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Samantha Derham
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The basics to good health that should come before good diet and exercise

28 February 2014, 13:23
So much attention is paid to the importance of being healthy, yet so many people I meet are far from their optimum health, even if they are eating healthy and exercising regularly, and I realised it is because society as a whole has forgotten four other important aspects of being healthy that should come before your healthy diet and regular exercise. Although I have put the below in order of importance according to my fairly educated opinion, it is important to stress that a balance of all 6 is in fact required for optimal health.


Get enough sleep

If you feel the only way for you to function in the morning is to have a sufficient dose of caffeine, then you are not getting enough sleep. The process of sleep is cyclical between deep sleep and lighter sleep (usually when dreaming happens), where the release of different vital hormones is associated with each cycle. If you do not get a full night’s sleep, you do get the full dose of hormone release that would otherwise have occurred in the cycles you missed. The complete understanding of the benefits of sleep are not fully understood, but it has been well documented that people who get ‘enough’ sleep have improved motor and cognitive function, more energy, a stronger immune system and a natural desire to eat healthier and smaller meals. The more tired you are, the more you ‘crave’ foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Get more awake relaxation

Meditation is a very deliberate practice of awake relaxation in combination with conscious breathing, and most people who do this have noticeably better health. But if the normal process of meditation is not for you, then at very least you need to find some time every day to just let you mind go where ever it wants to go, to stop focusing on anything in particular, turn off all distractions (incredibly important in our social-media saturated lives), and just be. Staring at a blank or familiar object and consciously stop thinking is a great way to start. If you take your cell phone to the toilet with you – stop it. That’s a great opportunity to allow your brain to do its own thing for a few minutes. Reading a book is fine as it gets the imagination going, but many people have claimed to have had their greatest ideas whilst sitting on the throne. It is for this same reason that the occasional cigarette for an office bound person can actually be a positive thing. As it’s a convenient excuse to just step outside and relax for 5 minutes. Please note, ‘occasional’ and ‘excuse’. Heavy smoking is terribly bad for your and others health.

The next step is to then deliberately breath deeper and get more oxygen than one would normally get when focusing on something – especially when sitting, like you probably are right now. The idea of this is to let your conscious mind take a break and let your sub-conscious take the stage for a bit. It is during these times that we significantly reduce stress levels, we can think clearer and realise what really is the most important thing to do next, and it’s during times of non-focused thinking that we most often have sudden realisations of how to solve our greatest challenges.

Awake relaxation can even compensate for some lost sleep time and has been practiced by some of history’s greatest minds.

Get enough direct sunlight

To write about all the health benefits of getting enough sunshine will make this article far too long. But before I say anything, it’s important to stress that if you do not make a habit of spending time in the sun, you should not tomorrow go and spend an hour in the sun. Morning sun and afternoon sun offer different benefits and you should expose yourself to both. Longer in the morning up to 9am in summer, and 10 mins in the afternoon sun to start with is enough.

Moderate exposure to sunshine increases your immune system and reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a range of other health problems. It increases your metabolism, promotes better sleep at night and digestion and generally improves ones mood – certainly one of the best ways to help fight the current plague of depression western society seems to be experiencing.

This article goes into a lot of detail with some pictures if stereo-typed pretty females:


Starting tomorrow, why don’t you spend 5 minutes getting awake relaxation time in the sun!?

Do more that makes you truly happy.

It’s arguable that this should go at the top of the list, but it’s not as obvious or as simple to implement as the top 3. In short, being happy makes everything in your body function better. Happiness makes your heart beat more rhythmically, reduces stress and worry, and probably provides even more health benefits than sunshine. Think of how healthy and supple and alive you felt during the first few weeks of falling in love – that is the most obvious feeling of being happy. But you don’t need to be falling in love to be happy, and more often than not in current western society it does take a concerted effort to be a ‘happy person’, but it really can be as simple as just deciding to do something that makes you happy, and actually doing it. Don’t delay or make excuses – just do it! And be realistic, there are many things you can do within your time and your budget that will make you happier, and when you realise what it is, it will be something you can do again and again. You just have to decide to do it now and not find a reason to put it off until later. Flying to a remote holiday destination is nothing more than something advertising has told you will make you happier – it is in fact temporary and artificial happiness that ultimately makes you less happy. Baz Larhmann’s Sunscreen Song always comes to mind - if you have read this far, then click on this link. You won’t regret it.

And if eating the occasional naughty treat that you don’t allow yourself to eat for whatever reason will truly make you happy, then eat it without guilt, because the happiness it will give you will far outweigh the potential health problems. And again I stress – ‘occasionally’. Unless your doctor said never eat it again – then you are just going to have to find something else to replace the happiness that gave you. 

I have put this one fourth because it can be the most difficult for some people, and if it is something that you think you need help with, then do yourself and everyone around you a favour and see a life coach. Firstly, just seeing them makes you feel better and they are great at working with you to help you realise what changes you can make in your life to be consistently happy. And once you have been given the tools to realise your own happiness, it can be self reinforcing and your life will just get better. But first you need to decide for yourself that you really do want to be happy.

5 and 6 are diet and exercise.

If the health benefits of eating healthy and getting regular exercise haven’t been shoved in your face from every direction already, then you are living under a rock and you are probably healthy anyway. I just have a few more comments to make here: 

a) I truly do believe that getting the above right is more important than worrying about your diet and exercise, and most likely you will find that when you have mastered the above, a healthy diet and regular exercise will come naturally. When you feel better, you naturally want to maintain it. Sadly, the opposite is also true.

b) The first step to healthy eating is to cut out fast food – once you decide to eat more home cooked meals, or at least meals that take time to prepare, you will automatically be cutting out almost all unhealthy food.

c) If you have a desk job, moving your body regularly is more important than exercising intensely for an hour every day. Sitting still for long periods of time causes a number of health problems. My google search found this article first:

I propose playing with poi while you wait for your computer to do something. This video gives you an idea of what that is about if you don’t already know:

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