Part 2 of the Mental Wellness series.
It goes without saying we all “know” that our physical health can have a large impact on our mental wellness, but where is the evidence and what is “physical wellness” really? Physical wellness is generally described as looking after your body by using it, fueling it, and resting it. In other words, movement and/or exercise, nutrition and sleep. Good physical wellness allows us to get the most out of each day without feeling fatigued of physically stressed.
Let’s start with sleep. There is no doubt that sleep is essential at any age. Research has shown that sleep reduces stress, lowers risks of serious health issues, helps to maintain a healthy weight, improves our immunity and gives us the capacity for better decision making (https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep). So, how much is actually enough? Generally experts agree that seven to nine hours of quality sleep is best for adults. What does quality sleep look like though? Sleep quality is difficult to measure, however there are some guidelines that can help you identify whether your sleep quality is good enough. Indicators of quality sleep include being able to fall asleep in under thirty minutes, sleeping straight through the night waking a maximum of once, getting the quantity of recommended sleep, if you wake during the night you can get back to sleep in under twenty minutes and when you wake you feel restored and energised (https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/how-is-sleep-quality-calculated).
If you feel you aren’t meeting these indicators of quality sleep, there are a few things to try to see if you can improve it. The recommendation is no digital technology for between thirty minutes and one hour before your bedtime. This is because the light emitted from digital devices (including televisions) impacts the release of melatonin that tells your body it’s time to sleep. Avoid excessive alcohol before bed, whilst alcohol will help you get to sleep, your body metabolising it overnight can cause sleep disturbances. Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex, avoid working in bed. No caffiene after 5pm. For me personally, it’s no caffeine after lunch as I still feel the impacts at bedtime. Stay away from fatty foods, especially for women, as it can decrease REM sleep. Experts recommend wholegrains and protein for evening snacks. Keep your room between 16 and 20 degrees celcius, interestingly the “perfect” temperature for sleep is 18.3 degrees celcius. Finally, if you are exercising late, avoid high intensity workouts as they elevate body temperature impacting your ability to get to sleep. Try yoga or gentle stretching instead.
Speaking of movement and exercise, let’s look at how they can help your physical wellness. We’re not asking for hours at the gym every week here. In fact, the evidence shows that working out too much can be just as problematic as not doing anything. You need to aim for about 150 minutes a week of movement or exercise. Broken down that’s 30 minutes five days a week, or 25 minutes six days a week. What you choose to do isn’t as important as where you get your heart rate to. In order to calculate your ideal exercising heart rate, you can follow the instructions here (https://www.heartonline.org.au/resources/calculators/target-heart-rate-calculator). Choose activities you enjoy doing, make it fun and look after your body. Looking at physical activities that can double as exercise such as gardening, walking the dogs, or cleaning your house. The physical exertion that is involved with these can get your heart rate up. Actively vacuuming the house or raking the lawn can be incredibly good for you. You can also consider exercises that use your body weight which can be a great alternative if you can’t get to the gym. There are so many different apps available these days to help you out with this.
Consider the benefits of joining a local class to undertake some physical activity or exercise each week. This gives a double benefit as you build social connections with the people that you are engaging with regularly. Classes such as outdoor yoga give multiple benefits in that you are building social connections, exercising and getting back to nature. The benefits of the breathing techniques and tranquility associated with yoga cannot be underestimated, especially when paired with being in nature. Consider your physical wellness as being considerably improved when you are moving. We know that physical activity increases our “happy chemicals” in our brain, which in turn improves our general outlook on life.
Finally, nutrition. I know what you’re thinking, how do you even begin to know what’s best with so many experts telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat. Choosing how you eat is such a personal thing, there is no “perfect”. Different needs due to allergies and intolerances or personal diet choices can make it tricky to manage this. Mix in people who are time poor and it can be fraught with danger. So how do you even begin to navigate this? Firstly, it’s important to understand that what we eat impacts how we feel. I’m sure many of us have been craving some takeaway, only to feel bloated and oily after we’ve eaten it. Foods high in sugar and saturated fats can increase our risk of some mental health conditions developing, whereas a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, nut and wholegrains can help reduce those risks.
Foods high in omega-3’s help brain functioning. Wholegrains have been found to contain an amino acid that allows your body to produce more serotonin, the happy brain chemical. For even more information on the benefits of different foods, check out this article here (https://headspace.org.au/blog/the-best-foods-for-mental-health/). Planning your meals is a sure fire way to take back control of your eating. Having a set menu each week takes away a lot of the pressure we can struggle with that impacts our ability to have nutritious meals daily. Make ahead meals and batch cooking can also be extremely useful if you often find yourself time poor or super busy. Often the trick is to start small and build up slowly, giving yourself time to grow your skills.
Remember, every journey starts with a single step. A step in the direction we want to go. Think about the steps you might want to take to work on your physical wellness and feel free to share here what you are going to commit to doing. Next week we’ll be delving into environmental wellness.