Here’s to Your Health

29 Apr, 2005 | HealthNon-fictionTdp

I was thinking about how many days off I’ve had sick since I started work in my present job the other day. Zero, none, zip, nada, zilch. Sure, I’ve had the odd cold, but nothing strong enough to keep me from turning up. Thinking back over the preceding years, I don’t remember having any sick days with the exception of a period when I had an operation. So, I thought I would be a perfect candidate to share my tips on staying fit and healthy.

Now, before I start, perhaps I should explain that I don’t diet, nor do I exercise a vast amount. I’m slightly overweight and I couldn’t run a significant distance unless my life depended on it. So you don’t have to be a super-fit freak, eating only fruit and veg, with a fitness regime that would put an Olympic athlete to shame and a belief that your body is a temple in order to be pretty healthy, on the surface at least. Also remember that these are my tips, from personal experience, using no more scientific a method than guesswork. So I’m not sure how much these will stand up to scrutiny and, to adopt a fantastic phrase, your mileage may vary.

Don’t underestimate it folks, regenerative powers aside, you need it for your psyche if nothing else (sleep deprivation will make you go insane). I remember reading something about the ideal amount. Seven hours as I recall, but apparently there is no real set amount, it differs from person to person. The survey I read stated that more or less than seven and you start knocking years off your life, I’m serious, that was in a scientific study. I prefer more as it happens. Teenagers and kids will require more, due to energy wasted in the process of growing and changing the body, hence why students are notorious for sleeping in (or that could just be because they’re lazy). You also need to make sure you get the right sort of sleep. It’s also important to try and get into a routine with your sleep; go to bed and get up at the same time everyday, week on week where possible. This is because the body gets used to it and becomes trained to slip into sleep mode (and I remember reading somewhere that our bodies are on a 25, not 24, -hour cycle and so need the routine to for them to work it out).

Oral Hygiene
I realise this sounds like something naughty, and I can hear the schoolboys amongst you giggling and nudging the person next to you, but I’m serious. A large number of illnesses, certainly the most common ones, are airborne, which means they enter your body via your nose and mouth. Your mouth and nasal passages are ideal breeding grounds for germs; warm, wet, protection from harmful elements and with abundant nutrition, they provide near optimum conditions. Cleaning your teeth regularly is very important to stop germ build-up and to remove any food that would act as a source of nutrition for them. It is very important to clean your teeth before you go to bed as well. Otherwise the germs have an 8-hour period with which to multiply to a harmful concentration. Mouthwash is also a useful tool. Apart from helping with illness you get the additional benefits of healthier teeth and fresher breath.

Your body is an extremely complex machine. It can heal itself, it can transport itself, it can heat itself, it can reproduce itself (with help) and it does all this with practically no input from you. The main thing it does require from you is nutrients. Nutrients provide not only your energy, but also everything you need to maintain your body. When we lack too much of something we get problems. Making sure you get the right amount of the vitamins and minerals you need is very important therefore. That’s the reason everyone goes on about balanced diets and food groups. Generally you don’t need to worry, eat a good range of foods, plenty of fruit and veg (they recommend five pieces a day, though this has been revised down to three by some) and you’ll be fine. There is this misnomer that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, not true. All food is good for you in moderation, too much of anything is bad for you. Too much fruit and veg is bad for you, even water is deadly in excess. Don’t forget that you don’t have to just consume fruit and veg only in their natural state, juice, tinned and dried works just as well, as long as it’s relatively pure (and not overwhelmed with sugar). Organic fruit and veg does have benefits as well, aside from tasting better, it contains none/a lot less of the harmful chemicals used in normal farming to improve yield. If you think you’re not getting enough of a certain vitamin, use supplements. A multivitamin tablet a day should take care of most of your requirements. You know you see those adverts for dog food where they say things like ‘contains vitamin B12 to help your dog maintain a shiny coat.’ Well, it works the same for humans. If you want better looking hair, cleaner, healthier skin, stronger nails, or bigger muscles, don’t buy more moisturiser or another hair care product, it’s all controlled by your diet, eat more healthily and the rest will follow. I’d like to emphasize a good shot of vitamin C. It’s been shown to have preventative (stopping you get ill) as well as recuperative (helping you beat illness when you have it) powers. A glass of orange juice with breakfast does work wonders.

