Ideas for relaxing

The by-line of this blog is ‘Ideas for simple living, saving money and being well’ and I feel that recently I haven’t talked enough about being well. With that in mind I decided that I would introduce you to Dr Rangan Chatterjee. Dr Chatterjee is a general practitioner (GP), and you may know him from the BBC One series ‘Dr in the House’. The basic format of the programme was that he would stay with people who were suffering certain medical conditions, which were often caused by their lifestyle. Once he had made his assessment he would then ‘prescribe’ certain activities, foods and therapies in order to treat their conditions. I really liked the approach that he took, looking at the causes of the medical problems rather than just treating the symptoms and helping people to make permanent lifestyle changes to address their difficulties.

I then started following his podcast in which he interviews people from all areas of the wellbeing spectrum, from other doctors to sleep experts and chefs. His interviews often lead me to discover some really interesting individuals and then I can explore their ideas and maybe even buy their books.

Dr Chatterjee has himself written two books. So far, I have only read one, ‘The Four Pillar Plan’. This is an affiliate link (my first one), so if you click on here and purchase the book I will get some money. Alternatively, do as I did and get it out of the library, but if you decide to buy a copy it would be nice if you remember where you heard about it first.

According to him ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ tells you how to:

‘Relax, eat, move and sleep your way to a longer, healthier and happier life. This book is the solution to help you feel better than you ever have before.’

This is a pretty steep promise, but I do think that it lives up to it. The book gives lots of simple and easy-to-implement advice about how to make small changes to your life in order to see big improvements to your health. I got it out of the library at first, but liked it so much that I decided to buy it. I thought that I would take you through the four chapters – relax, eat, move and sleep – over my next few blog posts to give you some tips on how you can improve these areas of your life.

So here goes….

RELAX

According to Dr Chatterjee the health problems of the majority of patients that he sees are driven entirely by their lifestyle. The source of their problem is the way they’re choosing to live and their conditions are often exacerbated by the fact that they’re very busy. In order to address this he suggests the following:

Regular Me Time

Every day, for at least 15 minutes, enjoy some time for you. It must not be an activity that involves any electronic device. Examples of phone-free me-time you might consider are:

  • Having a bath
  • Going for a walk
  • Sitting in a café having a drink
  • Sitting on a park bench relaxing
  • Reading a magazine
  • Reading a book
  • Singing
  • Playing music
  • Gardening
  • Cooking with your favourite album playing, or in silence
Focusing on the positives can improve your state of mind

Keep a gratitude journal

This is a popular tool which I have come across in a lot of literature. Dr Chatterjee suggests that every night before you go to sleep, you write a list of all the things that have gone well for you that day and what you’re grateful for. He believes that this can be really effective at changing your thoughts to a more positive outlook.

Practise stillness every day

I have written about the benefits of meditation before, but that can seem quite daunting. Here Dr Chatterjee has some very simple and easy suggestions for creating a small period of calm in one’s day. He recommends making time to practise stillness for at least five minutes daily. A simple way to create a similar state of mind to that of meditation is through simple breathing exercises. He says that when your out-breath is longer than your in-breath, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which you can think of as your relaxation mode.

Stillness interventions you might think of trying:

  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga breathing practices such as breathing in through left nostril for four, holding for four and breathing out through the right
  • 3-4-5 breathing: breath in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds.
  • Five minutes of colouring in

Reclaim your dining table

Dr Chatterjee states that in the last few years the importance of social connection to physical health has started to become clear. In order to increase our social time with loved ones he recommends eating one meal a day at the table, in company, without your devices. He believes that we’ve evolved as tribal creatures living happily in large groups so the brain interprets social isolation as a major problem. Apparently the levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to be higher in lonely people, so we need to make more social connections with others.

There we have it, chapter one. How do you relax? I find cooking, listening to my favourite comedies on the radio or pottering in the garden are times when I can forget about my work day and feel relaxed.

Let me know your thoughts on his recommendations or maybe try a few of his suggestions and see how you get on. I think in our busy world we all need to find time to relax or and to make the most of the time that we do have to cut off from the pressures of the day.  

