What do you think of when I ask what you're doing to look after your physical wellbeing?
Things that come to mind for me include being active, spending time outdoors, resting, eating well, staying hydrated and looking after any part of my body that needs particular attention. This all has an impact on mental wellbeing too, but I’ll talk more about that another time.
Looking after my physical wellbeing is important to me because I want to be healthy and active – including to keep up with my five-year-old son. It’s a normal part of my life, but now is at the forefront of my mind for a different reason to usual.
Surprised by the impact of Covid
I'm usually focused on maintaining my good health and fitness, but this year has been quite different to any I've known before.
I've had minor ailments and injuries, which mean I'm now focused on improvement rather than maintenance.
The impact I'm feeling this year all started with the occurrence of Covid. Initially, I ate poorly during that first lock down. That lasted a few weeks and although I soon snapped out of the really poor habits (e.g. eating ready made lasagne and baking with my son almost daily, but only having the three of us to eat the resulting cakes and cookies!), I noticed I was still eating more than usual. Then last December, I had Covid and was surprised by how it hit me given I was generally fit and healthy and I’d been vaccinated.
After the initial illness, I was completely worn out. Weeks later even a quick dance around the kitchen or running up the stairs to get something made me breath heavily. I’d heard from a lot of people that they'd tried to exercise too soon after having Covid, so I learnt from their experience and slowed down. I took a whole month off exercise and when I went back, I had the energy for my class. I took it slightly easier than usual, but had a good workout and left feeling great! A couple of hours later, I didn't feel up to doing anything and needed to sleep.
This went on for months and every time I felt I was over it something would happen to remind me that I wasn’t. Like one day during Easter school holidays when I went for a walk with my son, which lasted a few hours, but was a flat countryside walk with a lunch break – nothing I’d consider strenuous. By 5pm he was passing a blanket to me on the sofa and I was struggling to stay awake. My husband came home soon after and I did nothing else that evening. I was so worn out I didn't have the energy to attend my exercise class the next day.
I should have taken is easier
Next came an injury as I was trying to increase my exercise. I made the mistake of keeping up with my instructor’s pace in a class I don't usually take. My quads were killing for days, which probably would have eased had I not thought another exercise class might help. It didn’t! It made things worse. My knee was hurting, then my calf – exacerbated by that calf being weaker. I was in pain simply kneeling, squatting, walking, bending it or straightening it. Even standing on my other leg and spinning around with my son hurt my leg that wasn't bearing any weight. I don't take injuries lightly, as I intend to be active for life, so I had it checked out by a physio and have been doing my exercises.
Next came an ear infection – the first I've ever had in my life. Goodness knows what happened there, but fortunately I had it checked out and treated before it became anything serious. Hopefully that'll be the end of that.
Then I woke up one day with my arm in a strange position (not that strange for me, but not a good position for my shoulder) and that day it was painful. I lowered my arm, it eased off and I thought nothing more of it... Until it was time to get ready for the day and I felt the pain. I did as much as I could with my other hand for the rest of the day, then the next day I struggled to do my hair and get myself ready. I was a little distracted with the pain. It was like that for a couple of days then eased. After that I was mostly okay apart from certain movements, which I avoided as much as I could.
Jack and I then went to visit a friend for the weekend. Travelling just the two of us meant I had the little suitcase, backpack and Jack to manage. On top of the travelling, we were very active, all of which aggravated my shoulder and I ended up in agony. To keep what feels like a long story short, I ended up taking quite strong painkillers. The painkillers eventually helped to reduce the pain, but the side effects were awful, including nausea and sickness.
I have to say here, my husband was amazing (as ever), doing things I couldn't while my shoulder has been out of action. He even ended up doing my hair for most of a week!
Refocusing on what goes into my body
Then, what really highlighted my need to pay attention to what my body is telling me is that I overate. I noticed a few times recently that although I was eating healthy foods, I was also eating rubbish more often than I usually would. I did this too much over our family summer break and ended up ill. This culminated in eating some things my body can't tolerate (something I’m usually vigilant about), so that alone could have caused the issue, but I’m still aware I ate too much.
So, what am I doing about it? Well, I started by looking at my book of healing foods.
It was interesting reading because it's very old and I can see the reason why many of the staples in our kitchen are there…they are bonus foods for health. This book clearly influenced me when I was younger, helping me to form positive habits and the benefits have stayed with me. It also helped me to see why my usual approach to eating helps to keep me healthy.
I'm eating more healthily again and feel fortunate that all I’ve had to do is reduce the things that aren’t good for me, I haven’t had to think about what new to introduce as the good stuff was already there. Over recent weeks, I’ve remembered what I ate like when I lived alone – chocolate wasn’t a regular feature for me. Even when we lived together for years my husband would be entertained by how long a box of chocolates would last (or at least my share of them). That hasn't been the case over the past couple of years, but I'm back to my truly healthy eating habits again. I never cut anything out completely (apart from things my body doesn't tolerate), but I'll eat things in moderation and preferably good quality.
I’m focusing on this as I want to live a long and healthy life. There are things within my control that can help with that – including how I treat my body.
I feel better connected with my body again and am looking forward to getting back to exercise when my shoulder heals. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy feeling healthier, having walks, dancing around the house and relaxing at the spa.
Take a moment
How often do you take time to reflect on how well you’re looking after your physical wellbeing?
Take a moment now. What’s your body telling you it needs? (If the answer is chocolate, ask it again until it tells you something that’s good for it). Do you feel full of energy, relaxed, pain free? Or are you feeling tired and aching? Whether things stand out for positive or negative reasons, pay attention and identify what you can do about it. Perhaps it’s eating more healthily, taking a break, getting more sleep, being active, looking after your feet, wearing better shoes, or perhaps a better position while you work. This short list might give you ideas, but what you need will depend on how you’re looking after your body and what’s missing.
Notice what small (or big) thing you’re not doing for yourself, but wish you were…then make it happen!
Note to self
Do you pay attention to what your body needs or do you walk around in it as a vessel that you don’t need to take care of?
If you’re not giving it the attention it needs, I want to share a positive statement with you (a ‘note to self’) to help you focus on what you want. Something as simple as saying this short line to yourself can help you to come closer to where you want to be.
Give it a go and see how it makes you feel. If you want to, you could even say it out loud!
I pay attention to my body and give it what it needs to stay healthy and strong
If it’s something you’d like to achieve, try saying it every day (even twice a day). Whenever I want to remind myself of a positive statement, I like to do it each morning when I get up and each evening when I’m getting ready for bed.
Remember, physical and mental wellbeing are intertwined. It’s important to take good care of both to live life as fully and as meaningfully as we can.