WHY is it so hard to live a healthy life?
I still clearly remember a night from 10 years ago. I was walking home to my parents’ house after a night drinking in Longford Town and suddenly I started to cry uncontrollable. It was very out of character for me. I remember looking up at the distorted image of the spire of St Johns Church through watery eyes thinking, how have I, let things get so out of control. How have I let my health gets this bad?
Years of unhealthy living in university had finally caught up with me. The first indication of my deteriorating health was regular symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. I was getting diarrhoea, constipation, haemorrhoids and stomach pains and cramps. I went to see the GP and I was seen by a very good blunt young Italian GP. He spelt it straight out for me, I was getting these symptoms because my diet was bad. I actually thought my diet was ok, even although I was not eating five fruit and veg a day. He was very straight up about it. If you are not eating five fruit and veg a day, you do not have a good diet, it’s not a grey area. It is that black and white. I also was not drinking two litres of water a day.
The physical symptoms of living an unhealthy life are bad enough, but for me the mental symptoms were worse. I had gone from a happy go lucky person who believed the world was full of possibilities and opportunities, to being a very cynical person, constantly battling negative thoughts of anxiety and depression. My view of the world was that it was a very threatening and oppressive place with very limited opportunities.
So how did I turn it around?
At the time I was coming to the end of my degree in pharmacy and I kind of had a eureka moment. It became very obvious to me that if you live a healthy life, if you sleep properly, if you make exercise a priority in your life, if you eat a simple healthy diet, if you drink enough water to stay hydrated throughout the day, if you put time aside to relax and have fun, not only will you think a lot less, your thoughts will become predominantly positive and will pretty much prevent getting symptoms of minor ailments, coughs colds, viruses etc.
Suddenly it was very obvious that you could live your life in a way that prevents you getting ill, that you could live your life in a way that can greatly reduce the odds of getting major illnesses in old age. It’s so obvious, and yet I had never really grasped this reality before. And I know from 10 years working as a pharmacist that a large percentage of the population don’t really get this.
I remember saying to a course colleague at the time that if I never work as a pharmacist, the course was worth doing because now I understand how to look after my own health. The big factor in sorting my health out at the time from a practical point of view was running. I started running 3-4 times a week. I started training up for 5k then 10k then marathons. This helped me dramatically change my diet, improve my sleep habit and learn to relax.
Why I am writing about this 10 years later?
Last year I met a personal trainer, Shea Jozana ,through a mutual friend, the DJ George W Harrison. Shea had gone through a similar journey of living unhealthy, getting down about it and changing his lifestyle completely and becoming a personal trainer. He said he would like to share his story and try inspire and educate others to make the changes he had made in his life. I remembered having very similar inclinations when I was Shea’s age. So we decide to team up and see if we could come up with something. And so we developed a concept, ‘5 Simple Steps to Healthy Living.’
We both felt healthy living campaigns fail to inspire because they tend to lack a personal narrative that is relatable, they tend to be vague with advice. They say you need to sleep well rather than you need to sleep 8-9 hours a night without waking up. That is the definition of a good night’s sleep. And finally they present healthy lives are being somewhat boring and dull, when the truth is people who live healthy lives, have lives that are much more fun and adventurous.
We have developed the concept into a healthy living workshop which we have been trialling in Colleges throughout East London since January and the feedback has been incredible. The students, aged 16-19, really embraced the concept and engaged with us.
So what are the 5 Simple Steps?
1. Sleep – You need to sleep 8-9 hours a night.
2. Exercise – You need to exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes on average per day.
3. Diet – You need to drink 2 litres of water per day.
Freshly prepare you food as much as possible. Your meals should be predominantly vegetables, with some protein and a small portion of carbohydrates. Keep sugar to an absolute minimum, it has no nutritional value and we are all eating too much of it. Myself, included. If you want to learn about diet, read ‘Pure, White and Deadly,’ by John Yudkin, it has everything you will ever need to know. Good diets are simple diets.
4. Have Fun – You need to regularly take part in activities you enjoy. If you do not have fun in your life, looking after your health will become an impossible chore. Myself and Shea have similar interests here we both like to go see live music and go dancing at raves.
5. Relax – You need to learn to relax. The body heals when it is in a state of relaxation. The definition of being in a relaxed state is when you have no thoughts in your head. For me I relax by running, listening to music on long walks, visiting museums particularly art ones and I have recently started pilates.
The 5 Steps should be viewed in much the same way we view driving instructions. It is very difficult to live strictly by them 100 per cent of the time, but you should try to live by them as much as possible.
Peter Kelly is a pharmacist based in London. He qualified from the university of Brighton in 2005
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