Over the years, LawTalk has featured many stories that have looked at mental and emotional health and well-being.
That is a very important area to look after. At the same time, however, it is but part of a whole – our health generally.
Maybe it is part of being male, but until relatively recently I was moving through life without paying too much attention to my health, let alone managing it appropriately. I’d sometimes go to the doctor if something was wrong. But apart from that reactive response, I was not proactively managing my health.
All that changed when I was diagnosed with diabetes. The early advice the doctor gave me was that I should attempt to manage my diabetes through diet and exercise.
I listened, and that set me on a path where over the next two to three years, I took an increasing management responsibility – not just for diet and exercise, but of my health generally.
One of the major benefits of stepping on the path of managing my health was that I saw an almost immediate enhancement in my work performance. It was of a higher standard and I was also able to achieve more in each day.
The interesting thing is that managing my health has not been particularly difficult. That is not to say that I have avoided some challenging health matters along the way. I have. I have undergone two surgeries (totally unrelated to diabetes) in the last two years. And other issues have arisen, too. There are a number of ways of organising how you manage your health. In my case, because it was what the doctor suggested, I began with diet and exercise. Over the period that followed, I then added to the list, so that it looked like this:
- sleep, rest and recreation;
- substance intake; and
Over my lifetime an enormous amount of misinformation has been propagated about what we should and should not eat.
My earliest memory of misinformation came when I was still at school. We were told butter was bad for us, and we should eat margarine instead. What we know now, of course, is the margarine back then was loaded with very unhealthy trans fat.
Then there was the “egg fiasco” of three or so decades ago, when we were being told that eggs were not really good for us, because of the high levels of cholesterol (and, for males, albumin) they contained.
As we know now, these two pieces of “advice” were based on poor interpretations of data. It continues to be a problem, in that similar advice is still being given, unfortunately.
Fortunately, however, we can rely on such folk wisdom as: “eat your veges – they’re good for you”. A healthy diet will typically be characterised by the inclusion of lots of vegetables, fruit or both; good quality protein; good fats, such as those found in fish, olive oil and many nuts; and low GI carbobydrates, such as whole grain products, pumpkin or kumara.
The other big component of a healthy diet is water. How much water you needs differs according to a variety of factors, such as the climate, how active you are and even gender. As a guide, for people in a temperate climate, an adequate intake for men is roughly 13 cups (3 litres) and for women is about 9 cups (2.2 litres) of total beverages a day.
“Although there are no sure-fire recipes for good health, the mixture of healthy eating and regular exercise comes awfully close,” the Harvard School of Public Health says on its website.
As Harvard says, regular exercise is an important component of health. Just what that may entail can differ widely, according to factors such as a person’s goals in life, their motivation, when they do it, and personal preference. Some people love gyms, for example, while others definitely do not.
Ideally, an exercise programme should include activities that enhance cardio vascular health (such as walking, cycling or running) and activities that maintain or enhance muscle mass (such as weight training).
It’s good, too, if you can find an activity or activites that you enjoy. You are much more likely to continue with your exercise programme if you do. The Harvard School of Public Health website is one excellent resource on the benefits of exercise and what are good exercises to enhance your health.
Have a rest
Getting good quality sleep is essential to good health. If this is not happening, it may pay to check out one of the many good articles available on how to sleep better. One example is at www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/how-to-sleep-better.htm. If that advice is still not working, it would pay to check this with your doctor. A number of medical issues can interfere with sleep.
Taking breaks during the day – and that means getting right away from your desk – are important for your health, too. And they have another benefit. They boost productivity. Equally important is getting good holidays. Make sure this happens.
Sometimes stress can be positive, such as when it helps us enhance our performance.
Continual chronic stress, where your body and mind are continually in a state of preparation for something like being attacked, is well known to be detrimental to health. It has a significant negative effect on both physical and mental health.
If you know that your stress levels are too high, or you want to help stress-proof yourself, the Ministry of Health has a list of resources you can link to. It is at www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/mental-health/stress.
Maybe we know we’re drinking too many cups of coffee a day. Or it may be that our alcohol intake has crept above a healthy level. If that is the case, or even if it’s true of someone you work with, there are a variety of options available. The Ministry of Health has a page on its website which provides a series of links to organisations that can help (perhaps not so much with over indulgence in coffee, however). The page is at www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/addictions/alcohol-and-drugs.
“Relationships are essential to maintaining wellness and health,” the University of New Hampshire says. That university is not alone, either. “Social relationships – both quantity and quality – affect mental health, health behaviour, physical health, and mortality risk,” the United Stated National Institute of Health says. Research evidence shows that “adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers,” the institute adds.
Social health is how you get along with other people, how other people react to you, and how you interact with society.
It involves using and nurturing a series of skills and characteristics. These include communication, empathy, respect, acceptance, trust, reciprocity and compassion.
The New Zealand Law Society’s emphasis on collegiality is, therefore, something to be valued in the profession providing, as it does, an enjoyable way of being together with other lawyers. The important lesson for us all is to nourish our relationships with all those around us – our work colleagues, our fellow professionals, our friends and our families.
I do have one regret when it comes to managing my health. That is that nobody suggested its importance to me much earlier in life.
I was essentially provided a cultural context in which health concerns were for doctors and other medical specialists. You simply go and see them when something’s wrong, rather than concerning yourself with health issues.
I did hear about managing stress, and even attended a stress management seminar organised by my workplace. But I didn’t really put anything I’d learned into practice. That was not so much lack of good intention. It was more that I didn’t have any mindset of the importance of personal health management.