Family Health and Wellness Month

Since starting at BSLM in December 2020 I’m learning every day. Not just to ensure that our Society has a solid operational infrastructure from which to position us for growth, but personally, for the health of myself and my family. So, with June being Family Health & Wellness month, I thought I’d share a little bit of how we’re drawing on that knowledge in our house.

It’s my husband and I, and two, (did I say active … and therefore ALWAYS hungry) boys of 13 and 10. We’re mindful around most things, but can be guilty, from time to time of giving in to sugary treats or the odd convenience item and, as the boys become teens and (pre-teens), longer than ideal, sedentary periods of device time on weekends.

Our eldest swims for county, so lots of pre-5am wake ups, some double training days and land training days, (replaced through team sports rugby and football) too. So the exercise part is a big one and he balances this pretty well. He’s also going in to S3 so making some big decisions right now that will shape his future career choices and, following covid restrictions, starting to create a social life and feeling of community too. Lots to juggle and certainly needs his sleep.

Our youngest loves his football and is quite a character (made for the stage!). Those that know him say he never walks anywhere … full sprint from home to school, and only stops talking to “refuel” on the easiest things he finds. He’s loving the freedom, of growing up in a small town in Scotland and has made some lovely little friends since moving here. It’s hard to keep up, he’s certainly out more than I am.

For me though, I was kind of “on and off” with exercise. Loads of walking and adhoc exercise where I could fit it in. But lock down was a bit of a game changer for me on that front. It gave me the time to understand why I struggled with consistency. The predictability of lock down enabled me to create a routine that became a healthy habit. And once I had that and felt the benefits – NOTHING could get in the way. I was able to prioritise mornings, before I got consumed with work, and made a commitment to make #1change to do this for ME. I found online classes with a local instructor, at times that worked for my schedule, but a library for when there’s work clashes, and I’m completely hooked.

When it comes to Lifestyle Medicine, I also realised that this wasn’t only ticking my physical activity ‘pillar’. That it’s reducing my chances of chronic disease, improving certain minor health niggles and great for mental health and stress levels too. It’s my outlet, and opportunity to reflect and prepare for the day ahead, blow off steam and mostly, it’s a bit of me time so that I’m the best me I can be, for me and my family.

I also realised how it positively influenced other pillars, by making me conscious of making healthier nutritional choices, as well as reducing alcohol consumption, made me feel “calmer” and “lighter” which enabled me to take the time to connect more with friends and family, improved the quality of my sleep, (keeping weight down) and generally just feeling better.

What remains top of mind though is also reducing the times in between exercise to still maintain activity and that’s something that’s become quite new to me – especially being in a very busy business role where I can get sucked in to “one more email”. “The war on the chair”, long hours sitting in front of screens and just generally an increased focus more frequent movement, so my #1change was to “take more breaks” and “get out more”. Now that I’m back in the office, I’m also really enjoying the planning and reflection time the commute offers … or perhaps it’s the beautiful East Lothian country side.

The impact of processed foods has got to be one of my biggest learnings in my 6 months at BSLM. Of course I never thought they were good, but the evidence and damage is alarming. I can see how much the “acceleration” and in general, the speed of our lifestyles contributes, and how that impacts our choices, such as convenience items etc, but I’m equally as surprise by how making #1change to eat more real food can change my families health and future, despite what genetic predisposition they may have. It’s all in the education … We know eating healthy is good, but truly seeing food for health benefits, changes everything.

Like a lot of kids, the boys groan if there’s too much veg so I have to get creative. But, our #1change here has been to eat more plants consciously. Ensuring every meal has a good representation of fruit and veg … often by colour. The family already get way more than they realise, in pasta’s, curry’s and similar saucy dishes, but for real change, it’s important that they make choices consciously too. We also aim for #meatfreemondays or similar initiatives to see alternative ways of “ticking all the boxes” when it comes to balanced diets. We really found it difficult to think of ideas at first but the more we’ve experimented, the more open they’re becoming.

Sleep has become another factor that as a family, we’re way more aware of. Since learning so much more about the influence sleep has in chronic disease as well as so many of the other pillars of lifestyle medicine, it is something I have reflected on a lot. I’ve always been a good sleeper but struggle more as I get older when there are changes to those patterns. Dr Alex Maxwell & Dr Helen Lawal’s Sound Living Podcast from series 1 talks in more detail on the benefits of predictable wake up and sleep times.

I realised how reluctant we are to hear that. My thoughts were “I’m a night owl and love a lie in so I can’t do that”. Even kids have struggles with sleep boundaries – always fighting bedtime. That’s a challenge with early morning training and the desire to “game” late on weekends but we’re making small changes and easing our way in gently, we’re seeing the benefits and embracing it more. So maybe that’s still a work in progress.

It’s always been about balance for me. That doesn’t mean I always get it right, and sometimes consciously so, but I continuously try to make healthier choices for our family. As a busy working mom, that can be challenging, so after sharing a few tips for Day 3 of Lifestyle Medicine Week it made me realise that for me, it’s mostly about being organised to maintain healthy options.

I try plan and prepare as much up front as possible. We plan the meals we feel like for that week, and use that to create our shopping list, so we’re prepared, but also to reduce waste and multiple shopping trips … always throwing in some mix and match options for variety and easy, healthy options for when the sun’s out and we take it outdoors.

I also often try make an extra meal or two for the freezer on a weekend or two at once at some point, so we don’t get tempted to make bad choices due to “life happening” on that one rushed night, and small portions of left overs for lunches etc. And perhaps one of the most important tips, is having “grab and go healthy snacks” in prime position, especially in eye view as that fridge door opens.

Getting buy is a biggie – if you don’t have it, everything just feels like an uphill battle. I’ve found including the family in meal ideas and cooking helps and it also means we have more conversations around our behaviours and making healthy choices. Sharing the education I have picked up in the office is invaluable, explaining how the little “micro-biota” needed specific food groups and variety of colour etc, whilst we’re using real food has seen the boys sprinkling on nuts and seeds or adding little extra items, that I’m not sure they wouldn’t have otherwise

I’d love to hear back with how you keep your family or friends on the right path to making healthier choices. What are the small changes you’ve implemented that move your closer to your health goals? What tips and tricks do you have that may help others struggling to change their behaviours?

Please share using #1change and join the conversation. Keep your eyes out for some challenges coming to create some little video clips of these too.