Everyone has good days and bad days. One morning last week I woke up and felt like I’d been dragged through a hedge by my eye-lids. As a Personal Trainer, this doesn’t (and shouldn’t) happen very often. However, in the interest of field research, having the occasional ‘bad’ day can be a helpful opportunity to challenge one’s ways, and introspectively explore the factors that affect our health. I have come up with five basic principles to which we should always refer: I’ve called them the five pillars of a healthy body.
My five pillars are – in no particular order – sleep, exercise, eating, drinking and stress. Ok, they are specifically ordered that way because it spells the acronym ‘SEEDS’. Handy though, right?! Let’s look at these things in a little more detail then….
Sleep: this is surely one of the most neglected components of a healthy lifestyle; one in three of us Britons suffers from poor sleep. But doesn’t this mean we’ll just be a bit grumpy? Well, no… According to the NHS, regular poor sleep shortens your life expectancy, and puts you at risk of serious medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. It also affects our mood, ability to learn, our eating habits and our motivation to exercise. To sum up – it’s bad. NHS say that we should get eight hours of sleep a night, although some need more, and some need less. The ambiguity often gives us an excuse to compromise, but the key is to be honest with ourselves. We should consider the above guidelines, and work out what’s best for us based on our experience in light of them. And a final word to those who brag, “I can survive on five hours a night and have been doing for years” – I should point out that there is a difference between what we can get away with, and what is best for us! Man can survive on food and water alone, but it never helped him win any medals…
Exercise: there’ll be no surprise here for many of us, but it’s a mistake to think that exercise is just about losing weight. Keeping fit helps us work more efficiently, sleep better, fight stress, and leaves us less likely to fall sick or develop illnesses and conditions. Having some sort of fitness goal to strive towards can also give us a real sense of purpose. I believe it’s when we set challenging goals for ourselves and work towards them that we are most fulfilled – and learn the most too.
Eating: You are what you eat! Not literally, as the kid from the Green Giant advert so frequently got confused about. But what you put in your stomach directly reflects what you’re able to give back in your day to day routine. I’ve deliberately avoided using the word ‘diet’ here, because eating healthily is not always about calorie restriction; it’s about eating the right food, regularly, and in the right proportions. And guess what, eating healthily helps us to feel better, which leads to us feeling more motivated to exercise! I love biology.
Drinking: As a car needs oil, your body needs water. Depriving it leads to dehydration, which is the motor vehicle equivalent of your engine grinding to a halt on the motorway. (Hands up who’s had that happen to them… Just me? Oh ok.) Water makes all bodily functions work more fluidly. This includes regulating blood circulation, delivering important nutrients around the body, speeding up recovery from exercise, and improving brain function. Even mild dehydration can have a significant effect on how tired and stressed we feel. Unfortunately, we do often turn to alcohol and caffeine as our medicine for when we’re tired and stressed – but in the long term it basically has the opposite effect. The NHS recommend we drink two litres of water a day. Remembering to drink this much water every day can be a bit of a pain; on the other hand, it is singly the easiest thing we can do to instantly get more healthy – and it’s completely free!
Stress: Stress is often caused by external factors outside of our control, such as family problems, work pressures or relationship break-downs. Stress is also, however, a key link in the SEEDS chain because it is exacerbated when any of the other factors is neglected – i.e. lack of sleep, lack of exercise, drinking too much alcohol and not enough water etc. This can soon become a perpetual cycle leading us to make poorer and poorer lifestyle choices. Whilst many stressors in our lives are outside of our control, recognising stress as a key health factor can be an important first step to breaking the cycle. Making a conscious effort to implement changes in all of the above factors is an excellent start – and you may find that your resilience against dealing with external stressors gets stronger too.
So, we have addressed a plethora of sins in one fell swoop. But I should draw our attention to the bigger picture here. The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that every one of above factors is in some way inter-connected with one or more of the others – also in bold type, for your convenience. The point is, whilst SEEDS is indeed a multi-factorial point of reference, it is also a package deal. Focussing on some components and ignoring the others is like trying to drive a car without brakes, or a steering wheel, or a gear-stick… Even if we get going we’ll probably end up in a ditch. Don’t get me wrong, four out of five of our SEEDS is better than nothing, but it’s only when all of the constituent pieces are in place that we will see a real difference to our health. And the difference will be exponential!
And what of our ‘bad’ days? Well, I have to admit, sometimes you just feel rubbish and there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable explanation. But for your first port of call – always check out your SEEDS!
Hyde Phillips is the At Home Fitness Personal Trainer in Sutton Coldfield.
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