SELF CARE AND SELF PRESERVATION
(Updated 17th November 2021)
These are the strong and forceful words of Audre Lorde, the late American writer, feminist and civil rights activist. Powerful words indeed and although I try to steer clear of politics these days, I do want to encourage people to live the healthiest lifestyle practically possible for their own particular situation.
I can think of no better way to take some of the pressure off our beloved NHS, than for all of us to practice 'self-care' to the very best of our individual ability and thereby live healthier lives. A virtuous double-whammy, for the NHS and for each of us.
As an associate lay member for public engagement in our NHS I should stress that I have absolutely no clinical expertise whatsoever, but the real-life experiences across my working life and in particular the knowledge gained through my public facing NHS role, have inspired a number of changes I've made to my own lifestyle choices.
The Health & Social Care Board suggest these examples of small steps to a healthier you:
Get Active – advice is to exercise for at least twenty minutes a day, it’s ideal if you can incorporate this into your day by ditching the car and walking to work, or walking the dog, taking the stairs or even dancing around the kitchen table to your favourite songs!
Eat Well – We all know that healthy eating is crucial to our health so we can start by swapping unhealthy snacks for healthy options such as nuts, seeds and fruit. Ask your pharmacist for advice on managing your weight.
Adopting Positive Lifestyle Choices – Take steps to stop those bad habits that don’t serve you well. Make a plan to stop smoking, reduce your alcohol intake and get active! Your pharmacist can help with lifestyle changes such as weight management and stop smoking services.
Now I realise I'm very lucky and that for some, practicing self-care may involve living with a long-term chronic illness and the NHS should clearly do all it can support patients in that regard.
However, the lifestyle changes I've made personally have been gentle, gradual and relatively easy to make - over time. No-one can guarantee our health but I urge anyone reading this blog to think about how you might change things to give yourself the fullest and healthiest life possible, for the very longest period of time, given your own personal circumstances.
My hope is that the following wisdom and advice I've gleaned from the experts and the ways I've adapted that advice to fit my own imperfect life, over time, are of some encouragement to others to look after themselves as best possible. Its never too late to make changes!
For me there are 3 core factors involved - activity, diet and mind.
There are many ways busy mums and dads, families, young people, workers and older adults can build physical activity into their lives.
Being physically active is easier than you think, especially if you make activity part of your daily routine.
The British Heart Foundation suggest Children and young people should aim to participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day such as walking, dancing, swimming, cycling, active play or other sports. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes physical activity each week.
I was fortunate to grow up in a wonderful, loving, home in a seaside town surrounded by parks, a recreation ground and local beaches. Physical activity often needs space and I was absolutely spoilt for that.
As a young adult I was a keen runner, I even completed the very first official local marathon in 1982. I ran most days and usually for miles at a a time, sometimes in the evening and sometimes to and from work, but a serious back problem in the 90's brought all that to a sudden end.
After months of delicate recuperation that included hydrotherapy sessions, my doctor and I concluded that the relatively weightless act of swimming was the way forward for me. Stretching exercises were also prescribed and a little later still I discovered Yoga.
To this very day, I do 10 minutes of Yoga and stretching exercises every morning. I also swim 20 lengths of the pool at least twice a week. I try to swim outdoors whenever possible as I miss the fresh air filling my lungs that my earlier jogging years provided, and now I'm in my 60's, I've added balancing exercises to my daily exercise routine. At weekends I try to walk some kind of distance on at least one day and I just love it when the car stays in the garage for a good 24 hours.
I'm not exactly slim, but had I not found alternative ways of staying active following that back issue in my 40's, I might well be much heavier and subsequently, living a more sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle at my age today.
When that back problem ended my first manual career in electricity supply, things were very scary indeed and occasionally these days, my back pain still likes to remind me it's very much a painful and permanent part of my anatomy. But I wake every morning and truly give thanks that due my regular gentle exercise and stretching routine I can still get around pretty well to this day.
