When I was young I didn’t appreciate my good health and abused my body by smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and partying far too much. I’m often astonished by how resilient the human body is because that level of abuse (or worse!) is common, and not just for young people.
So many people deprive their body in some way, for example by not sleeping, exercising or getting offline enough. Other people overload their bodies with toxins, an unhealthy diet or just too much food or stimulation.
Now I’m older, wiser and more settled I appreciate my body and good health more and look after myself. I’m no angel though and I still enjoy a few vices.
I eat chocolate every single day and, although I rarely drink alcohol, I do indulge sometimes. I’ve finally accepted that I’m no good at balance or self-deprivation. So I’ll never say I’ll never drink or smoke ever again. Deprivation doesn’t work for me at all.
Sometimes I can’t resist temptation but it’s increasingly rare and not something I beat myself up about. I might be closing in on 50 but there’s still a naughty, rebellious child inside me and sometimes she comes out to play.
It’s the same with my eating. I eat healthy 99% of the time but sometimes I inexplicably crave salt and vinegar crisps and eat bowls of them. But small lapses aren’t a big deal on the scale of things so I just get back to my usual healthy routine the next day and don’t let it worry me.
I’m fortunate to have a strong, healthy body with no major health problems but I do need to take care of my mental health and physical health is strongly connected with emotional wellbeing.
If I let my physical health go and start eating badly or not exercising that affects my mood. Conversely, if I don’t take care of my mental health then getting out of bed to exercise and eating regular, healthy meals are the first things to slip.
So when I talk about the health essentials for busy women it’s about taking care of both your mental and physical needs because if you neglect one the other will falter too.
Don’t be scared. Mediation doesn’t need to be uncomfortable, boring or time-consuming. Get stated with an app like headspace or a 1o minute guided mediation. You can find heaps of free meditations free on YouTube or borrow a CD from your local library or look out for them at garage sales.
I meditate for ten minutes most days and that’s enough to give me a breathing space. Find out more in how to meditate for beginners.
Mediation gives you the space and focus you need to be the person you want to be. Whether that means being more patient with your children, finally committing to regular exercise or starting a regular writing habit.
Tip: When searching YouTube for guided meditations include your time in the search. For example “10 minute relaxing meditation”.
2. Exercise (Just Walk!)
Exercise is so important. Your body has been designed to move, not to sit down. Exercise is proven to keep your body and mind in better shape and looking youthful but it doesn’t need to be painful.
Maybe the reason so many people avoid exercise is that they make it too hard. Joining a gym just gives you another place you should be at and another monthly bill to pay. Many exercise classes are full on and only suitable for people who are already fit.
Take it easy on yourself and get started with walking. You don’t need any special equipment and you can walk anywhere. Just try to swing your arms, pick up the pace and add a few hills once you’ve built up your fitness levels a bit. Don’t push yourself too hard. But do start running slowly if you feel like it.
Tip: Here’s an easy walking program to get you started.
3. Be mindful
My first experiences with mindfulness could be enough to put you off for life but I’m so glad I persevered.
Being mindful is about noting the feelings in your body (eg. headache, churning tummy, sore hip) and your emotions (eg. excitement, nervousness, fear) then being aware of those feeling and emotions without trying to change them. That’s it.
Mindfulness is about being curious and taking note of what’s happening in your body but not resisting what’s happening. It’s about getting used to physical an emotional pain without diving for the biscuit tin/vino/chocolate.
With regular practice, mindfulness can help you overcome physical and emotional problems. By becoming more aware of the situations, feeling or emotions that cause you to overeat you will be better placed to correct the problem.
4. Watch what you eat
Over-eating is probably the biggest problem and greatest threat to health because even carrying a small amount of excess weight can affect your emotional and physical wellbeing. Studies show about 40% of adults are overweight which is shocking news.
Eating well isn’t about adopting a new diet fad or depriving yourself. It’s just about recognising that you’ve been eating too much and that’ extra food intake has caused weight gain. Then it’s about reducing your food intake, most probably through portion control or by stopping snacking.
To control your portion size try using a smaller plate or make sure that each serving of protein, veggies and carbohydrates is no more than what would fit on the palm of your hand. It’s only when you do that that you realise how much we tend to overeat by.
I recommend reducing your portion size slowly. For example, start measuring your breakfast cereal, rice or pasta to see how much you eat, then slowly decrease the quantity.
Tip: To avoid snacking between meals you need to make sure that you eat properly at meal times and eat meals on time. Otherwise hunger and mood swings will sabotage your resolve.
5. Practice self-care
Many women are plagued by guilty feelings. We may feel guilty about not earning enough, not spending enough time with our families or not being a domestic goddess. In particular, we feel often guilty about taking time to look after ourselves when we should be doing something else, probably for someone else.
So self-care takes practice and may often be practiced accompanied by a side dish of guilt. You just have to get used to that.
I hate that guilty feeling but experience has shown again and again that I need to practice self-care diligently despite the guilt. For me that means practicing all of the above almost every day, as well as taking time to be alone, to meet friends or to enjoy a little adventure when needed.
Tip: You might prefer a spa treatment or a coffee date to a long bike ride or yoga session. Or maybe you just want to put your feet up and read a book or watch a movie. Committing to 10 minutes of meditation a day is probably the easiest and most effective way to take care of your self-care.
Staying healthy as you age is about finding out what self-care and health practices keep you on an even keel and practicing them diligently every single day, even if you slipped up the day before.
What keeps you healthy?
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