Most people would answer “yes”, but what does it actually mean to “value your health”? How does it affect your daily life? How do you know it’s having the intended effect? Read on to see our answers to these and other questions.
What eight years of talking to clients have taught us
The one thing which unites all of our clients, every single one, is their desire to be healthier tomorrow than they are today. They may not be conscious that health is so important to them (typically their driving force in working with Thrive is to lose fat, build muscle, run faster, or look good naked), but dig a little deeper and it’s all about health.
That’s a good thing, right? Well, it can be, but whenever our actions are led by a strong focus on one specific goal (e.g. lose fat), an unintended consequence is that our health could suffer. We believe it’s much more powerful to unify exercise, nutrition and lifestyle programmes together to optimise health. Only by doing this are we able to thrive.
A unified approach to health
We’re not doctors. We’re never going to be able to diagnose what that lump, rash or heart flutter is all about, but we do understand what our bodies need to work optimally.
As boring as it may sound, it’s all about balance. Focussing on one aspect of your life in isolation will yield fewer benefits than a more comprehensive approach, as the diagram shows.
When we exercise for exercising’s sake rather than some greater purpose, it can become erratic and unfocussed. A lack of continuing visible results lowers our motivation and adds to the degree of inconsistency of effort.
However, if you link exercise to a health goal, it becomes more effective and more compelling. For example, going for a slow run in order to lower your blood pressure and calm your stress response, or lifting weights to improve bone density as you age.
Now you’re thinking about a strategy for your future health, rather than simply getting active because you think you should.
Almost everyone we work with knows how to improve their nutrition. They know that eating more vegetables and fewer cakes will improve their health. Yet people don’t always follow through with action.
Nutrition is one area where people are very impulsive. In the UK, we’re never far away from being able to buy food which means there is less need to plan and prepare. It’s easy to graze on sugary snacks or rely on takeaways – often we feel we deserve it after a hard day.
Let’s flip that around. Rather than letting the reward department of our brain tell us what we deserve as a treat for surviving the day, how about eating what our body silently craves to help us survive tomorrow a little better?
Fuelling our lifestyle means switching from a calorie-dense diet to one which is nutrient dense, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are our four top guidelines for healthy eating:
- Eat lean protein at each meal
- Eat more non-starchy vegetables than you think necessary
- Minimise processed foods
- Eat mindfully
If you start thinking about eating for your activity levels as well as your lifestyle, you’ll be well on the way to optimising your long-term health.
Contrary to popular belief, you can lead a healthy life and still have fun – it’s all about striking the right balance. But what does that mean in reality?
There is a spectrum of lifestyle choices you can make. On the left are those which have a negative impact on our health (e.g. smoking, alcohol, chronic stress, burning the candle at both ends) and on the right are those with the greatest positive impact (e.g. sleep, social engagement, holidays). Whilst many of our actions are driven by habit (such as having a couple of glasses of wine with dinner to unwind), we are fortunate to be able to make different decisions; decisions that swing the balance towards a healthier lifestyle.
Keeping with the example of wine with dinner, a healthier decision would be to only drink wine on a Friday evening. You could unwind on other evenings by going for a post-dinner walk, talking to family or going to bed earlier (thereby moving rightwards on the scale even more).
It sounds simple on paper, but less so in practice. That is unless you commit to making your health a priority rather than a luxury. It’s a small change in thinking, but one which can have radical effects.
With health as a priority, it comes first in every decision you make, whether that’s what you eat, what you do, or how you behave at work. You don’t need to become an angel overnight – we’re looking for progress, not perfection – so your focus should be on making decisions which are healthier than they would otherwise have been.
Try it for two weeks and let us know what changes you notice.
When we lead busy lives, we rarely stop to think about our health. Instead, we become reactive to the position we find ourselves in and treat the symptoms. For example, how often do you take non-prescription drugs to get rid of aches and pains, stomach issues or to help you sleep? Do you self-medicate with alcohol to relax or sleep? How often do you manage your life around stress, rather than tackling the stress at its source?
The good news is that by improving your nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices, your health will automatically improve, if you get the balance right. Let’s look at an example.
Is this you?
Mr A runs his own small business in a competitive market place. Business is tough but good and he has five people working for him. With a young family to support, he’s stressed from multiple directions, suffers from indigestion and really hasn’t looked after himself, carrying more weight than is good for a middle-aged man. He gets home just in time to see the kids before bed, eat dinner, have a beer and fall asleep before doing it all again the next day.
If he decided to lose weight, what could happen if Mr A focussed on a single solution?
Being time poor, he may be tempted to squeeze in a 30 minute high intensity class at the gym on the way home from work. Sadly for Mr A, the high-stress workout simply compounds his stress levels further, making it more difficult to function at his best, lose weight or manage his blood pressure.
He’d most likely cut calories to lose weight. This works brilliantly for Mr A for a couple of weeks and when weight loss stops, he cuts out more calories. Before long, he’s eating next to nothing, can’t focus, isn’t losing weight and is snapping at everyone, before binging on chocolate.
Aware that his beer consumption has been going up, Mr A decides to cut out mid-week drinking. That’s a sizeable number of calories saved each week, but as he’s no longer getting the bloated or full feeling from drinking beer, he’s started snacking before bed to quell his hunger.
He’s started measuring his blood pressure regularly and was shocked at how high it was. Trouble is, it’s not improving as he’s not taking any actions. Measuring alone will not improve his health.
A unified approach for Mr A
We believe that the biggest bang for Mr A’s buck would be to go for a steady-paced run or swim during the working day. 20-30 minutes will suffice, preferably just before lunch. The knock-on benefits will be:
- Nutrition: Exercising before lunch will lessen the need to snack in the morning, whilst the buzz from being active will mean he’s more likely to eat a healthier lunch. In addition, as each of us is more insulin sensitive after exercise, he will process any carbohydrates eaten more appropriately.
- Lifestyle: Exercise during the working day has been shown to increase productivity, leading to achieving more in less time. This means Mr A can get home earlier, spend more time with the kids, relax and still stay on top of work. Being relaxed will mean he’s less dependent on a beer at the end of the day.
- Health: Switching to low intensity exercise not only helps Mr A deal with the effects of stress, but it will help reduce his blood pressure.
Do you value your health?
There’s that question again. Do you really value your health, or just say you do? How often do you allow other short-term preferences to drive your actions?
We’re not saying you should never have that cake or drink with friends, just do it being comfortable and aware that it may not be in your long-term health’s best interest. When you truly value your health above most other things, you’ll find it easier to make choices which support it.
If you don’t know where to start, talk to us.
Are you ready to thrive?