Think taking care of your health is boring, expensive and antisocial? Think again. These tips are free and outside the usual litany I think you’ve heard before. No, it’s not new age nonsense, either: all of these suggestions have been scientifically proven to enhance your mental and physical health. Here are my top four:
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Green therapy and audible Prozac
Japanese Shinrin-yoku, which directly translates to ‘forest bathing’ could, in London terms, be translated as a ‘mindful walk in the park’. The Japanese have studied the health effects of immersive nature walks for years and the studies show outcomes ranging from lowered blood pressure to an invigorated immune function. Forest bathing has also been shown to reduce stress, elevate mood and improve our sense of wellbeing. And if you can’t make it to Hampstead Heath, or access any of the other parks or green spaces, why not download some bird song on your phone? A recent study has found that just the exposure to nature sounds has an uplifting effect on mood.
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Laugh your way to a healthy gut
Our mood affects our physiology and vice versa. One area where this fascinating relationship is increasingly documented is our gut, and specifically its flora, or microbiota. Also called our ‘second brain’, our gut actually contains more genetic intelligence than our brain and it has been shown to respond to, and possibly affect our emotional states. An unbalanced microbiota can trigger symptoms ranging from digestive issues to IBS and it can also exhibit as persistent dermatitis or an altered mood. While natural interventions to balance the gut ecology include fermented foods, specific diets and probiotics, some studies have also emerged highlighting the effects of a positive mood. A study showed that the gut microbiota was positively influenced by the simple act of relaxation and laughter induced by watching comedies.
How we breathe can have incredibly strong effects on our wellbeing. It affects our stress levels and emotional status – not to mention our cognitive abilities, with our brain being the oxygen-greedy organ it is.
Yogic, or diaphragmatic breathing techniques guide the body from the stress-prone, sympathetic nervous system towards the parasympathetic system, which allows us to calm down, relax and restore our body systems. A few minutes of active diaphragmatic breathing is all that is required to feel the benefits. This can be done anytime, at the office or at home; sitting (think toilet cubicle), standing (by the water cooler) or lying on one’s back (maybe not at the office). Effects? A more centred, focussed mind, reduced anxiety and improved brain function.
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Say a prayer
Did you know that your digestion starts from your brain? The cephalic phase is the first stage of digestion and alerts the rest of the body to the arrival of food. It is initiated by the sight and smell of the food – think of looking at and smelling your favourite dish, and the little saliva appearing in your mouth is a sign of that phase being activated.
Too often we grab food on the go, and shovel it down without taking the time to sit and eat. Consequences often mean digestive symptoms like bloating or constipation and sub-optimally absorbed nutrients. The old habit of blessing the food (or a prayer) before enjoying is useful in creating time for the cephalic phase to kick-in before the food is served. For agnostics or atheists, the ‘blessing’ could be just taking a few moments to mindfully observe and smell the food before eating. Taking time for food also enhances a more mindful eating pattern, which is associated with better food choices, portion control and a healthier overall relationship both with food and one’s body.
Taru Towers is a registered Nutritional Therapist who practices in Highgate and Kentish Town. She can be reached via Thrive London