Thirteen

Physical Health

On this page we'll look at the following, simply click on the links below to be taken straight to the section.

 

Thirteen - sleep
Thirteen - What we eat and drink
Thirteen - mindfulness
Thirteen - exercise

 

Sleep

What is Sleep and Why is it Important?

We have all had those late nights and bad night’s sleep! But what is the impact this can have on my body and why is it important that I get the right amount of sleep?

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

The way you feel while you're awake depends in part on what happens while you're sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.

How much sleep do we need?

Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it.

As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.

A variety of factors can cause poor sleep, including health conditions such as sleep apnoea. But in most cases, it’s due to bad sleeping habits.

Find out the common medical causes of fatigue.

What happens if I don't sleep?

Everyone’s experienced the fatigue, short temper and lack of focus that often follow a poor night’s sleep.

An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health.

After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down, and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work, school and on the road also increases.

If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

How can Sleep Help Me?

1. Sleep boosts immunity
If you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.

2. Sleep can slim you
Sleeping less may mean you put on weight! Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get seven hours of slumber.

It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).

3. Sleep boosts mental wellbeing
Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than six hours a night.

4. Sleep prevents diabetes
Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of having or developing diabetes.

It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 diabetes by changing the way the body processes glucose – the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.

5. Sleep wards off heart disease
Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.

How Can I Catch Up on Lost Sleep?

If you don’t get enough sleep, there’s only one way to compensate – getting more sleep!!

It won’t happen with a single early night. If you’ve had months of restricted sleep, you’ll have built up a significant sleep debt, so expect recovery to take several weeks.

Starting on a weekend, try to add on an extra hour or two of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you’re tired, and allow your body to wake you in the morning (no alarm clocks allowed!).

Expect to sleep for upwards of 10 hours a night at first. After a while, the amount of time you sleep will gradually decrease to a normal level.

Don’t rely on caffeine or energy drinks as a short-term pick-me-up. They may boost your energy and concentration temporarily, but can disrupt your sleep patterns even further in the long term.

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What We Eat and Drink

Why is a Healthy Diet Important?

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Eat Well Guide

Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day.

Most of us still aren't eating enough fruit and vegetables. They should make up over a third of the food we eat each day. Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day. Choose from fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced.

(Remember that fruit juice and/or smoothies should be limited to no more than a combined total of 150ml per day.) Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates. Choose wholegrain where possible

Starchy food should make up just over a third of the food we eat. Choose higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties, such as whole wheat pasta and brown rice, or simply leave skins on potatoes. There are also higher-fibre versions of white bread and pasta.

Starchy foods are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet.

Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts). Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options.

Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are good sources of protein and some vitamins, and they're also an important source of calcium, which helps to keep our bones strong. Try to go for lower-fat and lower-sugar products where possible, like 1% fat milk, reduced-fat cheese or plain low-fat yoghurt.

Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein. Aim for at least two portions of fish every week – one of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.

These foods are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are good alternatives to meat because they're lower in fat and higher in fibre and protein, too. Choose lean cuts of meat and mince and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages.

Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts. Unsaturated fats are healthier fats and include vegetable, rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils. Remember all types of fat are high in energy and should be eaten sparingly.

Eat foods high in fat, salt and sugar less often and in small amounts. These foods include chocolate, cakes, biscuits, sugary soft drinks, butter and ice cream. They're not needed in the diet and so should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts.

Drink plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6-8 cups/glasses a day. Water, lower-fat milks and lower-sugar or sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count. Fruit juice and smoothies also count towards your fluid consumption but they contain free sugars that can damage teeth, so limit these drinks to a combined total of 150ml per day.

How Does the Eat well Guide Work

The Eat well Guide divides the foods we eat and drink into five main food groups. Try to choose a variety of different foods from each of the groups to help you get the wide range of nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

It's important to get some fat in your diet, but foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar have been placed outside of the circular image as they are not necessary as part of a healthy balanced diet and most of us need to cut down on these.

Unsaturated fats from plant sources, for example vegetable oil or olive oil, are healthier types of fat. But all types of fat are high in energy (calories) and so should only be eaten in small amounts.

On average, women should have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules) and men should have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules). Most adults are consuming more calories than they need. Although this is the case it is very important to remember that everyone is very unique and these calorie guides should be used just as that, a guide.

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Mindfulness

It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much.

Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.

You can check your mood using this simple questionnaire.

Some people call this awareness "mindfulness". Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. You can take steps to develop it in your own life.

What is Mindfulness
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.

