Ready to learn the secret to health and wellbeing?
Based on my own personal research and extensive reading, here are my top 7 prescriptions for ultimate health and wellness.
Step 1: What you put in your body
Eat more plants.
Ok, so I’m vegan and biased, but the results are in, and the research increasingly points to the fact that the healthiest diet possible is a predominantly plant-based one. If you want the facts for yourself, a good place is to start is John Robbins’ “Diet for a New America” (although it was written a while ago, it still applies today – in fact, things are generally much worse now than when the book was written).
Try to base most of your meals around fruit and veg (aim for more veg than fruit, although both are great!), and make sure to get enough Greens especially (kale, spinach, etc.). If you need some help with getting started, check out the Recipes page, or food blogs such as Ela Vegan or ‘Oh She Glows‘, which have some super delicious plant-based recipes.
Try to eat mostly organic.
Chemicals in pesticides play havoc with our hormones, leading to all kinds of symptoms and illnesses in the body. While we can’t avoid all chemicals and pollutants in our environment, we can try to limit our exposure as much as possible by buying/eating predominantly organic. If you can’t afford all organic (I know I can’t!), try to at least buy certain fruits and veggies organic – the “dirty dozen” – i.e. the ones that are generally the most heavily contaminated.
Eat as minimally processed as possible.
In the documentary Food Matters, Alejandro Junger, M.D. states that what most people eat nowadays (on the Standard American Diet (SAD)) is not food, but ‘food-like substances’. If you look at most of the products in the supermarkets – the ones in boxes, cartons, and packages – they are little more than cardboard flavoured with chemicals, salt and sugar so they taste good and physiologically make us addict to the product so we keep buying it! The more you can eat food that is as close to its natural state as possible, the better your health is going to be; full stop!
Think about cutting out sugar, gluten and dairy.
For many people, adding in healthy foods to their diet is more effective than cutting stuff out (which feels too much like a diet, or deprivation); the hope being that eventually the good stuff crowds out the bad. But there are some things that should really be avoided: (refined) sugar, gluten (as much as possible), and dairy (if you’re not already vegan). Along with meat, these 3 are some the worst foods for your health, causing inflammation in the body (and inflammation is the root cause of most chronic disease).
Make sure you’re drinking enough water!
The human body is around 60% water, so it makes sense we need to replenish this store consistently (even more so when we are exercising, in the sun, or have a health challenge). Dehydration can cause a host of health issues, not least skin problems and constipation. You can work out how much water you need by dividing your weight in kilograms by 30 to work out how many litres you need.
It can sometimes be hard to remember to drink water, so I like to have my water bottle (BPA free!) with me constantly so that I see it regularly and remember to drink up. You can also add fruit to your water if you find plain ol’ H2O too boring.
Supplement for optimal health.
In the alternative health community supplements are a controversial topic, but my conclusion (after much research!) is that they are probably a necessary part of modern life, because a) you would have to have a perfect diet to not need supplementation and most people are nowhere near that, and b) even if you had a perfect diet, our soil is nowadays so depleted of minerals that you still wouldn’t be guaranteed to get all the minerals etc. you need from what you are eating.
For starters, I believe everyone (not just vegans) should be taking a B12 supplement (methylcobalamin is the most readily absorbed version of B12, avoid cynocobalamin), vegan omega 3 (DHA and EPA) from algae, a good quality probiotic (since gut health is so important), and a vegan D3 supplement (but get your blood levels checked at the doctors’, because it is possible to have too much vitamin D).
You might also want to add a magnesium supplement as most people are deficient (but there are different types of magnesium depending on your specific needs), and a wholefoods vitamin C (maybe with zinc) over winter, or if you need extra immune support.
Step 2: Movement
Try to get at least 30 minutes movement, 5 days a week.
Obviously the more the better, but also, the more consistent you are, the better, so I’d say it’s better to do 20 minutes, 5 times a week, than 90 minutes, twice a week, especially if you have a fitness goal that you’re working towards.
If you have any kind of hormonal challenges that you’re working on, or chronic stress/adrenal fatigue, then you probably want to limit your workouts to 30 minutes as, beyond that, you’re putting too much stress on your body, actually pushing it into fat-storing mode!
Ideally you want a mixture of cardio, strength-training/weights, HIIT (high intensity interval training), core training (pilates or yoga), and flexibility training (yoga). But you also have to do what you enjoy, otherwise you’re less likely to do it! And even just walking is better than nothing.
