The term ‘Wellness’ is difficult to define. Broadly speaking it contains physical, emotional and social dimensions. One definition of Wellness I found was ‘the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort’. Another definition is ‘an approach to healthcare that emphasises preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasising treating disease’. It is this avoidance of ill health, the prolonging of our lives into an independent and happy old age that interests me most.
The Department of Health cites ten domains to wellbeing: however I will predominantly discuss the ‘health’ domain- physical, emotional and, to an extent social.
To maintain ‘wellness’, to lead a happy and well balanced life in physical, emotional and social areas can be challenging. It necessitates you being physically able, well and fit enough to do so, it requires the strength and willpower to overcome obstacles in your way, it benefits from the love and support of friends and family, and at times colleagues, and the will and perseverance to be motivated at all times. However good your intent, several factors seem to constantly try and thwart the efforts of many.
Modern day life can be seen as an obstacle to wellness. Despite advances in technology such as changes that have come with the internet and transport, some people seem to be increasingly isolated. People are perhaps losing the ability to communicate and socialise effectively; they are distracted and stressed. Social media can be an excellent form of interaction, support and information, but for many it envelops their whole being, and the benefits are not being used wisely.
Modern day life interferes with our sleeping patterns for example. Good quality sleep is vital to our wellbeing. Poor sleep hygiene (too much, too little, broken sleep) is an influence on our wellness. Modern day life can mess up our body clock- our Circadian rhythm. Light pollution and the glare from our mobile phones, TV’s, computers etc., mimic daylight and inhibit the release of melatonin. Melatonin stimulates sleep and wakefulness. When the sun goes down and darkness descends melatonin is produced. The production of melatonin helps us to start to feel tired. Conversely when the sun rises and daylight comes, melatonin levels fall and we feel more alert. Looking at any kind of ‘false light’ tricks our brain, and messes up the body’s normal rhythm.
A messed up circadian rhythm, and modern day living, also disrupts our eating habits. If we work during the day, and/or work long hours, or do shift work, quite often we end up eating late, or at odd times. If we eat late, when it is becoming dark, or is dark, we are eating when our melatonin levels are beginning to rise.
A study by McHill et al (2017)found that “later circadian timing of food intake is associated with increased body fat”. This was also the conclusion of BBC 2’s ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’; Dr Michael Mosley experimented using himself to see whether eating later in the day was bad for us. He determined that “ideally we should avoid eating after about 8pm”. It can therefore be argued that eating late in the day, can adversely effect our body composition. Our body expects food in the day, it expects to fast overnight. Metabolism, and energy levels also depend upon our body clock.
Depression and low mood also influence our eating behaviours- if you are not sleeping well, you may eat more, the result may be an increase in weight. Either the weight increase or the poor sleep, or the messed up body clock may lead to depression. You may simply be depressed (and I don’t say that lightly), maybe you don’t know why or how it started, maybe you do. Depression often makes us turn to food for comfort. Along with all of this may come fatigue- you are tired, you are not sleeping well, you are craving food, you become even more low in mood, all of this makes you feel tireder still. You don’t feel motivated or energised to exercise, you become more inactive, and guess what- the weight increases, you feel more low in mood still. Conversely, you may not feel like eating at all, you may be losing weight, but you still have that lack of motivation, that fatigue. Sometimes low mood and fatigue can be all-consuming.
All of these factors may also affect your immune system, you become run down susceptible to infections, what do you do? Comfort eat and rest. You just don’t want to go out. It is a vicious circle. If the cycle continues it can lead to a downwards spiral.
Modern day life is often more sedentary. Many people have desk jobs, and additionally when they come home they will just sit in front of the television. The children are dropped off at various places (school, clubs) by car. Playing outside is often replaced by the internet.
We are ‘hard wired’ to be active. We are ‘hunter gatherers’ by nature, it is the norm for humans to be out and about looking for food, water and shelter. Chemicals in the brain like dopamine and serotonin affect our mood, and these are released when we exercise. Harmful effects on the brain caused by stress can be reduced by exercise. Inactivity is not what our body’s were created for.
Many people have additional personal factors that affect their wellness. Family commitments, mental health problems, an injury, an illness….the list goes on and on.
Being physically active puts you back in control, it gets you out. It helps you maintain your independence, something that is so valuable as we age.
Start by giving yourself a simple goal, one that IS achievable for you. There is always a starting point. Put your exercise stuff on as soon as you wake up in the morning, that way you already know today will be the day!
“The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive but to move ahead, to achieve, to conquer” (Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
*These are my personal thoughts and views regarding ‘wellness’. Others will interpret the term differently.
See also my blog regarding ‘Sleep and Weight’.
McHill, A., Phillips, A.,Czeisler, A., Keating,L., Yee,K., Barger,L., Garaulet, M., Scheer, F., and Klerman, E. (2017). Later circadian timing of food intake is associated with increased body fat. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol, 106:5, 1213-1219.