Dr Liz Miller’s health tips

I was honoured to receive a lovely e-mail from Dr Liz Miller recently about the Mindapples project. Dr Liz was voted Mind Champion of the Year in June and featured in Stephen Fry’s 2007 documentary series the Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. She writes wonderfully about self-management of mental wellbeing, and also practises what she preaches to manage her own mental health – hence my admiration for her. You can read more about her in this great interview with her in the Guardian. (My favourite quote: “In medicine we live on this myth that illness is for other people.”)

Liz has very kindly sent me her top ten tips for managing your health, which I’m republishing here as part thank you to her, and part inspiration for the rest of us. Enjoy!

1. Eat healthy food
Start the day with a fresh fruit smoothie. Even easier, a glass of tap water, rehydrates ready for the new day. Eating a healthy diet is about eating natural food. If it was not around 10,000 years ago, then it is probably not good for you and you should not eat it. The best food is organic from your own garden or local farmer. You can have a box of organic goodies delivered to your door. A natural diet and daily exercise keeps the blood sugar steady and that helps keep your energy up, and helps concentration.

2. Avoid junk food
Treat your stomach with respect. Always read the label. Factories turn food into junk. The purpose of a biscuit is to sell another biscuit. Did you ever see a Kit Kat tree? A packet of crisps can be stored for 2 or even three years, and the crisps are still crunchy, there is nothing alive in that bag. “You are what you eat” and do you want to end as a MacDonald and fries or a Pizza express? A modern milking cow produces up 20 litres of milk a day, ten times as much as a natural cow. Modern milking cows produce high concentrations of hormones, most of which go into the milk. Dairy products do more for supermarkets selling yoghurt and semi-skimmed milk than for anyone else in the food chain. The stomach is one of the most complex and interesting organs in the body. It even has its own nervous system or mini brain. It sorts out, digests and absorbs the complete range of diets the different people eat from across the world eat. On the other hand, putting something like Coca-Cola into this delicate and refined organ is like pouring battery acid into your PC. It is hardly surprising people get indigestion.

3. Omega-3 Supplements
The easiest and quickest way to improve your health is through Omega –3 supplements. Omega 3 essential fatty acids help a wide range of medical conditions from heart disease, mental health to better joints. Shop on-line at www.mindfirst.co.uk. or at any health food store, on-line or in the High Street. It takes a couple months for their full benefit to be clear. Choose one without vitamin A or vitamin D. If you are a vegetarian and do not want to take fish oils, then Udo’s Oil, Hemp Seed Oil, or VegEPA are fish free alternatives. The next step is a multimineral, multivitamin supplement and if you can choose natural vitamins in preference to synthetic ones. Once upon a time, a balanced diet gave you the minerals and vitamins you needed but fifty years ago, fruit and vegetables contain five times the vitamins and minerals as they do today. Over-intensive farming, long periods of storage in warehouses, refrigeration, picking unripe fruit and vegetables mean food quality is getting worse.

4. Exercise daily:
Exercise needs to be daily, varied and fun; like dancing, football, running, walking the dog, taking the stairs rather than the lift and running up the down escalator. The gym is fine, but variety is the spice of life and the key to being fit. There are three types of exercise:

  1. Those that concentrate on posture such as Yoga, Pilates, Alexander technique, postural alignment and martial arts training. These exercises concentrate on balance, so a person gets their ears above their shoulders, above their hips, above their knees, above their ankles.
  2. Those that concentrate on building strength for short bursts of exercise, such as weightlifting, shot putt and gym machines. These exercises build muscle. Core strength is more important than bulging pecs. Regardless of how you look on the beach, if you have strong arms, strong legs and a weak back, you will develop back trouble. Rather than developing specific muscles, all round strength is important.
  3. Exercises for stamina, such as running, swimming, football, dancing, skipping, cycling and fast walking.

Try a different exercise, each day of the week

5. Get outside and feel the rays

Sunshine is an instant pickmeup. Just half an hour in the midday sun, especially in winter makes a big difference to theday. Sunshine makes us feel better; so just getting out of the office for a quick wander, even in the rain there is more light outside than there is inside. If you find the winter depressing, think about buying a light box, or a light visor from www.outsidein.co.uk Put it on full blast while you clean your teeth and make your breakfast to stop the winter blues.

6. Avoid alcohol and other poisons
Alcohol reaches those parts that other poisons don’t. It damages the brain, the liver, and the pancreas. Few organs escape its effects. Nothing reduces a person’s energy, damages their lungs, narrows their blood-vessels, gives people wrinkles and increases their risk of cancer quicker than cigarettes. In the right environment, the body can recover from almost anything. Drinking and smoking stop the body healing.

7. Breath from your belly
Most people pant! They take far too many short breaths using only the top part of their lungs. Longer deeper breaths increase the oxygen in the blood without over breathing. Real breathing comes from the belly and it has become counterintuitive. When you breathe in, the belly comes out as the diaphragm pushes down to allow the bottom of the lungs to fill. As you breathe out, the belly comes back in and pushes the air out, like a piston moving up and down. Belly breathing needs the shoulders to be relaxed down and back. Babies and small children naturally breathe from their belly. The first time you start to control your breathing it may feel as though you are going to suffocate, no one has yet. Practise breathing from your belly for a few minutes everyday and gradually it will become more of a habit as you develop a more natural way of living. Being able to control your breathing, is the fastest way to control your state of mind. It is impossible to panic if you breathe gently and quietly!

8. Rest and relax
There are many ways to relax and calm the mind, from meditation through breathing, repeating a mantra, or just becoming more aware of what is happening from moment to moment. Other people relax by reading, sewing or through a hobby. Nonetheless everyone needs time just to chill out, rest and recover and let go the worries of the day.

9. Exercise your mind

In some ways this is the opposite of the last tip. Just as the mind needs to relax, so it also needs to work. The most effective way to work is to focus or concentrate on one task at a time. It can take twenty minutes to recover from an interruption. Modern life is full of diversions, e-mail, texts, mobile phones and it is easy to be continually distracted and do nothing all day. Multitasking sounds great but it is not efficient. People work better if they concentrate on one task at a time. The natural rhythm of concentration lasts between forty and fifty minutes. After that time, take a few minutes to recover, with some belly breathing, stilling the mind, and having a drink of water, before starting the next cycle. Focus takes time to develop. Just as it takes time to get the body fit, it takes time to train the mind to focus on one task only. Start by setting a timer, to help you stay concentrated for a few minutes. As you get mentally fitter, your concentration span gets longer, until you can manage to concentrate intensely for up to forty or fifty minutes at a time. A healthy mind is a fit mind. It is a mind that does what you want it to, rather one that is at the mercy of every passing whim and impulse.

10. Learn all you can about health
Although there is more and more health information available, much of it seems contradictory. One person says do this and another person says do that. Nonetheless, every health article usually has one or two good points worth remembering. But there always has to be a balance, for example, exercise is important but not if you have the flu. Activity has to be balanced with rest, concentration with relaxation and living a healthy life with the demands of earning a living. Some people recommend a low-fat diet, others a low sugar diet. You alone are the best person to find out what suits you and helps you feel healthy and energised.

By being interested in health, you learn more about yourself and this will encourage you to live a happier and healthier life.

Read more about Dr Liz Miller, and drop her a line (like I did), at www.drlizmiller.co.uk.