Our health and wellbeing is dependent on many different factors, including the way that we live our lives. Lifestyle medicine is an approach that considers those factors such as nutrition, our environments, physical activity, natural light exposure and sleep that can contribute to the development of lifestyle disease.
Humans are designed to be active movers, not sedentary sitters. And when I talk about movement, I don’t necessarily mean intensive exercise. Your daily movement might include walking, taking the stairs, running around with the kids (or dogs) or even household duties. Finding ways to increase movement in your day, whether it be incidental or more structured such as exercise, will improve your wellbeing — physically, emotionally and mentally.
The environments in which we live and work can have an enormous impact on our health and wellbeing. We are exposed to a myriad of chemicals, allergens, heavy metals and other environmental pollutants on a daily basis. We are also more connected than ever, spending a huge chuck of our time on electronic devices. Excessive blue light exposure/toxicity and much less exposure to natural light is messing with our natural circadian rhythms and sleep cycles. So, how on earth can we thrive in our modern environment? Simple changes can make a big difference. Choosing less toxic products, shopping organic, swapping plastic for glass, unplugging from technology and spending more time in nature a just a few ways to improve health.
Our bodies are made up of around 60% of water. Maintaining good hydration levels is a key factor in our health and wellbeing. Dehydration can result in reduced energy levels, affect mood, lower skin moisture, decreased blood pressure and cognitive impairment.
Daily exposure to natural sunlight is essential for regulating our circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycles and stimulates the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a nutrient and hormone that is important for healthy immune function, growth, cardiovascular health and bone health. Sunlight exposure and phototherapy have also been successfully used in the management of skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. Safe sun exposure is NOT bathing all day on the beach. Depending on your location and the time of year 5 -15 minutes per day is often adequate, ensuring to avoid the harsh midday sun between 10am and 2pm. You can read more on safe sun exposure here.
Sleep and Rest
Sleep behaviour and physiology is fascinating. We all must sleep, even if just a few hours a night. What is really interesting is that the quality and depth of your sleep is just as important as how much time you spend sleeping. Are you waking up groggy and fatigued before you have even started the day, in spite of 8 hours sleep? This suggests the quality of sleep you are getting may not be great.
Rest also deserves mention here, as it is not something that we do well in our modern and busy lives. And to be clear, rest does not always equate to sleep. Resting may just be taking time to pause, allowing time for recovery and regaining strength. Rest enables the body to reinstate balance and make any necessary repairs. It also gives our overloaded brains an opportunity to chill out for a while. “Rest” activities will be different for each of us, I encourage you to find some that work for you and then block out some time in your schedule specifically for rest.