The dawn of any new season, especially summer, is often pregnant with expectation, excitement, enthusiasm and a sense of renewed energy. It’s also, as we’ve realised in the medical world, the ideal time to unleash a wave of “wellnessology”, a term I coined in the early years of practice describing doses of edutainment centred around increasing awareness and encouraging healthier habits.
The “mind, body, soul” paradigm is well described in literature, with our physical bodies operating as physiological engines, driving performance and daily function. The human body, at its most basic, plays host to an intricate and complex biological software that responds primarily to our daily choices and actions. The proportion of familial to lifestyle-related diseases attests to this fact. According to UN research in 2016, the number of people aged 60 and over has tripled since 1950. Population ageing has played a crucial role in advancing wellness and self-care movements have formed the backbone of this conversation.
The following four trends have been proven to significantly improve health and quality of life. Adopt them for the well-being of your loved ones and yourself for many years to come:
“The motto ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ has incalculably destructive effects on physical and mental health.”
1. The self-care CEO mindset: Replacing the toxic cycle of self-neglect and attending to illness only at the 11th hour (when there’s little or no time left for effective intervention), the self-care movement has inspired millions to adopt a proactive mindset when it comes to preserving and protecting personal health. This practice requires both intrinsic and extrinsic self-awareness that can withstand temptation and weather stressful events. At its core, the concept of self-care is about auditing your life in an honest and non-judgemental way, identifying areas that cause anxiety (eg finances, family needs and work demands) and implementing habits and behaviours that help you navigate them without harming your health. This includes a structured exercise routine, a conscious meal plan, regular stress-relieving activities and regular breaks (getaways). Psychotherapy and life coaching have also been shown to benefit those with strenuous work schedules, as they identify and help circumvent occupational and domestic triggers before they escalate. Self-care has evolved into a social and occupational theme, but its value is also felt at a biological level in the form of lowered blood pressure, improved reasoning ability and mental health, quicker access to healthcare and timeous prevention of conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
2. Adopt the activity/recovery lifestyle: High-performance individuals often learn the hard way what pushing long hours can do to the body in the long term. The motto “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” has incalculably destructive effects on physical and mental health. Physical well-being is a delicate balance between periods of activity and periods of recovery. The sleep revolution championed by Huffington is by no means a Developed-World indulgence of the super-rich. Without sufficient periods of recovery, the biological processes of the body disintegrate and dysfunction ensues, creating an ideal environment for infectious diseases, hormonal disturbances and – pushed far enough – cancer. The first principle I teach executives is to adopt a seven-day lifestyle that integrates busy days with less strenuous ones, in order to accommodate the deadline-driven nature of most business cycles. The goal of the seven-day lifestyle is to preserve both the brain’s co-ordination of bodily activities and the adrenal function (your stress organs). Practices such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness have helped busy individuals engage and adapt to the science of recovery. Madonsela recently summited Mount Kilimanjaro and, while climbing, experienced the distressing symptoms of very low blood glucose, leading to temporary blindness. While ascending a 5 885m-high mountain puts the body under considerable strain, what corporate professionals put their bodies through by way of over-extended schedules results in equal – if not more severe – complications. Learning balance isn’t only about managing your work diary: it’s about heeding your body’s natural cues that signal fatigue and responding by getting adequate rest.
A Note – Everyday deserves a #SelfCareSundays moment
– Forever Onke
3. Basics first: Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, put it best: “If we can give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we’ll have found the safest way to health.” Nutrition and fitness are the primary safety nets of good health. The WHO has preached the message of managing the basics for many years because many chronic illnesses acquired through lifestyle are attributed to a combination of physiological, environmental, behavioural and genetic factors. Among these, smoking, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits significantly increase the risk of dying from a non-communicable disease. The physiological engineering of your body is enhanced by regular movement. Food is fuel for the body’s engine, a building block of energy capacity. Bodily functions require energy, mental functions even more so (the brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy), so knowing how to power the body correctly is the safest way to prevent chaos and the danger of adrenal dysfunction, a precursor for many serious complications.
4. Proactive health check-ups: A noteworthy attitude of many successful entrepreneurs and executives adopt is that they themselves are as much assets as their companies’ bottom-line earnings. Sadly, for too many other professionals, the converse is true – and it’s this imbalanced view of self-value that leads to frequent episodes of mental distress, often presenting as anxiety, depression and, when prolonged, burnout and chronic fatigue. Individuals who treat themselves as valued entities with lives independent of their careers show increased commitment to exercise, smart eating and health therapies that reduce stress. They don’t wait for disaster to strike, but maintain a lifestyle that protects the integrity of their health, both physically and mentally. How do they do this? One crucial habit is having an annual medical assessment, a holistic check-up where all parameters of well-being are evaluated and optimised to meet the demands of a taxing year. Whether it be on your birthday or any other time of year, doing this regularly is essential.
The secret of enjoying wellness in a busy life lies in the choices we make, both consciously and subconsciously, in order to drive responsibly on the highway of health. Quality of life should be the goal of any business maven – and it should be yours too. By adopting the four simple ideas and practices above, you can achieve it. You don’t need to wait for New Year to resolve to get your health on track: simply value your life as much as you value your career, and invest the same energy in both.
The rewards of your efforts are guaranteed!