All You Need is (Self) Love
No, I am not advocating narcissism, but many of us may have found ourselves swept up in the needs of children, aging parents, pets and prima donna bosses. In the long run this can have a negative toll on our health. It is no surprise that caregivers of cancer patients have a 63% higher mortality risk than their non-caregiver counterparts or the stress of parenthood has been rated higher than divorce, unemployment or even death of a partner. This doesn't mean that we should abandon our loved ones, but we should remember that we need to take care of ourselves first. Remember the oxygen mask analogy? Believe it or not taking good care of ourselves doesn't just improve our health but can improve our relationships and income as well. Here are a few places to start.
Our bodies were meant to move and move often. It is not just about having a six pack or the feel good endorphins but exercise is essential for health. Regular exercise is an important part of preventing cardiovascular disease with some studies showing that it can be as effective as medication in preventing stroke and coronary disease. You can gain benefits simply by walking more. Studies have shown 30 to 40 minutes a day of brisk walking three times a week was sufficient to re-grow the structures of the brain linked with cognitive decline in later life. Exercise also increases gut bacterial diversity helping with digestion and overall immunity.
Take a Vacation
Vacations whether it is to an exotic destination, a wellness retreat or a long weekend an hour drive outside of the city, should be a non-negotiable. Besides contributing to more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions and depression, vacation time is important for heart health. In a study of middle-aged men at risk for heart disease, those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were found to be 30% more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year. The same applies to women. It was shown that women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year. This might be due to the fact that vacation time lowers blood pressure, stress hormones, and waist size. Remember a vacation should be a vacation so don't be afraid to go alone if your loved ones are draining you.
One of the most important things we can do for ourselves is eating well. Unfortunately this can be one of the first areas of neglect in the care of others. For example, some studies have shown that mothers have a higher body-mass index and don't eat as healthily as childless women, consuming sugary drinks and eating more total calories. The first easy fix can be making sure that we are treating ourselves to a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits each day. Aiming for 5 servings a day supplies our bodies with powerful antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and leaves less room for high calorie nutrient-weak counterparts. We also need to take the time (30 minutes optimal, 20 minutes ok) to sit down and eat our meal fully chewing and being present with each bite. Of course when ever possible choosing whole foods (minimally processed foods close to how nature intended) rather than prepackaged nutrient leached mystery meals. This is not only nourishing for you but it sets a good example.
Make Time for Things that Feed Your Soul
For me this is ballet. When I tombé into a piqué arabasque, I am transcended. For others it could be painting, gardening or reading the latest best selling trilogy. If you can't think of anything, it is never too late to explore new interests or rediscover old ones. This is far from a waste of time as researchers have found those who engage regularly in leisure activities were 34 percent less stressed and 18 percent less sad than those who didn't. Not only do we feel better in the moment during the activity but the effects can last hours to days after. Not too many pharmaceuticals can make that claim. Another benefit is these activities help us to think more creatively which is an asset in problem solving and job performance.