How To Stay Healthy And Resilient
Written by Vicky Sham of Mile and Bite Health Coaching.
How are you coping with several rounds of on-off social distancing? Are you one of the rare exceptions who have managed to sleep well and keep to a healthy routine? Or are you still battling with semi-remote working, not enough social life, too much drinking and too little exercise? Have you been over indulging on late night treats and Netflix binge but not quite absolve yourself with half-hearted workouts?
Whether you are feeling fantastic or total garbage or somewhere in between, there are many things you can do to feel better. Health should always be a priority regardless of good or bad times. Both your physical health and mental wellbeing are ever more important during the current pandemic. Here are a few ideas for you to build a strong immune system and resilience with a few simple and accessible actions.
Simple Actions These are actions that you can take right now. The key is to slowly build these habits into your routine. Some are easier to establish if you can find support and accountability from your family and friends. Or if you'd like to have a more structured and informed approach, try health coaching!
1) Your Desire for "Health"
First and foremost, for this whole process to succeed, you need to desire "health". It doesn't matter how you define "health", as long as you know the "why". And the “who” - do it for yourself, your spouse and your kids.
Take a couple of minutes to figure out what is health and why you want to be healthy. How would you feel as you become the healthiest version of yourself? Visualise what you would do with more energy, vitality and mental clarity. How would you approach each day and interact with others?
Can you picture yourself clear of body aches, free of brain fog or migraine, glowing with clear skin, full of energy, enjoying loving relationships, running fast, lifting heavy, or being highly productive at work?
Sleep has always been the most underrated pillar of health and longevity. Imagine depriving yourself one of the following in the next 24 hours. Which one is the most important for you to function well?
Isn't it obvious which is the most essential to your well-being?
When you have enough sleep, not only will you have more energy from better metabolism to support an active lifestyle and greater productivity, you will also have a clearer head to make better decisions, including your food choices and portion sizes.
Check out this study on how sleep deprivation can affect our hormonal (hunger) balance and food cravings. Here is one question to figure out whether you are getting enough sleep. Do you rely on the alarm or do you wake up naturally at about the same time every morning? Do you rely on coffee or tea to function?
I can't tell you how much to drink because each individual's need is unique. You can judge by the colour of your pee. Are you drinking plenty of water?
Water is simply the best choice of hydration, it helps cleansing, anti-aging and weight loss. Of course I see how coffee, tea and alcohol are sold to us as lifestyle, pleasure and entertainment. I get it as I also enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine every now and then. Sometimes it is worth asking ourselves if we may be better off with just a glass of water.
Isn't it much cheaper, quicker and more environmental to grab a glass of water than making a home brew or queueing for an expensive coffee?
If you can't bear the taste of water, here are various options:
Get a really good water filter
Add lemon, cucumber, ginger slices or fresh herbs to water
Add 1/2 to one teaspoon apple cider vinegar to a glass of water every day
Try herbal tea - ginger & lemon, chamomile, peppermint, turmeric & ginger, holy basil
Try kombucha, coconut water, sparkling water, tart cherry juice
Is there anything you would like to change about your hydration? And how will you do this today?
Incidental activities are basically everyday movements that you do beyond planned exercises such as running, biking, swimming, weight lifting or yoga. Imagine how many kilometers a delivery man or an emergency room nurse walk in a normal working day? I can imagine an ER nurse' day of work can easily consume more energy than 45 minutes of spinning or HIIT exercise.
Take the staircase instead of the lift or the escalators. Add a bit more walking to your daily activities Can you can get off one stop earlier or park your car further away from your destination today?
If you are motivated to get stronger, I would encourage you to take up exercise on a regular basis. You may not burn a lot of calories but the benefits are vast. Exercise can improve our mental well-being, the health of our cardiovascular system, skeletal muscles and bones, and may protect against aging.
Exercise has been shown to alter the gut microbiome diversity, regardless what type of diet you follow. Exercise can increase the population of short chain fatty acids-producing microbes (an important marker of gut health), and other beneficial ones that help to maintain metabolism (promote lean body mass), reduce inflammation (protect against obesity, metabolic diseases, type II diabetes), oxidative stress and immune functions (protect from pathogens).
Ideally you want to have a mix of stretching, balance, cardio and strength training. Again, everyone is unique. Be sensible, listen to your body and build this up gradually.
Any exercise is good as long as you find something you enjoy practicing. Find friends or family to join and provide you company, support and accountability. Walk your kids and/ or dogs after lunch or dinner, even a super-slow walk at 2 km/h can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce fat storage.
My own perspective as a runner Running my first marathon a few years ago has been life changing. Since I started running, I got used to signing up and training for several races throughout the year. Having a complete race calendar gives me the incentive to stay healthy. I always pay attention to my sleep, hydration, fuelling and mental well-being so I can pursue a personal best, even to the point that I became a certified coach with the IIN. Now, even with all my races cancelled for 2020, I am happy to follow a healthy routine and regular training schedule, because it feels good to have the energy to enjoy the outdoors, to explore many beautiful roads and trails.
What makes it all happen?
What really makes the difference is the support and camaraderie from my running coach, friends and the running community. In the absence of races, they are the ones who keep me motivated to run more than ever. I look forward to the weekends because it means new routes, new sights, new distances and fun challenges.
