9 secrets of wellness warriors

written by Carrol Baker

Berries, strawberries, blueberries Credit: Getty Images

Good luck or good genes? Some people rarely get a sniffle, even in winter when many of us are hiding under the covers, popping pills and feeling like a train wreck. Even if some people do succumb to a nasty bug, they seem to bounce back super quickly. So what’s the secret to staying well when others are dropping like flies?

#1 Berry nice

What’s the secret? Eat berries.

They’re nutritional powerhouses, chock full of antioxidants, phytochemicals and anti-inflammatories, which help prevent you getting sick, and a host of other nutritional goodies including vitamin C, which improves immunity. It’s good to know that something so deliciously tempting and sweet is also berry good for you, too.

According to Leanne Ellison from Nutrition Australia, the darker the berry the more it packs a nutritional punch. “Top of the list is blueberries because they are so high in antioxidants,” she says. When picking berries always choose frozen or fresh; they’re equally good. Freezing them locks in the nutrients — but avoid canned berries, as nutrients, particularly vitamin C, are broken down.”

Hong Kong researchers have also shown that eating blueberries can increase lifespan by 10 per cent. Research on the humble fruit fly (which cycle through their lifespan quickly, so make good study subject) has shown increased longevity when the flies were fed a blueberry extract. Numerous studies have also shown berries are preventive against cognitive decline and help lower blood pressure. A comprehensive study of 93,600 women by the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School also showed that eating lots of berries benefits heart health. So chances are you’ll not only live longer if you are a berry muncher, but you’ll also enjoy a better quality of life.

Be a wellness warrior: Try a mix of berries on your morning muesli, grab a handful and add them to a smoothie, or mix them through some yogurt for a sweet treat.

#2 Step away from the dinner table

What’s the secret? Eat less and slow down.

It can be a challenge altering a lifetime of ingrained eating habits, particularly if you grew up being told not to leave the table until your plate was scraped clean.

Well, those who live in parts of the world where if you’re an octogenarian you’re still a spring chicken say we’ve got it all wrong. In Okinawa, where the highest percentage of centenarians live, locals follow an old adage that says hara hachi bu or “eat until you are 80 per cent full”. Mindful eating, chewing and savouring every mouthful, enjoying the tactile sensations of the food as you chew, slow you down and, as a result, you’ll eat less. Charlene Grosse, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says the Okinawa principle does have merit. “It takes about 10–20 minutes for our stomachs and our brains to communicate,” she says. “We are speedy eaters and eat large portions in a small amount of time, meaning there is that time lag.”

Charlene’s advice: eat at the table, not in front of the TV or at your desk. “Satisfaction comes from engaging your senses as you are eating — if you are satisfied you’ll eat less,” she says.

Be a wellness warrior: Chew your food slowly and savour the taste. Put your fork and knife down between bites (just like you do at a restaurant).

#3 Take up pole dancing

What’s the secret? Get enough exercise.

Pole dancing strengthens arms and tones the legs; and, because you are employing every muscle and working up a sweat, it gives your body a good cardiovascular workout. Don’t fancy swinging off a pole? Well, any vigorous exercise will help. This is because, according to Christiane Northrup MD, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Wellbeing, “Whenever circulation is increased, you get far more white blood cells, so they check for foreign germs and are far more apt to be able to gobble them up.”

The idea is to get your heart pumping and your circulation moving. Dietician and exercise physiologist Joanne Turner says exercise places stress on our bodies, but what this then does is improve our fitness. “A fitter person has a stronger immune system, so your adaptation to the stress of exercise will boost your immune system.” The idea is to get your heart pumping and circulation flowing. But, as with anything in life, the key is to keep it in balance. “Do more exercise than your body can cope with and you actually lower your immune system,” she says. Everyone is different but the average Australian should be aiming to do 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.

Be a wellness warrior: Find a form of exercise you love and stop making excuses. Buddy up with an exercise friend to keep you motivated.

#4 Stop being a stress-head

What’s the secret? Stress less.

The oldest living person on record is Jeanne Louise Calment, a French supercentenarian who has the longest confirmed human lifespan on record, living to the age of 122. Not only did she live a long life but she was very healthy and rarely became ill. French researcher Jean-Marie Robine, who has studied Calment’s lifestyle, says she attributes her longevity to her immunity to stress.

