In order for your health to remain optimal it is essential that you are physically fueling your body and taking time out for self-care. Physical self-care includes the actions you can take physically to help nurture your body including exercise, nutrition and sleep. This article will explore these areas in more detail to help you understand if there are any areas you could pay more attention to.
1. Healthy Eating
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the main self care tools you can utilise to look after both your mind and your body. It is a well known fact that smart eating leads to a healthier and happier life. Our nutritional and digestive health have direct links with our mental health and therefore by taking the time to ensure we are loading our plates with nutrients and antioxidants known as polyphenols. These agents help to protect the bodies tissues against damaging oxidative stress and associated health conditions such as cancers, heart disease and inflammation.
Believe it or not your brain and your gut are psychically connected in a number of different ways including through your vagus nerve and nervous system, through neurotransmitters and through the chemicals produced by your gut microbes. These connections are all collectively known as the gut-brain axis. You can tailor the foods you consume to specifically benefit this connection and some of these include - omega 3 fats found through oily fish, fermented food such as kefir and saurkraut, and high fibre foods including fruits and vegetables which will help to boost your antioxidant intake and help to boost your immune system.
Ask yourself, are you getting the sleep your body needs in order to maintain a healthy physical state? It is recommended that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night in order to get optimum health restoration. When you are asleep it is the perfect time for many biological processes to happen including allowing your brain to store new information and get rid of waste. The body also uses this time to repair cell and restore energy levels.
Without enough sleep we are more likely to consume increased amounts of calorific carbohydrate dense foods in our diets which in turn may negatively affect weight gain as a sleep deprived body will become more prone to fat storage and your body is not as sensitive to the hormone insulin which regulates blood sugar. When we are low on sleep we also lack impulsive control and are therefore more likely to make unwise decisions as our brains are unable to function at full capacity.
In order to get a good night sleep it is recommended that you are aware of your circadian rhythm which controls your sleep-wake cycle. This is a 24 hour cycle which forms part of your bodies internal clock. It is directly influenced by environmental cues such as light which is why there are associations between day and night. These cycles play a role in sleep as the brain will respond as darkness sets in and instructs the cells to slow down and prepare for sleep. When correctly aligned, your circadian rhythm can enhance consistence and better quality sleep and plays an integral role in physical and mental health.
Physical activity in the form of exercise means sitting down less and moving your body more which doesn’t have to mean you follow a vigorous training plan but will depend on your current activity level and fitness and what you can sensibly build into your day to day life. There are many physical health improvements to be gained following a consistent exercise routine such as weight loss, increased energy levels and reduced risk of chronic diseases alongside many important reactions that will help aid your mental health too.
Exercise stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain which leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. These feelings occur as when you perform physical exercise, your body releases the hormones serotonin and dopamine which interact with receptors in your brain and result in mood boosting feelings. These hormones are the reason that you are left feeling positive and motivated after you have performed exercise.
Studies have shown that consistent exercise is directly linked to increased levels of productivity and mental focus and can actually provide relief to those who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Alongside exercise, it is important to take time to rest your body. Rest is actually considered a huge part of self care as it allows your body a chance to recover, adapt and regenerate meaning that when you do exercise an following appropriate rest period you will benefit from ongoing enhanced performance.
During rest days your body has a chance to remove excess lactic acid from your muscles which in turn will help to alleviate muscle pain and soreness. Your body will also be using this time to repair and build new muscles as exercise creates microscopic tears in the muscle tissue.
Having a rest day could mean slowing down and moving your body through lighter activities such as light yoga, stretching or walking.
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Yoga is an excellent source of self care as it allows you to develop your own relationship between the mind, body and soul. Yoga is known as a transformational practice that is synergistic as it simultaneously helps to achieve mental clarity, improve our digestive health, get good quality sleep and maintain more of a balanced emotional status. Even practising 10-15 minutes of yoga a day can help to transform your life as it is the ultimate expression of self care. It allows you to pause, check in with your body and remain in the present moment. Following some time on your matt, its likely that you will feel more focused and productive throughout the day as you take ownership of your wellness.
This form of exercise is known for increasing your strength and balance through bodyweight training as many poses require lifting. There are a whole host of yoga practices on offer ranging from vinyasa, hatha, asthanga, restorative and aerial just to name a few.
Stretching is a great way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine as it requires no equipment and is a great way to get our blood circulating to all parts of your body, including your brain which will leave you feeling more alert and energized. By making simple stretching a habit you can help to increase your range of movement in a relaxed way which can be customised to suit your level of ability. It also helps to increase your mental and physical relaxation and is thought to lead to better sleep.
Stretching works best when it is consistent and can be performed using both singular poses or by building a sequence depending on your level of ability. Notice which stretches you find nourishing and explore holding them for longer periods of time and also taking note of those you find more challenging in order to focus on them in the future.
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If you want to introduce an element of movement which is a little more challenging than stretching but don’t want to quite reach to HIIT then why not consider walking. By walking for just 30 minutes a day you can help to increase both your lung and heart health, strengthen your bones and improve your balance.
The benefits of walking are not solely limited to physical improvements as when this self care exercise is carried out in nature in particular, it can help you feel more connected to your senses and brings you into back into the present moment. The next time you decide to take a walk do not be tempted to plug into your headphones as walking in nature can be used as a form of simple meditation. Instead try listening to the world around you - the rustle of the trees, the smell the flowers, inhaling the salt air carried by the ocean breeze and notice how this process can help to reconnect you with your surrounding environment and help to reduce stress levels and calm nerves.
8. Flotation therapy
Another form of meditation is flotation therapy, sometimes known as sensory deprivation which involves being submerged in a tank or pod which is protected from external light and sound. The tank is filled with body temperature water which is saturated with Epsom salts. It is these salts that allows your body to remain buoyant with no effort required. This unique and healing experience allows you to enter a meditative state which will help to positively improve both your physical and mental health.
You can read more about floatation therapy on our article titled “The Benefits of Floatation Therapy” here.
It is clear to see that there are so many different ways to easily to introduce physical self care tools which are critical for maintaining stress free homoeostasis within the body leading to a much healthier and happier life.
About the Contributor
Lauren Williams is a sailor, nurse, and writer enjoying a simple life onboard a sail boat. She’s passionate about health, wellness and the ocean. She will be documenting every step of her journey on her Instagram page as she explores and looks to harness the healing power of the ocean.
(Disclaimer: please note that I nor the Blue Ocean Life Company are licensed medical professionals and for any guidance regarding medication and your health care, please consult with your doctor.)