3 Top Health Tips For Surviving CoVid and Thriving Beyond
After having specialised for many years in treating people with chronic illnesses such as CFS, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive complaints, as well as working at the other end of the well-being spectrum with corporates and athletes to improve performance, here are my top three well-being tips for surviving/thriving during CoVid and lessons we can learn so we thrive, going beyond.
These draw from research in nutritional medicine, neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics, evolutionary medicine, physiology and biochemistry.
1. Practice diaphragmatic breathing rhythms 3 times daily for 10 minutes ea.
Most people breathe nowhere near their full potential – twice as often as we should (according to diagnostic norms) using our chest and shoulders instead of our diaphragm, and with our mouth in addition to, or instead of our nose. This impairs energy production by the cells, upsets our nervous system putting us in constant low to mid-level fight or flight mode, and can significantly reduce our performance and contribute to many health conditions, including:
- asthma and breathing difficulties
- sleep issues – including snoring and sleep apnoea
- fatigue and chronic pain
- anxiety and depression
- headaches and migraines
- allergies and sinusitis
- IBS and other digestive complaints
Breathing is also the central, or base practice in meditation, most martial arts, yoga, tai-chi etc. The volume of research on breath practice, and particularly meditation is now huge.
Enough to say that breath-work and meditation are medicine – both physically and mentally.
If you already have a meditation practice, incorporate the breathing rhythms into your practice, especially at the start, as it will settle your nervous system into relaxation mode more quickly, and take the practice to a deeper level.
If you don’t, start with the regular breathing rhythms.
2. Eat more fruit and vegetables.
The most common denominator from the last 100 years or so of nutritional research is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the better your quality of life, and immune system, and the more you prevent the chronic illnesses that account for 90% of medical expenses and deaths in the western world.
Aim for a minimum of 6 full handfuls (your handful) of vegetables and 3 handfuls of seasonal fruit to your climate daily.
That = 9 handfuls of fruit and vegetables daily. If you struggle to achieve it, reduce your intake of processed foods, grains, dairy etc. as they provide nowhere the bang for buck nutritionally that fruit and vegetables do, but fill you up so there’s less room for the quality stuff.
If you eat meat (read meat, fish, poultry etc), have no more than a palm size portion in each meal, and buy organic wherever possible as the quality of the meat and the fats is much, much better.
3. Get more variety and reward in your day.
Research in genetics, anthropology and evolutionary medicine tells us that it takes 40,000 to 100,000 years for change in our environment to be assimilated by our bodies at DNA level, meaning that our body evolved to thrive as we lived 40,000 years ago at least, as hunter-gatherers. The way we spend our days has changed dramatically since then, but we can learn plenty about what our bodies are built for, or what environments cause them to thrive or fail.
The average hunter-gatherer population spent 15-25 hours per week hunting and gathering. So they got far more variety, balance and down time in their day than we did. We are simply not built to work as much as we do, and it takes its toll on our physical and mental health in more ways than we may realise.
Whilst, for a number of reasons it may not be easy or realistic to reduce your working hours so much straight away, or at all, we can learn so much from what our body is built for and apply the following principles into each day. Some tips include:
- Combine work with reward; i.e. 45 minutes on, 15 minutes reward, or 2 hours on, half and hour reward, 3 hours on, 1 hour reward etc.
- In your reward time, gut up from your desk and do something different – that you enjoy.
- On that note, spend more time each day on activities you enjoy for no reason – your brain and nervous system will love you for it. If the list of things you enjoy has grown small over the years of grinding at work, think back to what you used to enjoy or what you’d like to do more of, and start applying them.
- Get more variety in the tasks you do each working day. For example, if you spend long hours at your computer, then schedule in work calls regularly, and get up from your desk if you can and move around or go somewhere else whilst taking the call.
- Sit less. Find ways of working in different postures – a standing desk, ergonomic chairs etc. I often lie on the floor and work on my computer when working from home.
- Spend more time outside every day.
- Take time after work to transition from work to home/social life. The breathing techniques above are great for this.
- These adjustments require a significant shift in attitude, but most people who take the leap and start to implement these changes find they get far more done in each day, in less time than they did previously. Plus they don’t experience the burn-out and lack of joy that so many of us do.
I work one on one in clinic and with corporate or sporting groups as a natural medicine practitioner, breath coach, wellbeing coach, and also coaching paddlers ranging from beginners to international level. See http://timaltman.com.au/