Creating a Morning Routine

According to Laura Vanderkam, learning to use mornings well is what separates achievement from madness. Before the rest of the world is eating breakfast, the most successful people have already scored daily victories that are advancing them towards the lives they want. Successful people have priorities they want to tackle or things they like to do with their lives and early mornings are the time when they have the most control of their schedules.

Not all hours of the day are created equal

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In her research Laura Vanderkam found that people who were serious about exercise did it in the mornings. At that point emergencies had yet to happen and they would only have to shower once. New research into willpower is apparently showing that tasks that require self-discipline are simply easier to do when the day is young. When you’re on a diet it’s unlikely that you will tuck into that packet of biscuits for breakfast, but come the afternoon your willpower may be waning and you may struggle to resist them. For successful people regular activities develop into habits. Getting things down to routines and habits takes willpower at first, but in the long run conserves willpower.

Five Steps

From studying people’s morning habits, Laura Vanderkam has learnt that getting the most out of this time involves a five-step process:

Track your time

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Part of spending your time better is knowing exactly how you’re spending it now. Write down what you’re doing as often as you can and in as much detail as you think will be helpful. While you may be thinking specifically about your mornings, try tracking a whole week. The reason to do this is that the solution to morning dilemmas often lies at other times of the day. You may be too tired in the mornings because you’re staying up late. But if you look at how you’re spending your nights, you’ll notice that you’re not doing anything urgent or particularly enjoyable. A TV programme can be recorded and watched later – possibly while you’re on the treadmill at 6.30am.

I have worked out how much time each activity takes so that I know what I can fit into my routine. When you can be confident that you have enough time to do what you want to do, you don’t need to rush and can relax and enjoy your morning.

Picture the perfect morning

After you know how you’re spending your time, ask yourself what a great morning would look like for you.

Think through the logistics

Map out a morning schedule. What would have to happen to make this schedule work? What time would you have to get up and what time do you need to go to bed in order to get enough sleep? Can you get to bed by that time?

Build the habit

This is the most important step. Turning a desire into a ritual requires a lot of initial willpower and not just for the first few days. Start slowly. Go to bed fifteen minutes earlier and wake up fifteen minutes earlier for a few days until this new schedule seems doable. Choose one new habit at a time to introduce. Chart your progress. Habits takes several weeks to establish, so keep track of how you’re doing for at least 30 days. Once skipping a day feels like you forgot something you’ll know you’ve got a habit and can take your ritual up a notch.

Tune up as necessary

Life changes and so can your morning routine. Tune it as you need.

Ms Vanderkam’s takeaway message  – the hours before most people eat breakfast are far too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities. Make yours meaningful.

So have you got a morning routine? If not and you try this out, I’d love to know how you get on.

The Longevity Plan Chapter Five – Find Your Rhythm

For me this means having a routine. I am a creature of habit and love routine maybe more than most. I find it comforting. Some people seem to enjoy living chaotically and stumbling through the day from one crisis to the next, but I like to know what to expect. I don’t find it boring; I find it calming. From the moment that I wake up I know what is going to happen, as I have a morning routine and I look forward to each part of it. Every evening I plan the routine for the next day. I can’t do the same each morning as my work pattern varies. Sometimes I leave the house at 8am and other days I can log on to my computer at home at 9.30am.

Waking Up Slowly

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My day starts when my sunrise lamp gradually lightens the room. Sometimes this wakes me up, other days it takes the alarm to do that, which is actually the radio coming on. The dulcet tones of Mr Humphrys arguing with a politician on the Today programme is my choice of listening in the morning.

Every day starts with a cup of tea in bed – you may be able to guess that I don’t have children! This used to be a weekend treat, but now it happens every day. Monday to Friday I make the tea, but on the weekends I get to stay in bed and my other half makes it.

Whilst drinking my tea I read a non-fiction book; at the moment it is A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button, founder of the website, Buy Me Once.

