We haven’t needed to squeeze in gym sessions or dash to a post-work pilates class over the past few months. Granted we may have rolled out our yoga mats at home to follow the latest on-line expert, or downloaded a new meditation app to help us navigate our new world, but we’ve been able to do these things in our own time. Time, which the experts point out, is crucial for our health. Whilst no-one really understands what’s in store over the coming months, what we have learnt from lockdown is that being mentally aware of how we are actually feeling and coping, or not, is just as important as our physical health.
Trying to be healthy can be overwhelming. GP, author and broadcaster Dr Rangan Chatterjee believes in the past we have relied too heavily on motivation and willpower in order to stay healthy. It is the way we choose to live day-in, day-out that mostly defines how healthy we are. Most health plans are based on the common assumption that you can make sweeping and lasting changes to your health by relying solely on willpower and motivation and are doomed to fail. And the facts back him up. ‘The way to transform your health and wellbeing for good is by making small, simple changes,’ he explains. His latest book, Feel Better in 5, focuses on the three main pillars of health: mind, body and heart, and he recommends setting aside five minutes a day to nourish them. ‘It’s the first daily, five minute plan that is easy to maintain, easy-to-follow, and requires only the smallest amount of willpower.’ He goes on to explain, ‘it’s revolutionary because it will lead to noticeable change without demanding you wake up tomorrow and magically become a new you.’
And what is important, whatever the ‘new normal’ legacy of lockdown throws at us, finding five minutes for ourselves daily, three times a day, should be entirely manageable, and it will help you become a happier, healthier and calmer version of yourself.
By introducing three simple and easy practices into your routine – practices he calls ‘health snacks’ – he allows you to concentrate on each of his three main pillars of health separately. For the mind, he suggests the important thing is to slow down and concentrate on de-stressing. For the body, a simple five minutes of exercise to keep our bodies moving. But it is the heart, Dr Chatterjee suggests, that is arguably the most important factor when it comes to your overall wellness. By heart he is not referring to the organ, but is more concerned with the centre of ourselves – what makes us human and what makes us happy.
Taking a rounded approach, even for just a short time each day, can have many health benefits, including improving digestion, reducing anxiety and helping beat insomnia, which has arguably become one of the most talked about issues of lockdown. By concentrating on the three pillars you are helping yourself address issues which may well have been ignored or buried previously.
But can five minutes really make a difference? Dr Chatterjee goes on to explain, ‘If I told you to start smoking non-stop for five minutes, and then eat biscuits for five, and then drink sugary pop for another five you wouldn’t be surprised to see changes to your health in a short period of time.’ Good health,’ he says, ‘ works in the same way – it all adds up.’
Dr Chatterjee’s Top Tips For Making It Work
• Choose just one task each for mind, body and heart and don’t switch them up. Variety makes things more interesting but can also lead to indecision. Keep things simple and you are less likely to procrastinate.
• Make sure they fit easily into your routine; when you waiting for your coffee to brew, before you start your daily morning meeting. The best way to create good habits is to associate them with your everyday activities.
• Give yourself easy reminders such as leaving a post-it note where you’ll see it, or putting your weights next to the shower so you can work-out before you jump in.
… For Your Mind
Mind won’t stop churning but with no real outcome? Thoughts rushing in and out without any positive solutions? Take those thoughts out of your hand and for five minutes write down everything that enters your head. It doesn’t matter if it non-sensical, no-one will see it anyway but what it will do is help clear all that mental clutter allowing you to focus again on what is important.
Do it before bed to help you sleep without tossing and turning. Leave a pen and notepad beside your pillow as a prompt.
… For Your Body
We now know we don’t need an expensive gym to be able to exercise properly, and that exercise doesn’t have to be expensive, or time-consuming. By finding an exercise you enjoy, and can fit in to your daily routine, you are more likely to stick with it and reap the rewards. It doesn’t have to be weights or running, or anything ‘formal’. Try skipping, hoola-hooping, or dancing around to your favourite tunes – it all increases your heart rate, helps fitness, and releases feel-good endorphins – and can be done anywhere, anytime.
… For Your Heart
Gratitude and being thankful helps focus your attention on everything that is positive around you. As you sit down for supper, or when you phone a friend, as them ‘what have you done today to make someone else happy? What has someone done today to make you happy? What have you learnt today, and what made you feel happy?’. By talking through positive actions, and by listening carefully to others, you will feel more content and enjoy closer relationships as a result.
Five minutes doesn’t seem too short a time to make you feel good after all?
Feel Better In 5 by Dr Rangan Chatterjee, £16.99