Wellbeing hacks – be better for less

Wellbeing isn’t just for weekends, it’s for life.

Everyone agrees these days that our health is something we are each individually responsible for, and can’t be taken for granted. The miracle pills and treatments we used to pop with confidence are all increasingly under the microscope and the focus is on prevention, not cure. To this end, health, fitness and overall wellbeing are all hot topics. These are multimillion pound industries worldwide - just look at the proliferation of gyms, fitness trackers and healthy cookbooks on the market - and regulation can only go so far in protecting the consumer. In addition to ensuring that we are doing the best thing for our health, we also need to ensure we are doing the best thing for our wallets. If you are a student, unemployed or on a career break, you will be particularly interested in staying well without paying the earth. Today I am looking into low cost ways you can maintain or even improve your fitness levels, and boost your wellbeing so that you are in rude health all round when you return to work.

It goes without saying that you need to take your doctor’s advice before starting or stopping any arrangements you already have in place. I am purely looking into practices firmly in the “lifestyle” bracket, rather than heavy duty healthcare. Most of these will cost you little or nothing. It may just be a matter of downloading a couple of apps, but the important thing is to keep up good habits once you’ve found them. That takes willpower, however the good news is that apps are really good at reminding you religiously to keep you on the right path! My suggestions may include some new age-y things you’ve never considered before, especially on the wellbeing side. But remember that as with all things, the most expensive thing you can own is a closed mind.

Health

Let's start with the obvious health hacks - the simple things in life that will cost you nothing and/or save you money. There are generally free apps in all of these areas if you find it helpful to track your progress:

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Drink water
  • Cut back on sugar
  • Cut back on alcohol https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/
  • Stop smoking
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift
  • Walk or cycle wherever you can
  • Wear sunscreen (plus other great advice from Baz Luhrmann) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI
  • Give yourself the occasional treat (because if you don't, you won't live forever, it will just feel like it....!)

A great recent TV show in the UK is Doctor in the House http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rcjdb where a UK General Practitioner, Dr Rangan Chatterjee, looks at the whole family's lifestyle in a holistic way to recommend changes that are practical and likely to make a real difference. In his words “the majority of patients don't need a pill, they need a lifestyle change”. Expect a book and follow up series, as this doctor is very telegenic.

Nutrition

I am not a huge consumer of vitamins but I have been taking a combined cod liver oil and glucosamine tablet daily since turning 50. I have also taken multivitamins before now, if I am travelling or not sure I am getting a good diet. You might be doing similar, or more. But is it a waste of money? The companies making these products would of course have us think otherwise. So where do we get an opinion we can trust? A scientist will tell you that the best source of truth in matters like this is whoever has access to the most information – tests, surveys, investigations and audits. In the UK this is the NHS, our national health service. Per the NHS website http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1122.aspx  most people do not need to take vitamin supplements, and are able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a balanced diet. Vitamins are usually only needed in small amounts daily, and taking too many for too long can actually cause harm. Your doctor will tell you if you are in a risk group that need a specific supplement. If you want to investigate whether there is any truth to a health scare or cheat, check out how reliable the evidence is http://www.eufic.org/en/understanding-science/article/in-search-of-quality-the-scientific-peer-review-process.

Beware of effervescent vitamin tablets as they can contain up to a gram of salt - consider changing to a non-effervescent version. We all need salt but there are recommended levels which are safe – eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. Salt intake recommendations will vary by country – in the UK adults are advised to eat no more than 6g (2.4g sodium) a day. The problem is that much of the salt we consume is hidden in products like cereals, soups and even some sweet things like biscuits. You can combat this by buying low salt products, or cooking from scratch, so that you can monitor your ingredients. “Clean eating” is everywhere right now, and may be a little extreme; I advocate moderation in all things and a great place to start are the new wave of sensible books about diet and nutrition that are around at the moment http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/best-cookbooks-2016-diana-henry/best-new-diets-2017/. Not only can cooking from scratch be cheaper, it can even be quicker, if you are time poor. Check out Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals, or cook a batch of sauces, soups or casseroles on a Sunday to freeze and use during the week as needed. A helpful tip is to stock a healthy kitchen cupboard in the first place so you don't have the excuse that there's nothing in and you have to order a takeaway http://www.webmd.boots.com/cholesterol-management/healthy-diet-17/kitchen – and if you have lots of processed junk food in your kitchen, consider giving it away.

Exercise

There are alternatives to an expensive gym membership. Working out from home has the benefit of being always an option regardless of the weather or time, and relatively cost free. You just need to invest in a yoga mat and some workout clothes, and maybe some weights if you want. Other low cost options are walking and jogging locally – I even came across some outdoor gym equipment in my local park in Keynsham yesterday. If you are feeling particularly masochistic, and enjoy working out with a group, most cities now boast “boot camp in the park” type classes. The usual caveats apply: warm up before you start, and pace yourself – as they say, stop when you're not having fun anymore. Set yourself a longer term rather than a short term fitness goal, that way you can “fail” a little along the way without falling too far behind your initial target.

As far as working out at home, your local charity shop will stock the usual suspects – Davina's series of workout DVDs have always looked good to me, and a yoga or Pilates DVD is always worth checking out. Top rating 2017 DVDs in the UK from David Haye to Strictly Come Dancing are reviewed here - http://www.standard.co.uk/shopping/esbest/health-fitness/the-10-best-workout-dvds-10401520.html

Apps are a great option too. A free app I have downloaded (with optional “paid for” features) is 8fit https://8fit.com/ . If you get 3 friends to download the free app, you get a trial month of the 8fit Pro version, which includes more workouts as well as a nutrition plan. The app syncs with Apple Health and Google Fit so you can track your overall activity, and the workouts can be as easy or hard as you like, depending on your goals.

Wellbeing

If improving your diet and getting more exercise are already making you feel better, then the object of the wellbeing phenomenon is to make you feel the best you can be. This is all about the mind, spirit and soul side of things. For some, it is only natural to add a wellbeing type activity to the daily routine – walking your dog, sitting with the cat on your lap, meditating, etc. You may already be doing enough – there is no minimum, no recommended dose and this is certainly not a competition. But there is no harm checking out what's available out there - what are others doing to combat stress, anxiety and other existential challenges? The Thrive Global https://www.thriveglobal.com/  website is a great place to start – you can follow this on LinkedIn and receive regular articles which are bite size and can be saved to read later on in LinkedIn or on an app such as Pocket https://getpocket.com/. Lots of wellbeing tips can be found at Thrive Global, from how successful people start their day to how to deal with failure. Most people are fairly self-aware these days and have identified at least some of their shortcomings and are doing something about them. However, getting the right encouragement, information and support is not always easy, however amazing our friends and family are, so an additional (and free) resource is welcome. Added to that, the site is the mastermind of Arianna Huffington, co-founder and former editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.  No slouch from a professional and business perspective, then!

Next week I'll be looking at emotional intelligence – EI, or EQ, which is an increasingly important quality companies are looking for in employees. Research from Harvard Business School suggests that EQ counts for twice as much as IQ and technical skills in determining who will be successful. And how do we know that research is good? Check next week's blog to find out!

Until then...

  • Really helpful as always Marie. A good reminder too is that, as an ICAEW member you can access all of CABA's services. They have an excellent well-being zone on their website and a free app. You can find out more at www.caba.org.uk/.../wellbeing-zone

  • Thank you Samantha! The CABA zone is very helpful, whether you are working or not. I hope people are taking advantage of the support available - it has never been more accessible. I am big on sharing, so please share if you think CABA can help someone in your network.