Click here for more on getting active.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.
This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
My diet as a youngster wasn't as varied as it is today. Spam and chips may be the subject of comedy sketches these days, but back in the 1960's, we young working-class kids just loved the stuff.
When I started work as a teenager, the odd sausage roll didn't go amiss at lunchtimes and a take away on the way home often filled an empty tum. Like most young men during their 20's and 30's I thought I was indestructible but that back problem at 40 put an end to that delusional thinking too.
So, over the past couple of decades I've also made gradual improvements to the kind of 'fuel' I consume. These days I eat far less meat but a little more fish. I eat more veg but less sweet stuff.
I'm lucky that I've never started smoking, but I have cut down on the booze. The upside of drinking less is that it makes weekends, and in particular that Sunday beer so much more enjoyable.
We are what we eat and although my diet is still not perfect, it's now getting pretty near to that Mediterranean Diet pictured above and I feel just a little proud and smug about the changes I've managed to make over time that also provide the benefit of making me feel so much physically healthier.
The five ways to wellbeing really are the key to good mental health.
Evidence suggests that if we take these 5 steps we can improve our mental wellbeing.
If you give them a try, you may feel happier, more positive and able to get the most from life.
Mental health was not a big conversational topic for the first half of my life but I'm delighted that things have changed and that we are all looking to parity in all respects with physical health issues these days.
On a personal note, a painful divorce, a decade of financial negative equity, the sudden ending of a cherished career, the pressures of being a council leader and supporting two of my dearest and closest loved-ones through long, drawn out and traumatic illnesses (sadly ending with their deaths), have all been extremely stressful.
However, I'm truly grateful for the very positive stage I'm at in my life today, though I also know this too could be an a fleeting experience.
Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
I'm a very lucky man in this respect - I have a large super-extended family, most of whom live locally and I've lived in the same area all of my life and thankfully know many, many local people. Through my work in the electricity industry and in so many very different areas of life - further education, local politics and through my NHS 'public champion' role - I've also made many connections that I truly value very dearly.
Be active – you don't have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find an activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
I explained earlier the physical activity that I'm so thankfully still just able to enjoy. For me - a healthy mind and body are interlinked.
Take notice – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness". It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
Taking notice is something that thankfully I just can't help doing and through this very blog I'm reflecting on and sharing experiences. For all its faults - social media can do that - as long as we make sure we are sharing our experiences in a positive manner wherever possible. For my part, through my photographic hobby, if I see something special I just have to record it and then when I've captured it on my camera, I just feel an incredible impulse to share it. Afraid I just can't help myself in this respect and my social media 'chums' on twitter, Facebook and Linkedin will no doubt confirm this trait.
As for 'mindfulness' - during the pandemic lockdown I added some personal 'gratitude thought' at the end of my daily morning stretching and exercise routine. My routine always ended with me on my back on the floor and now I simply close my eyes at that point for another couple of minutes and give thanks for all the wonderful people in my life and across the world. May sound really soppy, but I've done it for a year now and I find it gets each day off to a good start.
Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike?
I'm a firm believer in life-long-learning and certainly never, ever, stop learning myself. During the pandemic lockdowns I studied philosophy and economics online - just for fun - geek or what? An online Gardening Club also provided interaction with like-minded folk during the most difficult of times. Trying new activities and seeing new things is an absolute must in my book (then I photograph and share them on social media - sorry).
Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it's a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
I truly don't over-spoil my grandchildren with presents and goodies but they absolutely do get my time and energy whenever it's possible. Volunteering in my local community has always been a large part of my adult life and I sincerely hope this blog gives me yet another avenue through which to promote some positive thought.
Click here for more on mental wellbeing.
So there you have it, 3 aspects of lifestyle choices for you to think about. We're all different and enjoy different things, but one way or another our activities, diets and minds shape us and I hope you too want to be in the best possible physical and mental shape for yourself and all those around you.