Gretchen Reynolds talks about new findings in her book, The First 20 Minutes, where she talks about the biggest benefit of exercise happens in the first 20 minutes, why walking is what we are made for, how stretching before a workout isn’t advised anymore and she even suggests we should drink to thirst rather than to prevent thirst. I totally agree with her that walking feels so natural and is one of the easiest forms of exercise we can take. I had also given up stretching before a workout but that it’s good to do a light form of the exercise you’re about to do as you still need to warm up the muscles.
I also believe if you eat a lot of raw fruit and vegetables in your diet, the water content is so high that you very rarely feel thirsty. When I was on the raw food diet I hardly drank pure water at all. She also says in her book that we are far too sedentary. It is far more beneficial just to stand up for a couple of minutes every 20 minutes to get the muscles working again than to sit down all day long without moving and then do a very intense workout. That makes sense that you are increasing the risk of injury as your body just isn’t used to moving all day long.
What do I do to keep fit?
As I have a young baby, I don’t get as much free time as I used to. However I am constantly lifting and carrying her around which is like a workout in itself. I put her in a baby carrier and get on with my household chores. This is like housework carrying 10KG of weight on my back. I really have to maximise my time, so I have to concentrate on what I think is the most effective use of my time. So here is what I do:
1) 12 minutes of a very intense workout every morning. I either do 12 minutes from the 30 Day Shred workout, or one of the 12 minute workouts on www.bodyrock.tv. These workouts incorporate a full body weight workout with plyometric exercises which are explosive movements which shock the body into producing dramatic results in record time. If you do a different workout every day, the body doesn’t get used to the exercise and still keeps producing results. This is very effective and my strength improvements go through the roof and I notice more toning after just a couple of weeks of doing this type of exercise. It may be only 12 minutes long but it’s still a lot of hard work.
2) I go walking with my baby for 30-60 minutes most days. I think gentle exercise is still very important. Walking is the easiest form of exercise. We can do it anywhere and it’s free. Not only that but I think fresh air is so beneficial to our health that I would rather half an hour of walk outside than a more intensive workout inside any day of the week. Fresh air is needed for good health so this is a perfect way to ensure you get exercise and fresh air. You can’t help but feel more alive after you’ve been walking outside. This will help you sleep better too.
Whatever you do, enjoy it, keep doing it, and don’t set something too hard to start with. Just a walk around the block is so much better than killing yourself at the gym for a couple of hours every month and not doing anything else. Just go for 20 minutes, you’ll feel so much better and it’s very easy to find a spare 20 minutes in your day.
Sunshine: Can we truly feel alive without daily fresh air?
We can’t reach our full health potential if we don’t get outside at all. Our buildings suffocate us with the stale air and artificial life. We are made to spend most of our time outside. Everything in this world with life grows in the sun. Plants can’t survive without it and neither can we. Just observe children playing and they will teach you more about being naturally healthy than you can learn from a book. The first thing children generally want to do is play outside in the fresh air. They are drawn to it. They love exploring nature, running on the grass, watching birds, picking up insects and making dens and camps outside. We should be out there with them playing, walking or working in the fresh outdoors.
Of course we have a million reasons for not getting outside anymore. Here are some of mine and how these can be overcome:
- I don’t have any time: Decide yourself this is the most important thing you can do for your health today. Write it in your diary and cancel all other plans. When my baby was born I decided I was going to walk with her every day without fail to give her some fresh air. I had to leave the washing up until the evening sometimes or not arrange to meet up with a friend during that time, but friends may well join you if you ask them. I found it easy to get out every day during summer but when we had thick snow in winter, biting winds and grey miserable sky with lashing rain I found it a lot harder.
- It’s too cold/wet/miserable/hot: You can always prepare for the weather by changing the clothes you are wearing, protecting yourself from the elements and shortening the time you are out walking if the weather is extreme. Dog walkers still have to take their dogs out regardless of the weather. Start thinking of yourself as just as important as those dogs, we also have to get outside into the fresh air and release energy.
