With a bit of effort, 2011 can be a happier, healthier year. HILARIE STELFOX takes a look at just some of the ways you can improve your life in the next 12 months – from keeping a diary to drinking more water
THERE are many ways to improve health and vitality – and not all of them involve dieting or giving up life’s little pleasures.
In fact, most of the ideas on this page are simple, cost little and yet promise long-term results. Want to give them a try? See what our experts have to say.
Drink more water
NUTRITIONIST Jayne Wilson from Almondbury says many of her clients are chronically dehydrated. Not only can dehydration contribute to minor headaches, mild depression, low backache and fatigue, it is also a cause of over-eating.
“Many people do not listen to their bodies. The thirst mechanism can be misinterpreted as hunger,” she says. “Get into the habit of carrying a 500ml water bottle with you everywhere and try to refill it twice during the day, working up to four times. Aim for two litres of water a day.”
Learn to meditate
THE act of meditation can help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress and even aid sleep. People who meditate regularly report a sense of well-being and calm.
However, for those with busy lives and chattering minds, meditation will not necessarily come easily. Join a group led by an expert and be prepared to invest time in learning the techniques. Huddersfield’s Vajrapani Kadampa Buddhist Centre in Wheathouse Terrace, Birkby, runs regular meditation workshops, themed around How to Solve Anger, Learning to Love and Food for Thought. The cost is £7 per half-day course. For details check out the website www.vajparanicentre.org or call at the centre when the World Peace Cafe is open (from January 21 Fridays and weekends).
Give up smoking
AN obvious one this, but smoking is still the single biggest avoidable threat to health. Kirklees Stop Smoking Service says that 70% of smokers want to quit, but many experience difficulties because of the highly addictive nature of tobacco.
The really bad news is that smokers inhale more than 4,000 chemicals, 100 of which are poisonous and 50 are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke kills three times more people than industrial accidents. Around 40% of all children are being raised in households with a smoker. Nationally more than 17,000 children in the UK are admitted to hospital each year with a smoke-related condition.
The good news is that smokers are three times more likely to give up successfully if they use a form of nicotine replacement therapy and seek support from a trained advisor.
Two new support groups, open to all, were launched this week – one at Huddersfield Library, meeting on Wednesdays at 1pm; the other on Thursdays, 5.30pm at Newsome High School community room.
Joy Thomas, Specialist Advisor, says: “The new groups offer a chance to stop smoking with the support of others going through the same process. The support is non-judgemental.”
In the last year the service helped just over 500 people to quit smoking (a 66% success rate at four weeks). This compares with a 47% quit rate for those who go it alone or rely solely on help from their GP or pharmacist.
The service has two offices, one in Huddersfield (contact 01484 344285) and one covering the Dewsbury area (01924 351498).
Make time for yourself
SAM Pearce, a partner in the award-winning Eastthorpe Holistic Health Spa, says life in the 21st century has become so structured that many of us have little time to simply relax.
It’s important, she believes, to remove yourself from as many reminders of everyday life as possible. The spa has no working clocks on display and all electronic communication devices are banned. As a nation we are becoming so stressed that one of the biggest trends in the spa business is the provision of ‘winding-down’ treatments for clients who are about to go on holiday.
Another growth area for spas is the creation of designated sleeping and meditation areas.
If you can’t afford a spa day then re-create the experience at home, with a warm candle-lit bath, face masque and soothing music.
“It can be very emotional allowing yourself to ‘let go’ and not feel any guilt,” says Sam.
“Guilt is so destructive and damaging. Time to meditate is vital to quieten the mind. We have thousands of thoughts throughout the day and not all of them positive – we need to re-educate the mind to think positively.”
Keep a clean house
THE actress Helena Bonham-Carter recently revealed that she cleans her home as a form of stress therapy.
Apparently she feels happier, more organised and in control of her life if her surroundings are clean and tidy. This solution to stress won’t suit everyone, but clearing out cupboards and spring-cleaning can be a way to start afresh. Sara Vann, sales leader in Huddersfield for eco-friendly cleaning company Enjo, says she shares the film star’s passion for cleanliness: “I can’t function at all if my house is dirty. I have to have everything just so before I can start doing any cooking or working.
“If you think of your brain like a computer, getting all clogged up; you need to have a good clear out. Having a clean and tidy home allows you to feel free to concentrate on other things.”
Write a daily journal.
KEEPING a diary has been found to be beneficial for both mental and physical health. According to Georgie Oldfield, Huddersfield physiotherapist and director of the Pain Relief Centre in Longley, many chronic pain conditions are caused by bottled-up emotions. A few years ago she came across the pioneering work of Dr John Sarno, a Professor in New York, who recognised that the reason the success rate with chronic pain treatments is so poor is that most are addressing physical causes when the patient often has a psychosomatic disorder.
Georgie now takes a mind/body approach to the treatment of most painful, chronic conditions. “Writing in a journal provides a safe, cheap way to offload how you feel rather than bottling it up or going over and over whatever happened or may happen,” she says. “When we bottle up strong emotions, or stir them up by going over them, the outlet may not be just emotional distress. It may result in physical symptoms, even when we don’t feel overly stressed.”
Many symptoms, from sciatica to irritable bowel, depression to repetitive strain injury are, she believes, a consequence of suppressed emotions. “Journaling is one of the methods we use to help patients recover from chronic pain. The main aim is to offload how you feel in order to be able to diffuse the internal pressure causing the symptoms.”
Eat well and walk in fresh air
WHAT we add to our diets may be more important than attempting to cut out what we perceive as being bad for us. And filling up on the good stuff stops snacking on the bad.
Nutritionist Jayne Wilson, who trained at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition in London, says the Government advice to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day may be inadequate. “Australian guidelines suggest five vegetables and two fruits a day, the Danes must aim for six, the French 10 and the Japanese government now recommends up to 13 portions of vegetables plus four of fruit daily. I would say eat as many as you can.”
Jayne says another way to improve general health is to eat foods rich in selenium and magnesium, two minerals that many of us may not be getting in sufficient quantities. Deficiencies cause a range of symptoms from fatigue to a blood sugar imbalance.
Offal, oily fish, brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews and brown rice are all good sources of selenium, while magnesium is found in dark green leafy vegetables, oat bran, lentils, nuts and wholegrains.
In the winter there’s also a tendency towards deficiency of the sunshine vitamin D.
“Vitamin D is hot news at the moment from a research perspective,” says Jayne.
“Once considered important for bones and teeth, it now has a significant role in the immune system and possibly helps in preventing cancer.
“The best form is through natural sunlight – take a 20 minute walk outside every day. Good food sources include soya products, oily fish, egg yolks and fortified cereals.”