6) Nutrition - It's about adding not cutting
Most people have an idea what good nutrition is. Each person's dietary preference and needs are unique. So I'll try to keep my recommendations broad and general.
- Focus on fresh and seasonal rather than packaged food. Always choose single-ingredient foods without a label or expiry date (see examples in the picture below).
- Eat a rainbow of colourful and seasonal vegetables. Each colour represents a different set of micronutrients. Including a diverse range of fruits and vegetables across your meals can ensure you get the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
- Eat mindfully, chew slowly and taste your food. Eat to satiation, stop when you are 80% full.
7) Prioritise Nutrients
Prioritize micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants) rather than calories. If you only eat homemade or freshly prepared food and eat to satiation, I wouldn't worry about the energy content (calories) from macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein and fats. You will get your "macros" more or less right if you focus on a diverse range of freshly made, single ingredient foods. This way of eating will naturally crowd out added sugars and processed foods, i.e. empty calories from your diet.
If you suspect you have sensitivities with certain foods or even undesirable eating habits. Try the Whole30 programme. I've done this twice. Whilst it is a restrictive programme, I have learned a great deal about nourishing my body with whole foods and my relationship with food (which is not always healthy).
8) Weight Management
Most healthy individuals who can follow the above ideas on "know your why", sleep, hydration, movement, exercise and nutrition will likely achieve and maintain a healthy weight. I understand people want results quick. If you are very motivated or if you are already doing all the above right and still want to shed a few pounds, cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle will likely get you results.
- Lower your carbs - focus on carbs from plants (fruits and vegetables) rather than packaged food
- Eat carbs around your exercise when your body is most insulin sensitive
- Intermittent Fasting 12 hours or more. Note this varies hugely for individuals. I'd strongly advise you to do research carefully and seek professional guidance as necessary.
9) Mindful Practice
I can't complete this without mentioning mindful practice. When we talk about health, we often focus on the action and things we physically do such as fitness challenge, detox, skincare, juicing and supplements. There is so much to gain by just slowing down to experience the state of being.
If you don't already have a mindful or spiritual practice, I strongly encourage you try to find a way to slow down, let go of your distractions and focus on the important things. It will take a lot of practice, but I would highly recommend making this part of your long term lifestyle.
The simplest ones:
- Take a pause and a deep breath
- Take a 5-10 minute walk, preferably in an open space with fresh air and nature
- Say a short prayer or recite a mantra
- Turn off your digital device for a few minutes and be quiet
Or more deliberate ones:
- If you are based in Hong Kong or happy to take online classes, I'd recommend taking breathwork classes with Respira Breathwork.
- Breathwork (Respira Breathwork)
- Meditation (Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, or search your App Store)
- Your own personal spiritual practice or religion
10) Take One Action Right Now
It sounds like all lot. You don't have to remember all the suggestions. All you have to do is to pick one thing. Which is the easiest and the most relevant for you?
Take a couple of deep inhales and exhales right now. There you have done it. It is THAT easy!
Start with ONLY ONE THING. Now is the perfect time to incorporate THIS ONE THING into your daily life. Which one is it?
Let me hear your feedback if this makes sense. If you'd like to make some changes to your lifestyle and nutrition in a systematic way, you are most likely to succeed with the support of a health coach. Please reach out or sign up for a free consultation. You can read this blog to learn how we can work together. You may also download a self guided health-coaching e-guide for FREE.
About Vicky Sham ( Read full profile here) I am a certified health coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York, where I have completed the Health Coach Training Programme and the Gut Health Course. I also hold a Master of Chemistry from the University of Oxford in the UK. I studied with the world's top health and wellness experts including:
Joshua Rosenthal, founder and director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition
Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, chair of nutrition at Harvard University
Andrew Weil, MD, director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine
Susan Blum, MD, MPH, assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Mark Hyman, MD, founder of The UltraWellness Center
Geneen Roth, bestselling author and expert on emotional eating
David Wolfe, raw food leader and nutrition expert
Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, professor at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health
Mark Bittman, food writer for The New York Times and bestselling author
Joel Fuhrman, MD, family physician and leading expert on nutritional healing
With my knowledge, you and I can create completely personalized actions to reach your goals. We can work towards your ideal vision of health within your unique body, lifestyle, preferences, and resources.
Thank you Vicky for sharing your article with us!
Reference and Related Blogs for the article
1. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
2. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
3. Yang, C-L., Schnepp, J., Tucker, R.M.; Increased Hunger, Food Cravings, Food Reward, and Portion Size Selection after Sleep Curtailment in Women Without Obesity Nutrients., 2019 Mar; 11(3); 663 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470707/
4. Xu, J. Lombardi, G., Jiao, W. Banfi, G., Effects of Exercise on Bone Status in Female Subjects, from Young Girls to Postmenopausal Women: An Overview of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses, J Nutr Health Aging, 2019;23(6):494-502.
5. Arsenis, N. C., You, T., Ogawa, E.F., Tinsley, G. M., Zuo, L. Physical activity and telomere length: Impact of aging and potential mechanisms of action; Oncotarget, 2017 Jul 4, 8(27), 45008-45019
6. Respira Breathwork https://respira-breathwork.com/
7. Nutrient Density Matters Not Calories
8. How to Boost Your Immune System
9. Crowding Out Your Sugar Cravings
10. What Are Refined Carbohydrates?
11. An Integrative Approach To Dieting