By Abi Jackson
Covid still dominates the health agenda, but two years of pandemic living has taken a toll. So could it be worth checking in on our overall health? Experts to talk us through key areas for a top-to-toe health roll call for 2022…
Are you sitting down too much?
Many of us are now more sedentary than ever – and that’s a big concern. “Too much sedentary time and sitting poorly leads to bone thinning and muscle weakness, which has a knock-on effect of lowering metabolism and interfering with blood-sugar regulation,” says psychologist and personal trainer Suzy Reading, author of new book Sit To Get Fit.
“Sitting reduces circulation, decreasing availability of nutrients and oxygen and impeding the removal of waste products, leading to swelling, stiffness and pain in muscles and joints.” Then there’s the impact on our mood, digestion, energy, pain and tension from slouching and ‘tech neck’.
Reading says we “need an action plan that improves our posture while sitting, standing and moving” and to “break up sedentary periods with joyful movement. Take an inventory of all the places you sit and make sure you are well supported,” she suggests.
Are you due any routine check-ups?
Thousands of medical appointments have been cancelled since the start of the pandemic, and many of us have fallen behind with routine checks. But as Dr Stephanie Ooi, GP, says: “Routine checks and screenings are really important. In the case of smear tests and mammograms, they can catch abnormal cells early and before cancer has a chance to spread. If you have an illness that needs regular monitoring, such as diabetes, check-ups are key in preventing your condition leading to other problems.
Could sleep be a bigger priority?
“We’ve grown into a culture of filling all the hours of the day with activities, with sleep being the first thing that’s sacrificed when short on time,” says Samantha Briscoe, lead clinical physiologist at London Bridge Hospital (part of HCA UK).
“During sleep, we give our body and mind time to recharge. Good quality sleep also helps the body remain healthy, supporting the immune system,” says Briscoe. “Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. Poor quality sleep can also affect our body weight, as changes in appetite-regulating hormones mean we are more likely to consume excess calories and exercise/burn less.”
Are you getting enough time outdoors?
Staying home has been a big part of the pandemic, but time outdoors really is a tonic. “Any form of physical activity is great, but I make the case for walking, because it has the potential to combine several wellbeing practices,” says counsellor Wendy Nicholas.
“You’ll find your brain loves fractals, the geometric shapes found in nature, so much so that they stimulate the parahippocampus, which is involved with regulating emotions and helps us produce more feel-good brainwaves,” Nicholas adds.
How are your coping strategies?
“When we are under pressure, we all have the potential to turn pretty much anything into an unhealthy activity,” says Nicholas – and the pandemic has certainly piled on pressure. Things like drinking, compulsive and disordered eating, gambling etc may have crept up. Checking in with yourself and seeking support – whether through your GP, paid-for therapy or helplines – is important. And even ‘healthy’ practices can have a tipping point, notes Nicholas.
“It’s natural to want to avoid discomfort or suffering at all costs, and that’s where many coping strategies turn sour. They become numbing activities, rather than compassionate responses to our needs. I often ask clients to practice stopping each day, perhaps two or three times, to put their hand on their chest and ask: what do you need right now? Sometimes that question will expose a very physical unmet need, for example to eat or drink. Sometimes the answer may be a deeper psychological need, for example to not feel lonely. When we ask the question and feel the answer, we have the choice to respond more effectively.”