Self-care rests on four basic foundations: rest, nutrition, exercise, and health care. Let’s look at each in turn.
Rest is critical. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but most of us don’t get enough. Inadequate sleep is tied to many, many health issues, from cognitive aging to inflammation to weight gain. So, give yourself a bedtime based on when you need to get up. Stop using electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Consider developing an evening ritual that will signal to your mind and body that it’s time for sleep – maybe gentle stretches, a cup of herbal tea, or some relaxation exercises. Make sure your bedroom is a good sleeping environment. Is the temperature right? Do you have enough blankets? Are the mattress and pillows comfortable? Do you need blackout curtains or a white noise machine? You spend a third of your life asleep. You should do it in a comfortable place!
Nutrition. I’m not going to repeat the guidelines for a healthy diet or post meal plans. I will just caution you to make sure that the advice you are taking is from a reputable source. Fad diets are rarely wise. When it comes to eating rules, I think Michael Pollan has it right: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. So, as much as possible, try to cook at home, using whole or minimally processed ingredients. Limit meat. You can make certain days of the week meatless or try to have meat only once a day. It’s good for you and the environment. Exercise portion control. We’ve all gotten so used to the huge portions at restaurants that proper portions look odd. Measuring cups and food scales are your friend. But don’t get so bogged down in the mechanics that you forget that eating should be fun – especially when you do it with those you love.
Exercise – 30 minutes a day, at least 4 times a week. Try for a mix of aerobic, cardio activity (like brisk walking, biking, running, cross-country skiing), strength training (think weights and resistance), and balance and flexibility (yoga or other stretching). If that’s overwhelming, start small. Go for a walk during lunch or after dinner. Climb the stairs at work. Do crunches during the commercials. Sign up for a dance class or a neighborhood bike group. Whatever works for you.
When I talk about health care, I’m thinking big picture. When was your last physical? Are there any issues you should be tracking or lifestyle changes you need to make? Are you up-to-date on immunizations and diagnostic testing? When did you last see a dentist? Do you brush and floss regularly? When was your last eye exam? Do you need a screening for depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues?
Since my jubilee is, at least in part, about self-care, I’m working on all of these. I’ve begun modifying my bedroom, cutting back on caffeine, and taking steps to get a better night’s sleep. I’m dialing back my meat consumption and planning to spend more time cooking whole, fresh foods. I’ve joined the local community center with its padded indoor track and gym and I’m taking my free weights out of storage. I’m all caught up on health care except for my shots for flu and shingles. Those are on my list for this month.
Where do you stand on the basics?