Something to avoid, however, are dodgy foodstuffs. By that I mean food that is either out of date or incorrectly prepared. Street vendors, for example, are not great place to by ready-to-eat food, markets are not a good place to buy cooked food either. In fact, it’s wise to avoid anywhere that isn’t permanent, especially if you’re particularly weak tummied. Check the dates on your food before eating it. Best Before dates are a guideline. A few days thereafter should be fine as a rule (depending on the food, don’t mess with raw meat or eggs for example). You can ignore Display Until dates, there more for stock control than anything else, but Use By dates are not to be trifled with lightly though. Apparently it's best to bin anything that has exceeded the Use By date. You get to learn what you can and can’t tolerate and what foods are potential problems. Seafood and spicy foods are always favourites for causing stomach upsets. Don’t eat them if you can’t cope with them. Spicy food, on the other hand, does have benefits for combating illness. Chillies and such can help raise your circulation and your body temp, which in turn can help fight disease.

Personal Contact
Kids may be lovely things (depending on your view), the apple of every parent’s eye, but they’re a magnet for illness. Any parent with young kids will tell you that they suddenly found themselves getting ill more often when their child started school or nursery. There’s a number of reasons for this. Firstly, you have a general lack of sleep, which makes you more vulnerable to attack. This is also mixed with making your life more hectic and stressful, another good way to lower your immune response. Second, kids explore their world a lot more, via methods we wouldn’t employ, and don’t have the accumulated knowledge adults do. We know that something that is lying on the floor is likely to be dirty and germ-ridden, kids don’t. We don’t tend to shove things in our mouths and suck them as a matter of course (depending on your job obviously, I’ll let your imaginations take over), but that’s how young kids explore things. Although the school of thought these days is that you need to let the kids get a little dirty to help build up their immune systems for later life. Third, kids go to lots of social places where they come into relatively close contact with lots of other kids and parents, which means the chances of them being exposed to illness is higher. Forth, they’re immune systems aren’t as developed, so they can’t fight disease so well and hence it develops rather than being crushed by their defences, that means there are more bugs to infect the rest of us. Lastly, you get into a lot closer proximity with them, a lot more often, than probably anybody else. There’s not much you can do to be honest, short of buying an NBC suit at an army discount store, which will probably put your kids in therapy for life. Not having any would be the safest option, but some people will insist, because they’re cute or something, but you have been warned. Families do tend to be emotionally more stable and psychologically stronger though, which is another factor in helping you stay healthy.

Pets, on the other hand, have a benefit for your well being. Psychologically, they help give you a boost, happy people are less likely to get ill, and seeing something so happy to see you it might wet itself when you get home has a great benefit in that area. Many of them also provide your body with an extra incentive to stay alert. Pet hair and the germs your animals pick up while sticking their noses (often literally) in places you certainly wouldn’t go yourself (you know what I’m saying) mean that your body is constantly being tested and stretched. It’s like keeping the body on alert readiness, at DEFCON 3, all the time instead of letting it get complacent. A well-drilled and trained army compared to one that has been left to do whatever it wants (i.e. nothing).

