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WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT
chapter 10
Your Mental and Physical Wellness
 

We all intuitively understand the importance of good health to our ability to enjoy life and have a productive career. The better your mental and physical wellness, the higher your energy level, productivity and capacity to perform in whatever role you choose. Since this is so obvious to all of us, it is amazing how few people actively follow a healthy lifestyle.
There are a large number of factors causing health problems all around us — stress at work, demands at home, and pressure from your peers as well as advertisers constantly urging you to eat, drink and smoke something that is probably bad for you. On top of this, we are subjected to an increasing bombardment of “noise” and information overload from all types of media and other sources, including personal computers, e-mail, cellphones and a myriad of new handheld electronic devices.
News flash! You have to fight back and take active responsibility for your own mental and physical wellness. You must find the determination within yourself to make healthy habits an essential part of your daily and weekly routine. It is foolish to take a passive approach to maintaining your health and fitness.
To enjoy both mental and physical wellness, follow these recommendations:
  • Get into a regular regimen of some form of exercise a minimum of three to four times a week for the rest of your life. This can be bicycling, playing a sport, tai chi, going to a gym, hiking, walking, yoga, swimming, Pilates, whatever, but you just have to get off your butt and do it. Regular exercise not only keeps you physically fit and mentally alert, it is also a great stress-buster and helps you sleep better. It is not necessary or even desirable to become a fitness fanatic, just to experience the equivalent of the mental and physical whirlpool you get from engaging in some form of exercise on a regular basis.
  • Initiate the habit of setting aside a quiet period for yourself at a regular time once or twice a week for the purpose of doing some quiet thinking on your own. When you do so, turn off and unplug everything that can disrupt your peace of mind. Pick a place where you will not be bothered with any distractions. Calm yourself down and muse about what is really important in terms of what is happening in your life. Try to use this time quietly to get things into proper perspective and gain a better understanding of your true priorities. Think of this as a way of keeping your sanity while everyone around you is losing theirs.
  • Make having fun and laughter an integral part of almost everything you do. Use humor to relieve stress and tension. Avoid taking yourself and what you are doing too seriously. It is also essential that your friends and co-workers have a good sense of humor to help you keep things in perspective and see the funny side of life’s challenges.
  • Try to maintain a healthy posture whenever you are in a sitting position and not just when you are working at your desk. This can be done by rolling your shoulders back, elongating your spine, tilting the top of your pelvis forward and straightening your neck. Many back and neck pains are caused by failing to sit properly for long periods of time. (See the section on Posture in Chapter 1, Your Physical Presence, of the Citizen of the World Guide, Make the Right Impression.)
  • Recognize the serious harm you are doing to yourself when you engage in self-destructive behavior, including over-eating, drinking too much alcohol, and using drugs. When you treat your body badly, it ultimately will treat you badly. There are many forms of harmful addictions but in the end they all take over control of your life with disastrous consequences. The brief pleasure or “high” from such behavior is never worth the long-term pain you will inevitably experience yourself and inflict upon those around you.
  • Inform yourself about any negative health issues of consequence that you experience beyond just relying 100% on what your doctors say. Do an Internet search on the disease or injury to find other sources of information. See if the site www.PatientsLikeMe.com has any valuable information covering your ailment. If you start having adverse side effects from taking a prescribed medication, conduct an online search for the name of the drug and look for medical sites with patient forums on them to learn if others are having the same problem, indicating you should stop taking this medication.
  • Maintain your own separate medical records for your family and yourself. Include in that record the date and details of any operations, injuries, illnesses of consequence and tests performed. Also note any prescriptions taken, drug allergies and the various services received from doctors and other health-care providers. Do not rely on your doctor to keep proper records of these matters. Having such information available in an emergency may save your life.
Nutrition
In many respects, “you are what you eat”. The quality, variety and quantity of what you eat on a daily basis have a huge impact on your overall wellness, including your mental agility and energy level. Here are some easy steps to follow for a healthier lifestyle:
  • If you bring it home, you will likely eat it. Leave the unhealthy impulse items in the grocery store, especially those high in fat or sugar. Always shop with a list of things you need and stick to that list.