If I have time I exercise. This is usually a short jog on the treadmill. If I don’t have time I just shower. Before I leave the bedroom I turn back the duvet to let the bed air. I don’t agree with the recommendation that you should start your day by making your bed, because my understanding is that you sweat in the night and you need to let the bedding and mattress dry out. I would say that it is actually unhygienic to make your bed straightaway.

Quiet Time

I always have ten minutes sitting in silence. I am not sure whether I would call it meditation, as I don’t think that I have mastered that art. I sit with my eyes closed and try to concentrate on my breathing. Thoughts come and go and sometimes things that I had forgotten come into my head or solutions to problems dawn on me. Other times I can’t focus and I give up before the timer goes off on my phone to say the ten minutes are up. Then it’s breakfast time before I start work for the day. Whilst eating my breakfast I read emails on my phone.

Sunlight

Dr John Day recommends getting outside into natural light, especially in the morning, but at some times of year it isn’t light in the morning! He believes that it is incredibly effective at adjusting our circadian rhythms. Sometimes I think so many of these things would be easier if I lived somewhere warmer and sunnier, rather than in Wales where we’re more likely to have torrential rain or fog than sunshine! Maybe I need to try to incorporate this into my routine once the warmer weather comes or just move to the South of France – one day maybe!

Making the transition from work to home

As you may guess I have an evening routine as well. When I come home I get changed out of my work clothes and straighten the duvet now that the bed has had the day to air. Even if I work at home for the day or am there for the afternoon, I don’t get changed into my evening clothes until after I have logged off for the day. It is a psychological thing. Once I am in my tracksuit bottoms I am off-duty. I cook dinner, listening to iplayer, usually a comedy from Radio 4 Extra; some light-heartened entertainment helps to pass the time.

We are very unsophisticated and dinner is usually taken on our laps watching TV. We rarely have puddings and so we treat ourselves to a square of dark chocolate after dinner. I usually spend time on my computer, reading emails, catching up on social media and working on my blog. I also review the day and plan the next morning.

Bedtime

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Dr Day states that fundamental to establishing a good rhythm is to get plenty of sleep i.e. seven to nine hours. Me, I like to be in bed with my head on the pillow by 10.30pm. After computer time I may watch a little bit more tele if it’s not too late, but about 9.30/9.45pm I’m upstairs, doing my ablutions – as my other half calls them i.e. brushing my teeth, washing my face, etc. Then I spend 30 minutes reading fiction. By this time of day I am too tired to read a non-fiction book and immersing myself in a story about other peoples’ lives helps me to wind down before sleep.

Obviously there are days when this doesn’t all happen. At weekends I don’t always have my quiet time. Breakfast can be a very leisurely affair drinking coffee and doing a crossword. If I am going out for the evening there is no routine, but on the whole this is how life is and l love it.

Your Routine?

So what are your daily routines? Do you even have a routine? If not, have you thought about starting one? What would be your ideal routine? I would love to know.

If you are thinking about starting a morning routine I would suggest checking out the recent post by Radical Fire in which she tells you about ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod and how she has used that to shape her routine. It might give you some ideas.

Be In Motion

In chapter four of ‘The Longevity Plan’ Dr John Day states he believes that a life of constant, but not overly taxing movement, using every muscle group in our bodies, is a model for the very best kind of exercise there is. This should include short bursts of more strenuous activities. He believes that we are designed to be in movement all the time.

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For me the challenge that I face is that, like most of the population, I earn money by sitting in front of a computer for much of my day. Our modern lifestyles meant that we are mainly sedentary creatures. The message from Dr Day is that although doing some strenuous exercise during the week i.e. going to the gym or for a jog, is of benefit, the best thing that we can do for our health is to be on the go most of the time.

My own pattern is that I tend to spend Monday to Friday either sitting in front of a computer, sitting in the car or sitting talking to someone…as you can see there is a theme here! The weekend is fortunately a different matter. As I don’t have a cleaner I can be almost constantly in movement doing all those lovely jobs such as dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the toilet. When the weather is warmer there is also gardening to be done and walking up and down the garden gets in much needed steps.

