Prioritising health; why is it so important?
It’s one of those things that we get bombarded with information on from a very young age: health. It will primarily have been condensed into two categories: how to eat well, and how to exercise enough to maintain a healthy body. Both of these aspects of health are important, but we know that our health encompasses more than our physical wellbeing. We must also focus on our emotional health because our mental health is just as important as our physical health. So how does prioritising health fit in our daily lives and what benefits can we expect when we do focus on it?
I love to eat, cook, and learn about food. It’s one of my passions in life. But I know that if I am not careful, food can become the enemy and my weight will start to spiral. I’m not able to eat what I want and not suffer the consequences. Often my skin is affected, my weight, of course, my digestion, and as a consequence, my mental and physical health can suffer. So how we eat is of paramount importance to our overall health and wellbeing. Keeping it in balance can be a challenge, but making the decision to prioritise it is a decision, a start, and one that we all must make.
Eating well is about more than choosing good food options like fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and high fiber grains. We know these are what is good for us and we should be trying to incorporate them into our diets more often.
Eating well is about setting our own standards, our eating absolutes, that we know we can maintain on a daily basis.
Try picking 1-3 things that you know you want to incorporate daily into your eating well routine. It might be drinking more water and fewer high sugar or carbonated drinks. It could be establishing a meal plan for the week so you know you will eat better through planning. Or it could be cooking a meal from scratch each day so you know you’re getting better nutrients. Think about your current eating habits and decide how you can realistically improve upon them so they can be maintained long term. Anything above the ones you choose is a bonus and you’ll find over time that you can add to your absolutes as you get into the habit.
Once you’ve decided on your eating absolutes, you’ll need to organise them into your routine. Take a good look at what your days currently look like and then decide how you can incorporate these new choices into them. It could be as simple as booking half an hour on a Sunday to make a meal plan, writing out a shopping list so you stay on track, getting ahead with food prep to make your meals easier through the week, or watching a little less TV in the evenings to prioritise a good homecooked meal. Decide what you can wiggle about to make these new absolutes work for you.
Start where you are
Don’t try to become an expert overnight. You must start where you are. That’s why you need to look at your current schedule and make small changes to it that are not going to overwhelm you. Life is busy enough without us making it more difficult, but being deliberate with our eating habits is important. So don’t try to complete complicated recipes that take two hours on a weeknight when all you want is a simple 15-minute supper. You’re tired! So get meal prepping when you have more time, or do some light research on quick and healthy meals in under 20-minutes. It doesn’t have to be hard!
It’s all about being efficient with your time in the end. Knowing when your busiest times are through the week and compensating for them at other times will save you a lot of pain and heartache. I know for example that my current schedule throughout the week doesn’t allow for a homecooked meal in the evenings as I work late. However, I know that I am home at lunchtime with enough time to cook a meal then, so we have dinner at lunchtime and something light and easy in the evenings. We eat healthily and in a way that suits our lifestyle and schedule. It doesn’t have to be the norm, it just has to work for you.
Sometimes we need a little support in life to get us going in the right direction. Maybe you’re not the best or most confident cook and could do with some advice or practical help with basic skills and knowledge. Ask a friend who you know is, or look online for advice. There’s plenty out there if we have the drive to find it! Or maybe you feel overwhelmed by a particularly busy day and would benefit from lightening the load a little. Seek ways to do so which will allow for better eating choices and help set you on the right track. Having support around us can be the very thing that keeps you accountable and keep the determination alight as you are prioritising health in your life.
Exercise. The word that many of us dread! And yet, we know that it is vital to maintain our overall health and wellbeing. Prioritising health means prioritising exercise too. Often at the beginning of a new year, we get the inspiration to kick-start a new exercise regime, but how many of us actually stick with it? Not many I’d guess. We aim too high too quickly, don’t see the results we’d like fast enough, make excuses, get distracted…you get the idea. We’ve all been there! One of the worst things we often do is compare ourselves to other people which destroys our confidence and motivation and we give up because we don’t believe we’re good enough or capable. But it’s all a lie. We can generate a manageable and sustainable exercise routine that means prioritising health through exercise is not only possible but maybe even enjoyable.
If it’s to be sustainable, you need to think tortoise, not hare! Flinging yourself at fads, exercise regimes designed for the seasoned gym junkie, or doing too much too fast will burn you out quicker than a catherine wheel on bonfire night! You must start slow. Choose something you already like, maybe walking for example, and look for ways to incorporate it daily into your routine. A simple 20-minute walk at whichever time of day suits you best is a good way to get your heart pumping without making you want to keel over. Read my blog on walking for pleasure for more advice on this subject. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you start slow, gentle, and that it’s something you enjoy.