She took up fencing lessons at 85 and rode a bicycle until age 100. She is widely quoted as saying, “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder. I could never wear mascara; I cried too often when I laughed.”

It could be that Calment was definitely onto something. Stress management is vital in staying healthy: stress impacts on inflammation, which in turn contributes to not only short-term illness but chronic conditions that have long-lasting effects on your health. So don’t worry, be happy. Chances are you’ll live a longer and more carefree life.

Be a wellness warrior: Learn that it’s OK to be imperfect; you’re just like the rest of the human race. Turn off technology and reconnect with nature more — you’ll be glad you did.

#5 Fridge follies

What’s the secret? Be fridge savvy.

Do you know what’s really lurking inside your fridge? If the inside of your crisper drawers are filled with sad and sorry-looking produce, or you aren’t stacking your shelves properly, you’re putting yourself and your family at risk of illness. Joanne Turner says raw meat shouldn’t be stored next to cooked meat or on a shelf above fresh food. “Any spillages need to be cleaned up right away or bacteria will grow, in particular with protein foods,” she says. “And clean the sludge at the bottom of the fridge — you might not eat the rotting zucchini but the food next to it could be affected, too.”

Toss out any cracked coffee cups or dishes, even if they are your favourites. Not only are broken crockery items not good from a feng shui perspective, they harbour dangerous germs.

Be a wellness warrior: Clean your fridge weekly before you shop. When stocking the fridge, rotate the food so the fresher foods are on the bottom and older foods used up first.

#6 Balancing act

What’s the secret? Regularly test your pH levels.

Having the right pH balance can also help you to stay fit and healthy. The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14; 7 is considered neutral, a pH less than 7 is said to be acidic and greater than 7 is alkaline. Our ideal pH is just slightly alkaline — leaning towards 7.4, according to Dr Stephan Domenig, author of The Alkaline Cure. Eating an alkaline-based diet will restore your energy levels, reboot your metabolism and slow signs of ageing. Clearer skin, better digestive health and a stronger immune system are also known benefits. It’s not just what you eat but lifestyle choices that impact on pH levels and ultimately the state of your overall health. Not getting enough shuteye also increases acidity levels.

Be a wellness warrior: Include kale, leafy greens, avocado, olive oil and quinoa in your diet. Foods to avoid include sugar, coffee, dairy and starchy refined carbs.

#7 Sing happy birthday — twice!

What’s the secret? Watch personal hygiene.

One of the easiest ways to keep those bugs at bay is to wash your hands. Sure, you say, I wash my hands regularly — but do you do it properly?

Some say handwashing is like a do-it-yourself vaccine, but to do it properly it involves five simple and effective steps (wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry). According to the Food Safety Information Council, many Australians aren’t doing it properly, if at all. They conducted a survey that showed 9 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men didn’t wash their hands at all when observed in a shopping centre toilet. Another issue is that we aren’t doing it for long enough. They recommend Australians take as much time as it takes to hum Happy Birthday twice — a great way to encourage the kids.

Be a wellness warrior: Always wash and dry hands before eating, after blowing your nose or patting a pet and before you handle food.

#8 Bring on the beans

What’s the secret? A plant-based diet.

In Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones, there are five “Blue Zones”, or regions where people have been found to lead healthy and active lives beyond 100 years of age.

He says, “The calculus of ageing offers us two options. We can live a shorter life with more years of disability or we can live the longest possible life with the fewest bad years. As my centenarian friends have shown me, the choice is largely up to us.” The areas in the Blue Zones include regions in Japan, Costa Rica, Greece and Italy.

Be a wellness warrior: To eat like the world’s healthiest people, follow a plant-based diet with beans, nuts and greens. Eat meat in small portions, less than twice a week.

#9 Make good health a priority

What’s the secret? You matter.

When you are in good health your quality of life is better. You laugh more, you don’t sweat the small stuff and you can achieve more, learn more and love more. Some might argue that with so many quick-fixes offered we have become a little complacent about health. Do you just swallow a few vitamin pills when you don’t want to eat the recommended serves of vegies and fruit a day? Do you pop a couple of cold and flu tablets when you feel a cold coming on? “We used to do it a whole lot better,” says Turner. “People have become reliant on tablets and antibiotics for a quick fix.”

Be a wellness warrior: Good health is a way of life. Why not try it? You might be surprised where the journey takes you.


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Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.