In Dame Sally Davies’s new book, “Whose Health is it Anyway”, Davies examines the role that health has to play in generating the wealth of our society, both economically and in terms of improving of the wealth reserve through engendering good health and resilience as individuals.
Over the last year we have concentrated all our attention towards ill health, but of course the other side of the coin is good health, and strong resilience. As with any illness, we need to keep well (!) and fostering resilience is both a mental and physical game. Mental because our reaction to stressors in the form of chronic stress (long term and relentless) due to production of stress hormones can seriously deplete the immune system (both cellular and humoral immunity, two arms of the immune system). Acute stress (like exams) only suppresses one part of the immune system, the cellular part, as a contrast. Of course, your individual circumstance, like your age can really determine if your immunity/resilience will be Ox like or not!
Tips to Stay Well as possible, and Resilient, and full of Energy!
- Learn to tap into a deep well of peace – I recently saw a YouTube interview with a really inspirational lady, Mary, who in the most trying of circumstances manged to remain, peaceful and calm, polite and centred, despite being held prisoner (in error) for almost a month. I am sorry I don’t have the reference, and if I remember I will let you know! Her first tip was to practice Transcendental Meditation – for which, you must find a TM teacher. This is very easy to do, you can just do a search, and of course these days, most of the training can be done online. TM, as far as I understand it, is a mantra meditation, but has an oral tradition of being passed from teacher to student. I am excited to say, I have booked with a local teacher and will let you know progress. I have to say, although I totally get why one should meditate, the many benefits speak volumes, from stress reduction to brain plasticity, adaptability and beyond – I have been like a skittery butterfly in how I have ever applied myself to meditation. I find that my mind immediately wanders, and badly in Mindful based meditation styles; I find it almost impossible. A sudden desire for a cup of tea beckons, a need to check my watch, or an urgent mission to put some washing on. People with annoyingly smooth voices narrating some irritating apparently easy Mindful “journey”, making me feel a) the aforementioned annoyed and b) totally unmindful as I analyse why I might be annoyed with the obviously very kind and well-meaning smooth narrator, who obviously does mean so very well. In a focus type of meditation (eg focusing on the breath) I tend to panic, noticing for the first time that I am actually breathing, and wondering suddenly what would happen if I stopped – which of course undoes all those lovely potential benefits. Then there is the guilt. Think of all of those people who are meditating and crushing it, not that you should be competitive (oh, another guilt attack there for sure). I bet they aren’t really. Anyway, Mary (mentioned above) has practiced TM every day from when she learnt, and its working for her – so hopefully I don’t report back, saying that my butterfly/gnat-like attention has landed and then flown. You know, I feel this is somehow different – for a start, I have a teacher, and so am accountable and you do have to pay for it, which somehow means that I should value it. All of that long prelude to say, that, finding your own centre and place of peace in a world where finding resilience is a challenge is vital as we come into the winter months – the well of peace also has a practical application of boosting the immune system by lowering cortisol (our flight and fight hormone) and thus not only making us more mentally sturdy, but making sure that our both arms of our immune system are working optimally.
- Eat Real Food and Stay Metabolically Flexible (that means looking after your hormones) – Of course, I am going to hammer this home as a nutritionist, sorry folks. No getting round this one. Food is obviously where we get the nutrients, and also the foundational resource for maintaining your resilience both mentally and physically. It is only relatively recently (well, it’s the philosopher Descarte’s (1596 – 1650) fault apparently) who philosophically separated head from body, summed up as “I think therefore I am” – But of course, the head is not separated from the body (really Kate, you are a genius) – therefore what we eat, our guts, our whole body and what we subject it to, influence our so called Mental Health – separating mind from body, immediately medicalises distress into something that we can treat, and prescribe medication for, to make it go away – and whilst that might be a useful sticking plaster in the short term, the longer term solution is more complex. Eating food that helps how our body deals with the very complex landscape of our hormones (hormones like insulin perhaps most importantly) can have a radical influence on how our bodies might function, but also our mind. Insulin controls our blood sugar, and low blood sugar can make us feel literally blue. Controlling blood sugar starts with eating so called real food (to borrow the food writer Michael Pollan’s words) – real food, is probably exactly the opposite of convenience, junk food, and food in effect your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise. Food that obviously has an attachment to nature, rather than to a lab experiment is a good guide.
- Half An Hour Under the Sky – I picked this expression up recently, and apologies to whoever it was I nicked it from! Even in Winter, make sure you get natural light, even if you think it is weak and ineffectual light. Of course, from September you are not getting the benefits of Vitamin D, the sun is too low in the sky in the northern hemisphere – but you are still getting benefit from natural light setting your circadian rhythms, and helping you sleep soundly like a baby. And of course, Sleep is the very foundation of good health; the actual secret to life.
Kate Cook, Nutritional Expert and Corporate Well-being of 20 years, author of 8 books, gives talks, seminars, workshops to progressive companies, interested in creating a vibrant workplace.