- I work all day: It’s very hard to squeeze in a walk outside when you work long hours. How about making yourself a green smoothie/thickie for your lunch and taking a walk while you drink it? Or take two 10 minute walking breaks throughout the day if you’re able to do that. Get into work 20 minutes early and go for a walk or leave 20 minutes later after a walk. Walk in the morning before work or the afternoon after work. I used to cycle to work for 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back every day. Even though I sat at my desk for 9 hours a day I felt much more energised than my colleagues and managed to avoid all the bugs that went round the office for the 3 years I was working there.
- I don’t have the energy: Just start slowly. Walk for 1 minute the first day and increase by 1 minute every day. You’ll soon build up your fitness. Congratulate yourself on every single achievement no matter how small.
A great thing you can do outside is gardening. Gardening is one of the single most effective things you can do for your health. When you plant fruits and vegetables you will eat the most healthy food you will ever get your hands on, get great exercise, fresh air and sunshine, connect with nature and be more in tune with the natural rhythms of life which helps you sleep better, and just surrounding yourself with natural beauty really gives your mood a big boost. I’ve just moved into a house with a garden which I’ve never had before, so I’m very excited to be able to start growing my own vegetables. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can use a patio or balcony, even a window sill to grow some vegetables or herbs. Try and get outside for at least 20 minutes every day and see how much better you feel in a couple of weeks. If you really can’t get outside, even sitting next to an open window or sleeping with the window open is extremely beneficial. Exercise in the fresh air is also the best thing that you can do for your state of mind and lifts depression. Which brings us nicely on to:
Mind: The key to good health all begins in the mind
Our society is suffering the affects of stress more than any other time in history. A certain level of stress is good for us. When we have a small amount of stress infrequently, the body responds with greater strength, fitness and clarity of mind. This can help you deal with the stressful situation and respond appropriately. For example, a Mother whose child was trapped under a concrete slab during tornados was able to move the slab to free her child, but later it took 3 men to move the same slab.
Unfortunately most of us suffer from stress most of our waking hours and our bodies can never recover from this so our health starts to severely suffer causing us many aches and pains and more serious problems.
We are all too busy and have far too many competing pressures in our lives. We rush around from the moment we get up to the moment we go to sleep, and we wonder why we lie awake replaying the day and figuring out what we need to do tomorrow! We need to slow down our bodies and our minds to truly rid ourselves of stress.
8 Ways to stop Stress and improve your outlook on life
- Respond to stress: Recognise when you are getting stressed. Notice what physical signs you have of stress (increased heart rate, getting hot) and tell yourself that you are getting stressed. Try to calm down by slowing your breathing down, counting to 10, or walking away from the situation.
- Practice regular relaxation. You need to have some time during your day when you stop moving and working. The best time to relax is before bed. Read a book for 30 minutes before you go to sleep, something unrelated to your work that won’t get your mind thinking too much.
- Get spiritual. Spend some time working out what you beliefs are and ask yourself some big questions, what do you believe happens after you die, why are we here, what is your purpose in life, is there anything outside of this world? Even if you don’t believe in God, embrace a spiritual practice or meditation of some kind. This will make you put your day in perspective. If you believe in a better life after death then it helps you to put more trivial stress in perspective. I’m not saying that you should think ‘well I’m going to die and go to heaven anyway so what’s the point of doing x, y and z’ rather that ‘One day I won’t even remember my boss snapping at me today, so why should I let it affect my health and bring me down today’ Don’t blow things out of proportion. If you’ve had a bad day, tell yourself that it’s just this one day. You can wake up the next day and have a brilliant day. I find it hard to remember my faith and remember that God is still there amongst all the business. That’s another good reason to get outside every day. As soon as you see nature, grass and trees, you realise not everything in this world is man made and we are not in control of everything, and that God is still there waiting patiently for us to stop just for one second and really think.