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I really need to find ways of incorporating more movement into my day, but like everyone I find that going out for a walk is much more attractive when the sun is shining and in this current cold weather I just want to stay in the warm.

Dr Day suggests the following:

  • using part of your lunch break to take a walk or bike ride
  • using the stairs in your office
  • parking far from the office door and walk
  • if you must sit, set an alarm to remind yourself to stand every 30 minutes

In ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee he recommends what he calls the ‘five minute kitchen workout’. Basically, whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or the rice to cook, do a few squats, lunges or calf raises. That seems much more manageable to me.

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He goes on to suggest ‘high intensity interval training’ – two ten minute sessions each week. By ‘high intensity’ he means going all out, sweat running and heart pumping. By the end you should be out of breath and unable to hold a conversation for a good thirty seconds. An example he gives is running on a treadmill for one minute and twenty seconds at 4km hour and then 12km per hour (or whatever feels very hard to you) for 40 seconds. This should be repeated three to five times. If my maths is correct that is a maximum of ten minutes exercise.

If you don’t have a treadmill his suggestion is to walk out of your front door and go to the end of your road. From there, walk as fast as you can for one minute. When that minute is over, look to see which house number you’ve arrived at, then walk at a normal pace back to the start. Now you repeat the same sequence, but this time you want to see if you can beat yourself and get to a house further down the road. Try to do this five times in total.

Dr Day concludes by saying that it is so important to stack the deck in favour of motion and the best way to do that is to make it fun. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, because if you don’t enjoy doing it, you won’t do it.

So how do you fit movement into your day? I’d been interested to see how people squeeze this in during their busy schedules. Do you try to be in constant motion or is short bursts of intensive training your thing? Maybe like me it’s just the vacuuming workout on the weekends!

Community

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In the third chapter of ‘The Longevity Plan’ by Dr John Day he says that if you want to live a longer, healthier and happier life, it’s every bit as important to pay attention to your community as to pay attention to what you eat.

‘Community’ means different things to different people, but at its most basic it is the people with whom you surround yourself. In the digital age it can be people you feel connected to via social media. I have to say that I struggle to find people in the real world with whom I feel a real connection. That sounds a bit sad, no actually, it sounds very sad, but it’s the truth. It’s partly because many people my age have grown up children and/or grandchildren and so their lives revolve around family. My partner and I live 180 miles from our parents and we don’t have any children. We therefore have very different lives from most other people our age.

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I spend a lot of my time reading and learning about how to make positive changes in my life. Others probably don’t have as much time as I do, but often I feel that they’re just not very committed to making changes, as it takes determination and hard work. It also takes motivation and sometimes until something happens to give you that motivation then it makes it hard to stick with it during the difficult times. Unfortunately changes in my health made me see the value of looking after myself and motivates me every day to eat well, exercise and enjoy life. I feel that people without a strong motivation talk about losing weight, doing more exercise, etc., but it rarely comes to anything. I am therefore one of those sad people whose community is a virtual one – I feel more in common with people whose blogs I read than with my friends, colleagues and neighbours.

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Sports teams, interest groups, political organisations and lifelong learning classes are great ways to meet new people. I always say that the world isn’t going to come to you. If you want to meet people you need to get out there and join groups, volunteer or sign up for evening classes.

Apparently, if you’re surrounded by people who don’t lift you up, won’t treat you right and don’t appreciate your goals, you stand a much lower chance of living a long, healthy and happy life. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I certainly know that over the years I have become more like my partner and I use phrases that I have picked up from him and am influenced by his thinking. The trick is to spend time with people that you admire and want to emulate. For me, the trouble is finding them in the first place.  

The healthiest communities are those in which we’re surrounded by people with mutual goals and values and who act accordingly and consistently. I listened to an episode of the ‘Do It Scared’ podcast the other day which was about the core values of Ruth Soukup’s organisation. It was really interesting to hear how they helped influence ways of working. It made such a change to hear employees talking about the positives of working for their organisation.

So how do you find your ‘community’? Do your friends share your interests or do you feel you connect more with others on social media? Do you get to spend time with others who ‘lift you up’? I’d be really interested to know.