Yoga is perfect for stress-reduction, or for those who need more gentle movement.
Yoga has a whole host of benefits that I’ve talked about elsewhere, especially stress-reduction, flexibility, mindfulness, or just as a gentle introduction to movement if you’re just starting out.
Incorporate some kind of weight-bearing exercise.
One of the best things you can do for bone health (preventing osteoporosis) – especially important as we get older – is to do regular weight-bearing exercise. This could be doing weights down the gym, or an equally great option is just to get a weighted vest and go for a walk up a slight incline a couple of times a week. Over time you can increase the weights and increase the incline.
Step 3: Work on your mind (watch your thoughts)
What you put out comes back to you.
The universe works on the Law of Attraction (if you have no idea what I’m talking about watch “the Secret”), meaning that the energy you put out into the world is likely to come back to you. So if you put out lots of negativity, then that’s likely all you’ll get back from life. This is not to place blame on you, or make you even more stressed about how you’re feeling, but it’s really important to work to change your thoughts and to elevate your energy. You can do this through some of the steps below, trying things like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping, and by reading books like Gabby Bernstein’s ‘The Universe has your back’.
Note: If you are dealing with trauma or depression (etc.) I encourage you to seek out professional support through therapy (there are lots of different types, like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), wilderness or nature therapy, art or dance therapy) or seek out a trauma-informed yoga teacher, for example.
There’s a reason why Gratitude has become a trendy thing among ‘Insta yogis’ recently; having a daily gratitude practice has been shown to, over time, change the way you see the world. Why? Because you are focusing on what’s going well in your life, rather than the negative, and, as we saw before, what you put out comes back to you, so if you are grateful for what you have, you’re likely to get more things to be grateful for!
Have a little diary or notepad next to your bed, and, before going to sleep each night, write down 3 things you are grateful for that day. You could also do this first thing in the morning, or even both!
Mindfulness is about being fully present and aware, right in this moment; in other words, the opposite of going into ‘autopilot’ mode. Like gratitude, this practice has been shown to reduce stress and improve the quality of our lives – rather than worrying about the future or dwelling in the past, you are enjoying the present moment (enjoying the journey rather than waiting for the destination!), and therefore truly living your life.
Mindfulness can be done at any time throughout the day, you don’t have to sit on a meditation cushion… You can mindfully wash the dishes for example, by noticing the temperature of the water on your skin, listening to the sounds of the cloth against the dishes, etc., or by being fully aware and present when someone is talking to you – switching off the TV or your phone and giving them your full attention (which will improve your relationship too!).
Meditation is one form of mindfulness, where you focus on one specific thing or object (like the breath, or a mantra) to focus the attention. There are lots of different types of meditation so I encourage you to try various styles until you find one that suits you, but a good place to start is the Headspace app, which you can try for free for 10 days.
Meditating in the morning is an amazing way to start the day, helping your focus and concentration; or, you could do your meditation in the evening before bed, to help you sleep better.
Even 2 minutes is better than nothing, but aim for at least 5 minutes at first, working up to 15 or 20 minutes.
Change your relationship with stress.
I was going to say ‘reduce stress’, because we all know how damaging stress can be in our lives, having been linked to numerous chronic diseases and health concerns. While that’s still true, and doing all you can to minimise stress is important (through yoga, meditation, herbs and supplements, better sleep, etc.), research suggests that it’s also important how you view stress. People who have a lot of stress in their lives, but view their stress as positive/helpful/manageable, do not develop the same kinds of health issues as people who have the same amount of stress (or even more!) but regard stress as a negative thing.
Step 4: Sleep
Sleep is so important to our overall health and wellbeing; it’s the time our body needs to clear out any junk, process and evaluate our day, and to rest and repair. Aim for around 8 hours a night (at least 7), ideally between 11pm and 7am.
It’s not just the quantity of sleep that’s important but also the quality. If you are tossing and turning each night, or having to wake up constantly to go to the bathroom, then you might not be getting quality sleep each night. If bathroom breaks are the problem, try to not drink any liquid after dinner (make sure you are getting plenty of water early in day).
Set up a bedtime routine. Going to bed at the same time each night, and waking up at the same time each morning, helps the body to establish a good sleep pattern, so the body knows ‘ok, it’s 10pm, time to start winding down!’.
Turn off all electronics at least 2 hours before bedtime. The blue light from phones and laptops triggers the body into thinking it’s daytime, and therefore time to be busy and productive. Plus, social media and emails are usually a source of stress for many people, so scrolling through Instagram just before bed probably isn’t going to help you calm down and rest.
