Lockdown is the perfect time to ask yourself some tough questions, and by doing so now, you could improve your health and well-being dramatically. Overhauling your health is best done in small steps, but how do you know where to start?
Try asking yourself one or two of these questions each day – the answers could improve your health, fitness and mood, or even make you live longer.
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1. Would your great-grandfather recognise everything you ate today?
“If not, chances are those unidentified foods are processed, and most of these will have had something added to or subtracted from them, which means they’re not as nutritious as they should be,” says naturopath Mim Beim.
“Ideally, your diet should be made up of foods as close to their natural state as possible – just as your great-grandparents would have eaten. After all, Mother Nature is good at designing things that provide us with nutrients that work synergistically to deliver maximum health benefits.”
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2. Can I do this task while standing or moving?
“With our busy lives, it’s difficult to include as much formal exercise as we need in our day, and technology like e-mail has meant that we’ve lost more general opportunities to move, such as walking to speak to a co-worker,” says weight-loss specialist Matt O’Neill.
This is bad news, as not only do studies show that a high level of this non-exercise activity is one of the major differences in lifestyle between those who are thin and those who struggle with their weight (as every single movement you make burns kilojoules), but research also shows that the more time you spend sitting each day, the greater your risk of heart disease and even premature death.
Experts say you need to make choices to stand during tasks like talking on the phone. It might feel strange at first but, remember, it only takes 21 days to form a new habit.
3. What could I do to make myself happy right now?
That’s right, now, not a week from Wednesday after your work project is finished, or in a year after you’ve lost 6kg or been given a raise at work, but within the next hour.
“So many of us suffer the ‘tyranny of when’ regarding feeling good,” says The Happiness Institute’s Dr Timothy Sharp.
“We say, ‘I’ll be happy when I’ve (insert goal here)’. The problem is that it means you miss out on feeling good every day.” Every so often, throughout the day, analyse if you’re feeling as happy as you can be – and if not, ask what it would take to change that. Ideally you would aim to tackle the root cause of the issue rather than just munching on some chocolate to get a sugar rush. You might even find it makes those bigger goals easier to achieve.
“I believe that if you’re happier from day to day, you’ll be more likely to achieve those big goals you’re waiting for. Positive emotions lead to improved performance, coping, and resilience, and these lead to success,” he says.
4. Is taking an over-the-counter medicine the best way to treat this problem?
While popping the occasional painkiller for a headache won’t hurt, if you’re constantly self-medicating to treat the same condition, you may be better off visiting your GP, or seeing a specialist like a physiotherapist in an attempt to tackle it at the source.
For starters, you might actually be cured of the condition. “Some serious conditions can present with seemingly innocuous symptoms, too. Rectal bleeding, for example, which you might treat as haemorrhoids, can be an early warning sign of rectal cancer and should always be investigated,” says Professor Michael Kidd, a GP and expert in family medicine.
5. Am I being kind if I do this?
That’s the most important question Michael J. Chase, author of the e-book Am I Being Kind (Hay House), thinks you can ask for your health – and the well-being of those around you.
“Kind thoughts, words, and actions create joy, but unkindness only creates suffering,” he says.
“The next time you’re about to argue, complain, consume something unhealthy, yell at a loved one, or even litter, pause and question yourself internally as to whether what you’re about to do is kind for you, or someone else. If the answer is no, ask yourself ‘How may I be kind?’ Your job then is just to listen and follow through with the answer.”
Not only will this make your external world a better place, being kind has also been shown to increase levels of mood-boosting serotonin and strengthen your immune system.
6. Do I know how healthy I really am?
In South Africa, more than one in three adults live with high blood pressure, and 7% of adults between the ages of 21 and 79 – a whopping 3,85 million people – suffer from diabetes. The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA also notes that more South Africans than ever are overweight and hypertensive.
Basic measurements everyone should have checked at least once a year are blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. You should also keep up with any health screenings relevant to your age.
“But I would also recommend everyone has a blood test that looks at factors like their iron levels, thyroid hormone status, and adrenal function,” says Dr Elstein.
“It can pick up a host of undiagnosed conditions. An estimated 5 to 10% of my patients actually have a genetic condition called haemochromatosis, which causes iron to build up in their body and triggers issues like fatigue.”
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7. How many times did I eat something today?
Weight-loss experts in the US have created a machine that tracks how many bites of food people take a day. The theory is that each bite averages out at 105kJ. So by setting an individual a maximum number of bites to eat, you can control the number of kilojoules that person consumes. We’re not suggesting you go into such detail, but look at the number of times you ate.
“Between meals, by snacking and picking at things as they wander past the fridge, some people are eating 10 or more times daily,” says dietician Susie Burrell.
A healthy regimen sees you eating three meals and one to three snacks daily. “Ideally, you should have two to three hours at a time when you don’t eat at all,” says Susie.
8. Is the exercise I’m about to do the right fit for me today, physically and mentally?
When you are doing formal exercise, this is key to ensure balance and results.
“If you ran 10km yesterday, you shouldn’t run it again today,” says The Biggest Loser Australia trainer Tiffiny Hall, author of e-book Weightloss Warrior (Hardie Grant).
“An effective exercise regimen includes interval drills, endurance work, strength training, core stability, and recovery. You need versatility and variety to get results, so make sure you’re chopping and changing your routine.”
You also need to make sure you’re exercising from the right place mentally. Tiffiny points out many of us exercise out of guilt or habit; forgetting that it’s supposed to be something we enjoy.
So, before you start a yoga session at home after work when you’re tired or stressed out, ask if your exercise is the right fit for your emotional needs today. Sometimes it might be better to go for a swim and sauna than to go for a long run. Also, “occasionally having a chat to a friend would be better than working out at all”, says Tiffiny.
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9. If you were diagnosed with a serious illness, but were cured, which of your lifestyle habits would you change immediately afterwards?
“Asking this now means you might actually avoid that health scare,” says natural-health coach Mark Bunn.
“Many of the habits we’d change after a health scare like a heart attack are the ones that caused it – so why wait? Change them now and avoid the issue. It could save your life,” he says.
Written by Helen Foster