  • Eat a reasonable breakfast every day to give your body and mind the fuel they need to function well for the start of your day.
  • Have three meals at a regular time daily. The later you eat in the evening, the lighter the meal should be.
  • Consume a minimum of four full servings of fruit and vegetables each day, including salads. Have some fruit and vegetables with every meal. Most frozen fruit and vegetables are as good for you as fresh ones.
  • Ideally, include a source of lean protein with every meal. A deck-of-cards sized portion (e.g., 3 ounces), however, is usually sufficient for any serving of protein foods, maybe 1 1/2 for larger men.
  • Eat a variety of foods on a regular basis, including those served with herbs, spices, seeds, nuts, legumes, root vegetables, whole grains, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale.
  • Limit yourself to one caffeine drink a day and avoid drinking anything with caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
For many reasons, it is also important to stay hydrated throughout the day. This requires you to drink a minimum of eight to ten glasses of water and other fluids daily apart from anything that is high in caffeine, sugar or alcohol. Carbonated drinks, coffee, beer, wine and any mixed liquor drinks do not count. Watch out for the calories, however, in any fruit and vegetable drinks.
To function effectively, your body needs to maintain proper fluid levels. Recent studies indicate that up to 85% of headaches are caused by dehydration. Proper hydration also can lower or even eliminate pain and cramping.
Overweight
Changing your eating habits is the only permanent solution for dealing with an overweight problem. Close to 100% of the people who lose weight through any kind of diet program or taking diet supplements invariably regain all of the weight back. To lose weight you have to eat less. It is that simple.
To gain an appreciation of the stress that being overweight places on your body, try carrying around a weight in your hand roughly equivalent to how much you are overweight. If you are ten or more pounds overweight, you will not last long doing so.
Here are some of the most important steps to take to shed unwanted pounds and then to maintain your weight at a healthy level:
  • Spread out the amount of food you eat throughout the day by having three regular modest-sized meals and two healthy snacks in between them as opposed to starving yourself through part of the day and ending up overeating a large dinner as a result of being too hungry.
  • Reduce the size of the portions you serve and eat for each course, and never have seconds. Use smaller plates to serve your food and smaller glasses for everything you drink other than water. When you go to a restaurant, order an appetizer for your main dish. Skip eating bread with your meals and having any prepared desserts.
  • Eat slower by pausing after every one or two bites. The slower you eat, the more time your stomach has to register when it is actually full.
  • Restrict to a minimum the amount of fatty food and drinks you consume, such as French fries, other fried foods, potato chips, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, candies, prepared desserts and processed meats. When you get the urge to snack, have some fruit. You will be surprised at how much small changes in your eating habits will add up to big improvements in your weight over time.
Change how you think about food if you have a weight problem. As the photographer Russ Fischella said, “Eat what your body needs, not what your mind wants.” If you are overweight, do something about it. Being in denial when you have a weight problem is definitely dangerous to your health and overall well-being.
Sleep
The most common health complaint is probably, “I’m having difficulty sleeping and it’s badly affecting my … .” Everyone seems to know that getting a full night’s sleep on a regular basis is essential to maintaining one’s overall wellness, recharging one’s batteries, and performing well at whatever one does. Yet, for some mysterious reason people prefer to spend billions on sleeping pills (that rarely work that well) rather than adopt sensible sleep habits.
There is a big downside to failing to get an adequate amount of sleep on a regular basis. As journalist Jane E. Brody stated in a recent New York Times article, failing to do so at any time in one’s life from infancy to old age “can profoundly affect memory, learning, creativity, productivity and emotional stability, as well as your physical health” and cause harm to a number of bodily organs and systems, including “the heart, lungs and kidneys, metabolism, immune function and mental processes” (such as judgment and decision making).