- Don’t try to do too much. You can’t be everything to everybody. If you work full time all week and have a family you literally don’t have much time left after you’ve done your basic chores. Recognise your limitations. Don’t say yes to things that will only stress you out. If you don’t have time to reply to your personal emails or keep up with friends on facebook then that’s just the way it is. Decide what’s important in your life and use the little amount of time you have left doing that. A great book I read is called Making Room For Life by Randy Frazee, which really helps you to assess your relationships and focus on the people you really care about.
- Assess your standard of living. Are you working too hard at a job you hate? Do you and your partner work full time so you can afford your mortgage and 2 cars. Would it take the strain off if one of you worked part time and you downsized? Sometimes you’ve got to have a rethink and decide if it’s really worth it.
- Send yourself some positive messages: Feeling down or pessimistic? Do you wake up every morning with the weight of the world on your shoulders? Do you tell yourself you’ll never achieve your dreams so there’s no point in trying? I love the quote from Napoleon Hill ‘Whatever the Mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve’ So basically we make our own luck. Even if you really struggle to believe good things about yourself and your life, write down who you want to be and what you want to achieve and say it out loud every morning and evening. You will feel silly but it actually works. Your words become part of your thoughts and these will affect how you act and what you achieve in your life.
- Connect. Have people in your life that you care about and who care about you. If it’s not your family, find some good friends or connect online with someone. It’s better to have a few very close family members or friends in our lives than hundreds of acquaintances. Work out who makes you feel good about yourself and spend more time with them. If you are having relationship troubles, remember this one important less from Gandhi ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. I promise you if you improve how you act towards someone you are having problems with, they will also reassess how they act towards you.
- Implement all 5 steps to health. When you are healthier in other areas of your life, it’s impossible to feel so stressed.
So there we have it, 5 steps to amazing health. Try and improve one aspect of your health every few weeks and monitor how much better you are feeling. So to recap:
- Eat more fruit and veg and limit processed foods. I will guarantee you more energy, better sleep, more of a desire to exercise and get fresh air and a massive reduction in your stress levels. Go and grab some fruit right now.
- Go to sleep at 10pm tonight and notice a dramatic improvement in your state of mind tomorrow. You will be less hungry, make healthier food choices, have more energy and feel more alive than you ever will be staying up later.
- Go for a 20 minute walk today. Just get up right now and go! Tonight you will sleep better, have created natural endorphins which really lift your mood, get fitter and stronger physically and mentally and you will burn more calories while you are resting.
- If you can’t get outside, do a quick workout inside with the window open and sleep with the window open. Either way get moving and get some fresh air.
- Relax before bed, read something. Remind yourself of the bigger picture, how short life is and ask yourself big questions. Take yourself away from your stress. Decide what’s really important in your life. Tell yourself (out loud) every day that you will achieve your goals and be the person you want to be. Treat people how you want to be treated and spend time with uplifting people.
Great health in just 20 minutes a day?
And if you’re really pushed for time, how about trying to power pack all this into 20 minutes?
Go for a 20 minute walk. While you are walking drink a green smoothie or a green thickie which can include up to 15 servings of fruit and vegetables. This will give you a massive energy boost for the day. During your walk, connect with nature, notice how beautiful the greenery is or the little animals or birds are and how free they are. Think about your life and what you want to achieve, tell yourself positive thoughts, imagine getting to bed early and sleeping very well. Or walk with someone you love and discuss meaningful things with them and what you can both do to achieve your goals.
There you go, 20 minutes to amazing health achievable for us all. I’m still working on improving my health but I’m always striving to be healthier. I’d love to hear about your health.
What changes have you have made lately to improve your health?
This post has been shared with these Fabulous blog hops.Green Thickies also co-hosts a blog hop, Healthy Vegan Fridays so join us on Friday to find fabulous health related articles and healthy recipes.. The best type of blender to make Green Thickies is a Vitamix and you will get beautifully smooth Green Thickies, but you can use whatever type of blender you have or can afford. This blender is reasonably priced and will easily make green thickies along with lots of other delicious food.
Comments always put a smile on my face, so please take a minute to say hello below. Many thanks.
If you have enjoyed this post please pin it to Pinterest, Tweet it or share it on facebook (below) so others can enjoy it. Many thanks.