If your body feels restless, try essential oils, tea, a magnesium supplement, or a bath. For people with restless leg syndrome, or trouble falling asleep, a magnesium glycinate supplement can work wonders (most people are deficient in magnesium anyway). Or you could try a bath with Epsom salts, or bath oils. Speaking of oils, lavender is calming and relaxing, so you could try putting some in the bath (in a carrier oil), or using an essential oil diffuser in the bedroom – that way, the body also begins to associate the smell of lavender with going to sleep. You could also try lavender in tea (although it’s a strong taste – beware!), or a tea with camomile or valerian root, both of which are good for de-stressing and helping people fall asleep more easily.
If you can’t get to sleep because you are stressed/anxious/thinking about tomorrow’s plans, keep a journal next to the bed, and, right before you go sleep, right down all the things stressing you/your ‘to do’ list for tomorrow. Sometimes just getting things down on paper and out of your head helps you to feel calmer and therefore fall asleep. Or try any of the suggestions above for stress-reduction.
Step 5: Connection
When you look at the ‘Blue Zones’ (areas of the world where people tend to live longer than the average), one common factor regardless of culture, ethnicity, etc., is that the elderly in these zones tend to live in fairly tight-knit communities, where they are respected and valued, and where they socialise regularly with others. In addition, people tend to recover better from disease and illness when they have a strong support network. The old saying is true; we really are social creatures, and tend to do better when surrounded by loving communities.
As someone who has been forced to live in quite isolated places for lengthy periods of time at various points throughout my life, I still struggle with this step, as I realise that sometimes it’s just not physically possible to live in a loving community. And I also believe it’s better to be alone than surrounded by negative people who bring you down. But at some point in the future I would like to find myself living in a community of like-minded people (my ‘tribe’), and I know that I definitely am happier when I’m not lonely.
Step 6: Self-care
Spending time taking care of yourself is not selfish, in fact it’s totally necessary and crucial if you are to take care of others – you can’t give to others if your own cup is empty! There’s a reason the aeroplane emergency procedure tells you put on your own breathing mask first.
Schedule some time into your day (at least 5 minutes!) for you, doing something you love (if you’re not sure what that is, then definitely take some time to journal and figure out what brings you joy) – whether that’s reading, meditating, taking a bath, going for a walk, or even just time to do nothing and simply ‘be’.
Get in touch with your creative side. Start a hobby, something that you’ve always wanted to do (like learning to make jewellery?), something that you do for you and no one else. Plus, learning new things keeps the brain healthy!
Make time to journal; it’s a great way to get to know yourself, and to get things off your chest that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Don’t worry about how it sounds, or whether your writing is good or not, just write from the heart.
Step 7: Reduce your toxic exposure
We live in a hugely toxic environment. Since WWII in particular, a whole host of chemicals have been unleashed into the environment that we can never take back, and it will be years before the true effects of this contamination and pollution is really known. We do already know that many chemicals in the environment act as hormone-disrupters in the body, causing a range of health conditions and chronic illnesses.
While we can’t always do anything about the toxins in the air or around us, we can try to limit our exposure as much as possible. Not only by eating organic, as already mentioned, but also by looking at the chemicals we bring into our homes in our cosmetics and household cleaning products. Nowadays there are great non-toxic alternatives to most common products, it just means going out of your way to find them, either in specialist healthfood shops or by ordering online. They are often more expensive (ironically) than the commercial brands, however, so you might also consider making your own (vinegar is a great household cleaning product, for example), which can be super economical and even fun!
So there you have it – my 7 steps towards optimal health and wellbeing! I truly believe that if we addressed these 7 areas we would see a dramatic shift in our health and happiness (and therefore in society as a whole!). I recognise that these steps are not a panacea, and that if you are dealing with a chronic health condition you will undoubtedly need to do more than what’s mentioned here (but they would still be a good starting point). I also recognise that it’s not possible for many people to put all these things into action – a certain degree of privilege is necessary, for sure – at least not all at the same time. But it’s not all-or-nothing; when it comes to health and wellbeing sometimes even just taking small steps can improve things dramatically. The important thing is not to beat ourselves up for not being perfect (who is?), but to celebrate the little victories, and to do what we can, whilst listening to our bodies and our own innate wisdom.
Your turn! Which of these things are you doing, or would like to implement? Are there any areas you need extra help with? I’d love to hear from you, so let me know in the comments below!
To vibrant living,