"It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour," he says.

"An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.

"Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.

"It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives."

How mindfulness helps mental wellbeing
Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better.

When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh things that we have been taking for granted.

"Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience," says Professor Williams, "and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.

"This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply 'mental events' that do not have to control us.

"Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: 'Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?'

"Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better."

Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.

How to be more mindful
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.

Notice the everyday
"Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk," says Professor Williams. "All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the 'autopilot' mode we often engage day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life."

Keep it regular
It can be helpful to pick a regular time – the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime – during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you.

Try something new
Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.

Watch your thoughts
"Some people find it very difficult to practice mindfulness. As soon as they stop what they're doing, lots of thoughts and worries crowd in," says Professor Williams.

"It might be useful to remember that mindfulness isn't about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events.

"Imagine standing at a bus station and seeing 'thought buses' coming and going without having to get on them and be taken away. This can be very hard at first, but with gentle persistence it is possible.

"Some people find that it is easier to cope with an over-busy mind if they are doing gentle yoga or walking."

Name thoughts and feelings
To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: "Here’s the thought that I might fail that exam". Or, "This is anxiety".

Free yourself from the past and future
You can practise mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been "trapped" in reliving past problems or "pre-living" future worries.

Different mindfulness practices
As well as practising mindfulness in daily life, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander.

Yoga and tai-chi can also help with developing awareness of your breathing.

Visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website for an online mindfulness course or details of mindfulness teachers in your area.

Is mindfulness helpful for everyone?
"Mindfulness isn't the answer to everything, and it's important that our enthusiasm doesn't run ahead of the evidence," says Professor Williams.

"There's encouraging evidence for its use in health, education, prisons and workplaces, but it's important to realise that research is still going on in all of these fields. Once we have the results, we'll be able to see more clearly who mindfulness is most helpful for."

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Exercise

Whether its physical health, mental health or overall wellbeing there is one thing that has shown to improve your life more than anything! It can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%. It’s free, easy to take, has an immediate effect and you don’t need a GP to get some. What is this miracle you might? Well its simple! Exercise.

Exercise is the miracle cure we’ve always had, but for too long we’ve neglected to take our recommended dose. Our health is now suffering as a consequence. This is no snake oil. Whatever your age, there's strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and even happier life.

People who do regular activity have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers.

Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented,” says Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant.

Health Benefits

Given the overwhelming evidence, it seems obvious that we should all be physically active. It's essential if you want to live a healthy and fulfilling life into old age. It's medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

 

So What counts?

To stay healthy, adults should try to be active daily and aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of activities.

For most people, the easiest way to get moving is to make activity part of everyday life, like walking or cycling instead of using the car to get around. However, the more you do, the better, and taking part in activities such as sports and exercise will make you even healthier.

For any type of activity to benefit your health, you need to be moving quick enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer. This level of effort is called moderate intensity activity. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can't sing the words to a song.

If your activity requires you to work even harder, it is called vigorous intensity activity. There is substantial evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. You can tell when it’s vigorous activity because you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

A Modern Problem

People are less active nowadays, partly because technology has made our lives easier. We drive cars or take public transport. Machines wash our clothes. We entertain ourselves in front of a TV or computer screen. Fewer people are doing manual work, and most of us have jobs that involve little physical effort. Work, house chores, shopping and other necessary activities are far less demanding than for previous generations.

We move around less and burn off less energy than people used to. Research suggests that many adults spend more than seven hours a day sitting down, at work, on transport or in their leisure time. People aged over 65 spend 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group.

Sedentary Lifestyles

Inactivity is described by the Department of Health as a “silent killer”. Evidence is emerging that sedentary behaviour, such as sitting or lying down for long periods, is bad for your health.

Not only should you try to raise your activity levels, but you should also reduce the amount of time you and your family spend sitting down.

Common examples of sedentary behaviour include watching TV, using a computer, using the car for short journeys and sitting down to read, talk or listen to music – and such behaviour is thought to increase your risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain and obesity.

“Previous generations were active more naturally through work and manual labour, but today we have to find ways of integrating activity into our daily lives,” says Dr Cavill.

Whether it's limiting the time babies spend strapped in their buggies, or encouraging adults to stand up and move frequently, people of all ages need to reduce their sedentary behaviour.

“This means that each of us needs to think about increasing the types of activities that suit our lifestyle and can easily be included in our day,” says Dr Cavill.

Crucially, you can hit your weekly activity target but still be at risk of ill health if you spend the rest of the time sitting or lying down.