About a year ago I was chatting to friends about trying to be more ‘healthy’ when one of them asked what I actually meant. It was a great question – we hear so much about what we should be doing for our health and then make hundreds of micro-decisions based on this miasma of information, but we don’t always think about what we are trying to achieve and why. So here’s a quick summary of the things that say ‘natural health’ to me.
- Eating well. There are so many versions of eating well out there at the moment and for different people, this might mean gluten- and dairy- free, paleo, low-carb, high-fat but the principle that has worked for me is just to focus on choosing food that is nutrient-dense. So, lots of vegetables and fruit, plenty of fibre, fermented foods for my gut bugs, heathy fats, grass-fed and organic meat. It’s taken over a year of gradual changes to get to the point where I reckon I eat ‘well’ 70% of the time but there’s lots more work to be done – especially when it comes to family food…
- Less alcohol. Well, you never see people making new year’s resolutions to drink more – right? I’ve been cursed with a propensity for dreadful hangovers so have never been a massive boozer, however, found myself a bit uncomfortable with how few alcohol-free days I could count in a month. Interestingly, there are quite a few studies that seem to some health benefits linked to moderate wine drinking including a recent one about diabetes risk so I don’t feel like going teetotal has to be the end game. This is going pretty well although for some reason, social things seem to come in bunches so I end up having a heavy couple of weeks but then cutting back down seems to come really easily.
- Managing stress. Until I started my nutritional therapy course and learned about how things work in our bodies, I knew that stress was bad for health because it’s a topic that’s often in the news (so when you’re feeling stressed you’ve got something else to add to your list of 4am worries) but I didn’t consider how or why. I won’t list all of the effects but there’s a great summary here. Suffice to say that you shouldn’t treat stress as a normal part of modern life, and looking after your mental wellbeing has direct benefits for your physical health. Exercise, mindfulness, and giving less of a shit about trivial stuff have all helped here. Don’t think I’m ever going to be a Zen master but doing things that foster a positive mental outlook is totally part of my natural health kick.
- Exercise. In the same way that a happy mind supports a healthy body, exercise supports a healthy mind. I wonder if people would be more inclined to exercise if we thought of it as making us happier rather than thinner… I remember years ago, having run a half-marathon, I then took a couple of weeks off training only to find myself sobbing at dinner over something ridiculous. Ali suggested I get my trainers back on, and indeed that was all it took to get over my blues. As a northern-hemisphere woman in my 40s, I’m also conscious of looking after my bones, so have got this to factor in too.
- Sleep. Research that highlights the importance of good sleep to overall health seems to emerge all the time. I have two challenges in this area. The first is the fact that as my kids get older, my child-free window in the evening grows smaller which means that I compensate by staying up later to get that all-important box-set viewing in. The second is that I have an undeniable smartphone addiction and even though I know that it needs to go off in the evening, I find myself lying in bed having a final scroll through facebook. If anyone has any top-tips in this area, I’m all ears.
- Avoiding toxins and environmental pollutants. People who have a bee in their bonnet about the natural health movement love to sneer at this aspect. Their schtick is that everything is made of chemicals and that if you feel a bit wary at the sound of dihydrogen oxide (the chemical name for water) you’re a lentil-weaving idiot. This attitude really grinds my gears. There’s a good reason to feel wary of the huge plethora of synthetic substances that we are exposed to on a daily basis – for example, BPA, which we now know to avoid. I’ve still got plenty of work to do in this regard and plan to start replacing cookware this year as every now and again I notice the bashed up, non-stick base of one of my frying pans, or the flaky surface of an el cheapo baking tray and know that they need to be turfed out. One product totally on my shopping list is beeswax food wrap to use instead of cling film – it’s gorgeous and looks like something that’s been pinched from a famous five picnic basket!
No doubt I’ve missed something crucial here – what does natural health mean for you?