Another thing to look out for is Red Zones. This is generic term I have just this second invented to cover any area of close contact with multiple people in a confined environment. Airplanes, buses, trains, schools, workplaces, these all qualify, and there are a million more. Germs rarely travel vast distances or survive for a long period outside a host, so anywhere where you come into close contact with a number of people increases your risk of being exposed to, and therefore catching, an illness. Planes are said to be a good place to pick up something unwanted, but I travel on planes quite a lot and don’t have problems. Obviously you can’t really avoid this (I can just see people phoning up to say, ‘I can’t come into work, I might get ill’), although that NBC suit I suggested is starting to look like a good investment, and I don’t recommend wandering around with antiseptic spray, disposable gloves, a face mask and a sign saying, ‘Stay Away You Dirty People.’ Just try and avoid people who are ill, especially if they’re sneezing or coughing a lot.

I’m not talking a full fitness regime covering a dozen disciplines for an hour a day, six days a week. Just get off your arse occasionally. Find something you enjoy doing; walking, running, football, tennis, badminton, golf, whatever. There are a plethora of sports out there to choose from. You can use the time to think by going walking (I’m not talking ambling about, but something with some distance and a little pace) or jogging, get in a social event by playing a team game, or indulge a passion. Me, I play football. I don’t play that often, but every little helps, as long as you get your heart rate up (the higher the better, within reason). It’ll increase your circulation, up your body temperature (for a time), help you burn off excess weight, increase your self-esteem and give you an endorphin rush. Bizarrely, it’ll also help you relax.

Stress seems to be a foregone conclusion in the office these days. Every HR department seems to be issuing leaflets and advice on how to deal with it. Unfortunately, it’s only the individual who can stop it becoming a problem. You can try exercises, breathing regimes, stroking pleasure centres (no getting any funny ideas, and yours only) and all that if you want. Something to think about is what would happen if you didn’t meet that deadline, if you didn’t do your job, if you made a mistake. There are very few professions where people’s lives are on the line and if nobody is going to die should you fail, then what is there to worry about? Generally, the worst that’ll happen is you’ll get yelled at, possibly fired. In extreme cases, the company may miss a deadline or deal, not get a contract and go under, dumping you and everyone else out of work. That’s an extreme case, but even so, what happens? Everyone goes off and gets another job. The world still continues to turn, the sun still rises and sets, nobody died, so really, what is there to worry about?

Another thing to remember is to ask for help. Some people try and carry too big a burden on their own. Don’t be afraid to put your hand in the air and shout for help. You may think that no one can help you, that you have to do it alone, but there are usually tasks other people can help you with (like photocopying or phoning around) so that you can remain focused on the stuff you need to do. Tell people if you’re struggling (tell the right people, don’t whinge to your co-workers if they’re in the same boat), let them know well in advance and they can help, tell them an hour before the deadline and they can’t.

It may sound bizarre, but taking time out every hour, to wander off and get a coffee, grab a smoke (if you smoke, which isn’t good for your health, at all), even to just sit back and shut your eyes is actually more productive than working flat-out the entire time. A 10 minute break every hour will actually increase your efficiency, and help reduce stress. Change what you’re doing, go and talk to someone about something not related to work, read a book or magazine. You may get some funny looks, but explain yourself and people will understand.

Personally, I believe that the Brits don’t go to psychologists as often as people in the US do (at least, according to their media) because we have a pub culture. I don’t mean we all head out and get lashed every week, but we meet friends and head off to a pub to sit down and talk about things. It’s a great time to sit and moan about work, and listen to your friends moan about work. Voicing your concerns and annoyances is a good way of dealing with them, bottling them up can have very negative effects on your psyche. Pouring out how you feel about something, putting it into words, helps you confront and deal with the issue. Sharing advice with friends isn’t necessary, they’re often not looking for answers, just a sympathetic ear who is prepared to listen.

You can guarantee, now that I’ve written this, I’ll be off ill. One last point I would like to add is that you should definitely wash your hands after using the toilet, you dirty people. Anyway, this has expanded into a rather larger entry than I was intending, to sum up, I wanted to emphasize the following as yhr key things that I think help me stay healthy.

This isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a book by a doctor with a PhD to work this out, they’re mainly common sense items, so there’s no excuse from now on.