The holiday season is over and, for most of us, our thoughts have turned towards the day-to-day activities that we call life. Early morning commutes to the office, school runs, after-school activities, paying bills, clearing out our cupboards, you name it, it is on the list of things to get done. Getting yourself motivated to tackle the tasks ahead may feel a little overwhelming, especially as many of us may have overindulged with food, drink and late nights over the festive season. You feel like you have let yourself go or you simply just don’t ‘feel right’. This is your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to think about your health – listen to it!
Setting yourself realistic health and wellbeing goals for the New Year is the first step towards a healthier and happier you in 2018. From physical health to mental and social wellbeing, these are all important aspects to consider when managing your general health. Wellness involves balance in all aspects of life and is unique to each individual. Prevention is the best cure so taking charge of your own health by making small changes will serve you well in the future. Form those good habits from now and get a head start.
As you reflect on your personal goals for 2018, an important question to ask might be ‘How can I achieve more balance in my life’, says Dr Lanalle Dunn, founder of The Chiron Clinic in Dubai. ‘This question creates awareness about different aspects of life such personal, professional, financial or spiritual and helps as a starting point to determine which area needs more attention.’
Resolutions like ‘lose five kilos’, ‘quit smoking’, or ‘make more money’ are made at the start of every year, but many are broken because resolutions rarely address overall wellbeing. ‘Various factors influence our sense of overall wellbeing which can be measured by feelings of fulfilment, harmony, energy, gratitude, and peace. Wellbeing is a personal state of better health and happiness which requires patience and motivation; setting smaller goals can be the stepping stone for achieving bigger goals,’ Dr Lanalle explains.
Dr Ali Al Tuckmachy, a medical doctor and clinical lead in medical education at King’s College Hospital London shares some suggestions on how to set realistic goals:
• Be realistic – Your ultimate fitness goal could be to be fit enough to participate in a competition on a set date or to do 10 laps of the pool. Whatever the case, make this goal realistic. Remember that most of us will never be world-famous athletes or supermodels. Think about what is achievable for you. Write down your goals.
• Be specific – Don’t make your ultimate goal a general statement like: ‘I want to lose weight’. Make it measurable. Exactly how many kilograms do you want to lose?
• Choose a goal that is meaningful and important to you, not to anybody else. For example, if your partner wants you to lose weight, but you’re happy as you are, you may find it difficult to commit to your exercise routine in the long term.
‘Don’t defeat your efforts before you even start to work on accomplishing your desired goals. Set yourself up for success rather than failure by applying these tips and start achieving what you want to achieve,’ he explains. ‘Get active and consult a family medicine consultant. Remember, health is not the absence of disease, but is a state of wellbeing.’
Your physical health
A great way to get started on the road to optimal physical health is to get a health MOT. Talk to your healthcare provider to assess your current health status by running blood tests, check-up of your blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol and discuss any other health issues that you may be concerned about or at risk of, based on your family history. Once you know your starting point, it is easier to make adjustments to your lifestyle through a combination of both diet and exercise.
‘The key to a good diet is eating a well-balanced variety of foods including greater intake of fruit, vegetables, fish, and foods with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats - aim to consume at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, whilst cutting down on foods high in cholesterol, animal fat and salt,’ says Dr Ali Razzak, consultant in family medicine at King’s College Hospital London Jumeirah Medical Centre. ‘Avoid faddish crash diets – this is about forming good habits, we’re in this for the long haul.’
The benefits of regular exercise cannot be emphasised enough – the British Heart Foundation recommends that you should aim to be active every day and build up to a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. ‘Traditional activities like swimming, exercise classes or playing a sport all count. Physical activity also includes everyday things you may already be doing - like walking, gardening and climbing stairs,’ adds Dr Razzak.
For smokers, he also recommends aiming to stop all forms of tobacco smoking, including shisha – a one-hour shisha session is equivalent to smoking 60 cigarettes.
Similarly, getting at least seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night is an important element of achieving physical wellbeing. ‘Not sleeping enough can reduce and undo the benefits of dieting or losing weight, because when you sleep deprived your body suffers from metabolic fatigue, and its ability to properly use insulin becomes disrupted,’ says Dr Mohammad Al Hadad, head of bariatric & metabolic surgery department at Healthpoint in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Lanalle agrees. ‘Take a look at the quality of your sleep and how you can improve your slumber to improve emotional, mental and physical health. Take a long bath before bed or drink a cup of chamomile tea as part of your sleep hygiene.’
Your mental health
According to Mario Aoun, who is a clinical psychologist at Healthpoint, the most common mental health issues within the UAE are depression and anxiety among both locals and expatriates. Depression and anxiety can be caused by financial worries, demanding jobs, being away from the family and feeling lonely.
‘If a person feels that their foundational relationships are unsafe, unstable or abusive, they are more likely to be affected by these issues. Thriving in a safe and nurturing environment is essential to a person’s wellbeing.’
When setting out strategies to overcome these issues, emotional wellness should be considered as important as physical health, if not more. With the start of the new year, it is of paramount importance to understand how you need to approach the problems in your life, with tactics that you will need to cultivate.
‘Work on your personal and professional relationships as they are vital components of health and wellbeing. This will help create a supportive and encouraging environment for you, and steer you away from a sense of loneliness,’ says Dr Aoun. ‘If you have overwhelming feelings of anxiety, and feel that some challenges are becoming overbearing, consult with a psychologist.’
Your social health
The constitution of the World Health Organisation defines health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Wellness involves balance in different aspects of life, including the quality of your life, not just surviving another day.
Aim to enrich your mind-set by counteracting every negative thought with a positive one, says Dr Lanalle. ‘Research shows that our mind-set and overall approach to life have significant impacts on our health and wellbeing. Deep breathing and meditation also go a long way toward achieving a positive outlook.’
Dr Lanalle also advises checking your environment. Does your personal space reflect serenity and organization, or is it cluttered and chaotic? ‘Your environment at work and at home influence your mood, and your mood and physical health will reflect the environment around you,’ she explains. ‘Spending time in nature is restorative and buffers against stress so taking a walk at lunchtime or getting a nice plant in your office space will help lift your mood.’
Be prepared for a medical emergency
Twelve months may seem like a relatively short period of time but when it comes to your health, you can never be too careful. A medical emergency can be a frightening, an all-too-frequent experience that few people are prepared for. But these are a few steps you can take in advance to better handle a crisis.
‘Make sure all your important health information is readily available,’ advises Dr Al Tuckmachy. ‘Build in some redundancy to your household and make duplicates and stow the copies in several easy-to-access places. Also, add your emergency contacts’ information — their home, work and cell numbers — into your own mobile phone. Identify it as ICE, which stands for In Case of Emergency, instead of listing it under the person’s name.’
When travelling, Dr Al Tuckmachy shares some smart ways to keep your holiday on track. ‘Prepare a medical folder for every person travelling including a photocopy of both the itinerary and each person’s health insurance card. Include a page that lists current medical conditions, prescription drugs, immunisations and blood type. Make an extra copy of the contents of each folder and leave it with a friend or relative at home.’