By Cal Robinson, PsyD, MSCP
This is an article in a series about self-care. In the series, we are covering the various areas in life that require self-care. In this article, I will explain what physical self-care is and why it is important.
The secret is out: exercise, quality nutrition and sleep are all officially good for us! It should be incredibly empowering, not daunting or intimidating, that we control the choices that lead to wellness. We are NOT solely what is written in our DNA. We can become healthier with smart choices. The human body is truly amazing, and if we desire to live a long, well, satisfying life, we can choose to harness this power.
Part of the “not-so-secret” secret to lifelong wellness is to participate in physical self-care, which includes all physical activities that help you stay healthy, and provide you with enough energy to enjoy life. Here are a few important pillars of physical self-care:
- Exercise 3-5 times per week. Exercise releases natural endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline in your brain. These chemicals work together to make you feel good. Exercise can improve your mood and help your body to feel more relaxed and calm. Movement is very important for people living with chronic pain. I encourage people to start small, whatever that means to you. Exercise goals and intensity are different for everyone, so it is important to not compare yourself to others. Do what you can and slowly build on that as you get stronger and your endurance increases.
- Develop a regular sleep routine. Experts recommend 7-8 hours per night for adults. There are many reasons for this. As you drift off to sleep, your body begins its night-shift work:
- Healing damaged cells
- Boosting your immune system
- Recovering from the day’s activities
- Recharging your heart and cardiovascular system for the next day
There is a lot of research that shows that a lack of sleep can have significant effect on your body and brain, so do your best to catch those zzzzzz!
- Aim for a healthy diet. We are privileged enough to live in a first-world country where quality food is available to us.
- Fruits, vegetables and lean proteins are the mainstay of a healthy diet.
- Consume minimal caffeine and alcohol
- Avoid processed foods. The basic definition of processed foods includes food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. It has a spectrum. There are foods that are lightly processed and those that are heavily processed. The trick is to distinguish between foods that have been lightly processed versus heavily processed.
- Lightly processed foods include pre-cut apple slices, hard-boiled eggs, canned tuna and frozen vegetables. These are nutritious choices and can make healthy eating more convenient for busy people.
- Heavily processed foods can be recognized as food not in its original form, like potato chips and crackers, or food that is not naturally occurring, such as sodas, donuts, cookies and candy.
Processed foods are blamed for our nation’s obesity epidemic, high blood pressure and the rise of Type 2 diabetes. Try to eat as many naturally occurring foods as possible, also called “clean eating”! Do more cooking and food prep at home to maximize control over the food you are consuming.
- Take a lunch break. If you are working, walk away from your desk. Go outside for a quick walk, even if it’s cold. These mental breaks recharge the brain. The physical movement will stimulate blood flow to the brain, giving you improved productivity after lunch.
- Take your dog or your kids & spouse for a walk after work or dinner. Here’s why:
- Everyone gets a workout
- A walk will help you relax, which helps you sleep better
- It will aid with digestion
- After a day of work or sitting a lot, it can ease back tension and help your back feel better
- It reduces high blood pressure
- It boosts your immune system
- Use your sick leave if you need it – If you are not well, take a rest or a day off from work. Your body needs rest to fight illness. If you do not give it the rest it needs when you are sick, it can become a vicious cycle of “almost back to normal” to “sick again.” Also, don’t bring sickness to work if you can help it. Your co-workers would rather pick up necessary tasks than get sick, so stay home!
I hope these simple tips will help you gauge where you currently are with your physical self-care, and create awareness for areas where you could improve. Success usually comes when you take small steps, so do not pressure yourself to make a great deal of sweeping changes at once!