Setting reasonable goals sets you up for success, not disaster. This is something I had to really work at as I wanted too much too fast. But by working in two-week blocks you can gradually increase your capability without burning yourself out. It takes about two weeks for your body to get used to an exercise so be consistent over that time then increase by a small amount that doesn’t hurt or put you off. Repeat. You’ll find you are better able to cope and find that your goals will increase with your stamina.
That routine I mentioned above is so important. Prioritising health means making a conscious choice to do something for your own benefit. And that means setting out times that you know you can exercise on a regular basis. If you’re not a morning bird, don’t try and punish yourself with a vigorous workout that you know you’ll give up on after a few days. Choose a time that you will feel motivated to keep and able to sustain. It may be different on certain days as no one day is exactly the same as another, but by setting aside time for exercise, you know you’ll succeed!
Change it up
Once you find your confidence in something, you’ll probably find that you might like to try other things. Or maybe you are getting a little bored with your chosen exercises. This is completely natural. So change it up. Try something else. Join a different class. Walk a different route. Try out yoga, Zumba, weights, swimming, running, tennis…there are endless options that you could try out to keep your interest and you prioritising health.
Recognise all the hard work you’ve been putting in! Giving yourself a well-deserved treat keeps you motivated and allows you to see just how far you’ve come. Maybe buy yourself a gift, take a trip to the cinema, go out with friends for drinks. Whatever it is, enjoy your treat! You’ve earned it!
Keep at it
Persistence is key to success. Even when we feel less than motivated, when we’d rather curl up on the sofa and eat pizza than go out for that run, we must do our best to keep at it. Prioritising health is for life, not just for new year. Yes, allow yourself a day off, we all need that, but seek success by sticking to your goals and pushing through the difficult days. Physical well-being is possible. We just have to want it badly enough!
Good mental health is about knowing yourself, being able to read your signs, and seeking a remedy. It can feel a little selfish, to begin with, if you are not accustomed to prioritising yourself, but in order to prioritise health, specifically mental health, we must learn to do so. No one enjoys stress, anxiety, burn-out, or depression, so we must seek a way to look after our mental health daily.
Be kind to yourself
We must begin with ourselves. How often do you look in the mirror and pick on something you don’t like? How often do you talk yourself down, dismiss or diminish yourself or something you have done? Probably more than you realise. And the sad thing is we are taught to do this. Our world programs us to think we should be a certain way or should want certain things when all we really need is to be and love ourselves. So let’s notice when we’re being hard on ourselves and say no to the negative self-talk. Replace it with kind words that are affirming, and gradually over time, you’ll notice the bad talk disappear.
Interrupt repetitive thought cycles
Living in the past or dreaming hopelessly over the future can lead us into repetitive thought cycles that lead us down the rabbit hole. If only I’d, or I wish I could…the what-ifs and only-ifs are a disaster waiting to happen on your mental health. Try being more present, seeing what is rather than what is not. You will find serenity, acceptance, and then maybe allow those dreams of yours room to breathe. Meditation or mindfulness helps many people find that inner calm and keep themselves firmly rooted in the now.
Know when to say no
You cannot please everyone. So don’t try to! It’s not your job to make other people’s lives perfect. Prioritise what is important for the people who are important to you, that includes yourself, and anything else can be delegated or can wait for another time. Your time is precious, so don’t be flippant with it. You’ll only burn yourself out and become resentful.
Observe your needs
Recognise your own needs, be they simple or more complex. We live in a world of distractions, most of them on a screen, and we can forget to look after ourselves properly. Remember to eat well, exercise well, sleep well, wash, drink plenty of water, and get fresh air. Life is busy, and we often make it busier but don’t forget to observe what your body and mind need. Your mental health will thank you for it!
Move your body
I’ve said it above about exercise, so I won’t waffle on, but exercise is vital to good mental health. Moving our bodies keeps them limber and releases endorphins which improve our mood. Sedentary lifestyles are ones with higher levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and negative self-talk. So be kind to yourself and get moving!
Ask for help
Never feel like you are on your own if you are struggling with your mental health. There are so many people, loved ones, friends, or professionals, who are there to support you when life gets too much. Never suffer in silence. It’s common to want to retreat from the world when you feel mentally worn out and when life is hard, but by seeking a way to help yourself, you are prioritising your mental health, looking out for yourself, and breaking the stigma that has been around mental health for so long.
I know there’s a lot of information in this blog! But I hope that what is there is inspiring and will encourage you in prioritising health in your life. Small changes can make a huge difference, and good choices build up to become a new lifestyle. Everyone can prioritise their health if they have a mind to do it.