The actual amount of sleep one needs varies depending on one’s health, age, daily physical pursuits and occupation. Most adults need a minimum of six to eight hours sleep nightly. Some people also benefit from having an afternoon nap. But for everyone, Arianna Huffington believes that “the way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep”.
Sleep researchers have discovered that each night we cycle in and out of various stages of light to deep sleep, each lasting about 90 minutes. Brody describes these stages as “REM, or rapid-eye-movement sleep (often called dream sleep), and three types of non-REM sleep: the light sleep of Stage 1, followed by the more relaxed sleep of Stage 2 and the most restorative deep sleep of Stage 3”. When you are in Stage 2 and 3 sleep, your mind is probably quietly sorting through and filing away all the information and thoughts you experienced in the waking hours of the prior day. This is also when your mind likely does its best cognitive work, hence the saying “sleep on it”.
Yes, high stress, negative relationships, being in debt, the demands of parenting, travel and illness can all impede one’s ability to sleep properly. But, there are many simple things you can do to improve your chances of having a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. Here are some recommendations for doing so:
  • Try to go to bed each night at approximately the same time. This will condition your body’s “clock” to expect to go to sleep at a regular time every evening. Similarly, try to get out of bed at about the same time every morning, regardless of how late you went to bed the night before.
  • Adopt a regular routine every night starting about one hour before going to bed that involves something of a relaxing nature such as light reading, calming music, a warm bath, meditation or writing a journal. Do anything at that time that helps your mind and body in effect decompress. Go into denial mode about anything that causes you to get upset or excessively worry during the day.
  • Avoid eating or drinking anything in large amounts two hours before going to bed. Your stomach and digestive system need time to settle down and you do not want to have to spend the night getting up to go to the bathroom.
  • Do not have any caffeine drinks from about 4:00 PM onward and, if you are a smoker (shame), avoid any nicotine at least one hour before going to bed. Caffeine and nicotine act as stimulants and work against you falling asleep.
  • Engage in exercise on a regular basis as that definitely contributes to sleeping properly. But, do not undertake any strenuous form of exercise two hours prior to going to bed.
  • Do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol unless you are prepared to have a restless, poor quality of sleep afterwards, waking up frequently.
  • Avoid doing anything in front of a bright screen, such as playing computer games, using a smartphone or watching television, for one hour prior to going to bed. Also, if you have to get out of bed during the night, try to avoid any bright lights.
  • When you actually do lie down to sleep, banish all emotionally charged, upsetting, negative thoughts from your mind. Try to concentrate your mind on something that gives you contentment and happiness. Avoid thinking about what you need to be doing in the next couple of days. If to-do tasks keep popping into your mind, keep a pad and pen beside your bed so you can quickly write them down and stop thinking about them.
  • Make your bedroom a sleep friendly environment – cool, dark, quiet with a comfortable mattress and pillow.
  • For many reasons, it’s best not to allow your pets to be in your bedroom.
  • Whenever you are having difficulty falling asleep, try your best to lie still and avoid tossing and turning. Even when you are not actually sleeping, your body and mind are getting a beneficial rest when you lie still and relax. Attempt to progressively relax your muscles, beginning with your toes and gradually moving up your body to your head.
  • When you travel across different time zones, upon embarking always immediately set your watch to the local time of your destination and, upon arrival, adjust your eating and sleeping times to the same as they would be locally. It is especially important to resist going to bed to sleep until you normally would at the local time.
If you find that the above steps do not improve your ability to enjoy a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, you probably need to consult your doctor to determine if you have some type of serious sleep disorder.
Your objective should be to develop a set of healthy habits that you follow throughout your life. You simply cannot afford to take your mental and physical wellness for granted. You have to assume the responsibility for keeping yourself in good health. Now!
For more information on dealing with stress, see Chapter 18, Handling Stress, and Chapter 28, Need for Balance, in the Citizen of the World Guide, Secure the Job You Want & Excel. Also see Being Germ-Smart in the Age of Pandemics on the Other Stuff To Know section of our Web site at www.COTWguides.com.
 

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