Drone photo Sunshine Beach
Looking back over 2020, one of the important life lessons is the value of getting away from work and routine to replenish the spirit – even if it’s for a very short time. Today, I am writing this Christmas blog from the beach, making sure I follow through with my own advice.
We all risk burnout if we don’t mind our physical and mental well-being.
Thankfully I realised this a few weeks into lockdown back at the beginning of the pandemic and booked a few weekends away over the year to get through the very torrid nine months, since we temporarily shut the doors on 25th March, 2020 and went 100% Telehealth. (We are back to full face-to-face now and I say that out loud with every single one of my fingers and toes crossed as our Sydney wave unfolds).
Sunshine Beach got me through this year – and everytime I came away to the beach, I was reminded about the consistency of the beach. Regardless of how crazy everything is in the world, those waves keep moving in and out with regular precision, the beach is there beckoning – come for a walk and the breeze blows endlessly, keeping us cool as summer hits with a vengeance.
Burnout is something that can have an impact even if you aren’t working. The endless cycle of news telling us about the tragic numbers of Coronavirus infections and deaths overseas, the terrible stories about our politicians behaving badly and now as we face Xmas, the outbreaks as we’ve recently seen with Sydney Northern Beaches, all raise anxiety levels as Xmas plans are decimated and families are plunged into another cycle of sadness and disruption.
I have a great life-long friend (who is an OT) who wrote me a blog about burnout many years ago. She has some great advice in this blog about how to avoid burnout. A key one is mindfulness. She writes how the neuro-physiological and health benefits of mindfulness are well documented and include reducing the cognitive decline associated with normal ageing processes, decreased stress levels, improved immunity, reduced chronic pain and improved sleep. The cortical areas that are thicker in people who engage in focused attention practices include the insular and prefrontal lobes. These are associated with attention, self-awareness and sensory regulation.
So being mindful at the beach – consciously wondering about the waves and the moon and the tides; being observant about the stars and taking an interest in star formations and literally just breathing in the salty air deep from your belly, are all having positive effects on your brain, your body and therefore your health. Every day I remember this and breathe in my stocks of beach scenes and smells to last me for the upcoming year.
As I get older, I constantly ponder the potential for declining physical and mental health. While I feel very healthy and mentally ‘with it’ at present – we are all just a bit of bad luck or genetics away from a less than healthy existance. I am grateful that at 50 I discovered the joy of walking and exercising. It also coincided with my kids getting older, therefore more independent by being able to drive themselves places, so I wasn’t needed so much after work and I could start more regular exercise.
Walking has many benefits. It may seem less dynamic and block-busting compared to running and cycling, but the physical and mental health benefits are widely documented. The Heart Foundation even helps with pointing you to walking groups that you can join if you don’t have a partner, friend or neighbour to walk with.
Walking for an average of 30 minutes or more a day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke by 35% percent and Type 2 diabetes by 40%. But it’s not just your heart and muscles that benefit from walking.
Regular physical activity can help:
- reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke
- manage weight, blood pressure and blood cholesterol
- prevent and control diabetes
- reduce your risk of developing some cancers
- maintain your bone density, reducing your risk of osteoporosis and fractures
- improve balance and coordination, reducing your risk of falls and other injuries
- improve our daily mood which cumulatively leads to better mental health (1)
My new mantra for patients for 2021 is that every walk matters. Have a belief that you need to walk somewhere, every day. If you think that walking 3 times a week is all that matters, then if it’s raining on your third day, you’ll miss it and only get to walk twice that week and you will miss out on those wonderful benefits.
Walking improves your balance. Good balance prevents falls. Falls cause injuries and this sets into motion some devastating ageing effects. Back to the important point-walking improves balance.
When you see the endless beach…walk on it.
That beach is beckoning every day ‘Come for a walk’
When you see a rainforest….walk through it.
McInally Drive walk, Sunshine National Park
When you see a mountain to walk up or down it, (a hill will do)…..do it.
On the way to the Ice Cave, Mont Blanc
Don’t stop walking because of a diagnosis of knee arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the cartilage inside a joint breaks down causing pain and stiffness. People over 45 are more at risk, but younger people can be affected too. Exercise is one of the best ways to manage osteoarthritis.
The evidence tells us that the treatment should not be rest, but movement. The treatment maybe shouldn’t be an operation and pain relief, but movement and walking. But if you have pain, then try what’s called graded exposure. Start walking from a more distant carpark at the shops; walk once around the block and slowly add to the distance; or do two 10 minute walks a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Every step matters!
OA was once thought to be an inevitable part of ageing, a result of a lifetime of ‘wear and tear’ on joints. However we now know much more and understand that it is complex and in many cases preventable. Things like reducing the overall fat you carry – fat releases molecules that contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your whole body. This in turn increases the level of inflammation in the joints affected by OA. (2)
So as we head into the ritual of eating chocolate for breakfast, Prosecco for morning tea and three helpings of plum pudding – ie Christmas Day -think about scheduling a walk or three to help keep the inflammation down and the mobility of the joints up.
May the 25th December mean everything you need it to,and for those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you were able to join some family, speak to a friend and feel happy.
And after the year we have had, this is sage advice….
Good luck to us all with COVID