No longer either/or, wellness today is seen as a combination of our physical and mental health. Here are six ways to achieve the best of both.
By Susan Hollis
The idea of personal health has come a long way in the past decade. Thanks to the diligence of the scientific research community, we now know more about our bodies — how they age and how they get sick — as well as how little any of that means if our mental health isn’t sound.
That was certainly highlighted by the pandemic, which brought the issue of mental health — or the lack thereof — to the public sounding boards. Indeed, more than a third of those surveyed by the 2022 U.S.
Mindbody Wellness Index report ranked mental health as the most important dimension of wellness. Now, as we get back on track after a strange couple of years, we are not just eating better and exercising more, we are more likely than ever to try emerging therapies like infrared saunas, vitamin IV drips
or bespoke nutritional trends that align with improved energy or focus.
Meditation, cold and hot therapies, plant-based diets — today’s trends treat the whole human system, but keeping it interesting is also critical to maintaining a routine. After all, a balanced wellness plan means little if it’s so blah that you want to disappear into Netflix and a bag of Doritos by the end of week two.
Here’s what you can do right now to improve both body and mind.
1. Boost your immunity
Victoria family doctor Tim McKay says his patients aren’t just correcting bad lockdown habits such as eating poorly and consuming more alcohol. They are also seeking therapies designed to improve both physical and mental well-being.
“I have noticed an appreciable change in this overall,” he says. “There have always been a small percentage of individuals who are very focused on health and are frequent visitors to physicians, but I would say this percentage has increased in recent years, yes. Younger patients are now more involved in their wellness and generally have done more reading, research and worrying before they come in to see me.”
Data from the Mindbody Wellness Index supports McKay’s observations, with 46 per cent of the American population showing interest in immune health services like red light therapy, detox programs and intravenous (IV) therapy, which infuses nutrients or other wellness solutions directly into a vein. Islanders are also showing an increased interest in regimens to support their health.
“I have seen an increase in IV therapy, and I attribute it to the increase in stress and anxiety that COVID has caused with the changes in lifestyle for people,” says naturopathic physician Kristin Bovee, owner of Hydrate IV Wellness Centre in Victoria. “As well, there is an increased interest in staying well [in relation to] the health risks COVID has caused — both prevention and treatment of.”
2. Feed body and soul
When it comes to eating more whole foods and upping vitamin intake to improve overall health, Dr. Maria Boorman says she is seeing an increase in the number of people who are approaching their health with an open mind and new dedication. For instance, those who may have previously needed some prodding to take supplements to improve their health outcomes are now far more likely to accept and adhere to the services she recommends.
“What used to be outliers now has become more commonplace,” says Boorman, a naturopath at Lansdowne Naturopathic Centre. “In the past 10 years, I’ve seen people embrace it. I don’t have to do any convincing anymore. People come back, they are compliant, they want to feel well, they’re actually committed to feeling better.”
She adds, “I think the difference I’m seeing is that it’s not a casual try now. People are convinced that this is what they need to do. They embrace it and they do it.”
3. Train your brain
What’s good for the body is good for the brain. No longer is “cognitive wellness” a term relegated to the medical sphere. In the Mindbody study, 26 per cent of those polled say they take care of what they call “intellectual wellness” by doing something creative, taking on new skills and/or challenging their minds through new learning.
That’s especially important when it comes to protecting one’s brain from age-related decline.
High levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the aging public has put the role of the brain in the spotlight. Up to 40 per cent of risk factors for dementia are considered modifiable through lifestyle changes that reduce stress and increase mental stimulation. Now, not only are people starting to embrace dietary changes like getting enough healthy fats (such as those in the Mediterranean diet), they’re embracing other key wellness measures, such as meditation and keeping social, for long-term brain health.
Locally, some options for improved stimulation are available through pottery classes, grow-your-own-mushroom workshops at Victoria’s Compost Education Centre or even bike-repair classes at Recyclistas.
4. Be positive
Where once we dieted and exercised to become thin, we now seek body positivity, especially through workouts that embrace challenge and fun.
Baylea Wilkins, owner of Baylea Wilkins Fitness, says her classes — whether online or in person — are a way for her clients to feel strong and connect with others. And she has noticed a discernible shift away from using exercise solely to drop a pant size.
“I see an enormous shift — especially with women in my industry — quite a lot less focused on weight loss,” she says. “Earlier in my career, everybody wanted to lose weight, and they wanted to lose it fast and that was the main focus, but now you will hear women saying, ‘I don’t mind what I weigh, I just want to feel good.’ ”
26% of those polled said they take care of their “intellectual wellness” by doing something creative.
46% were showing interest in immune health services, like red light therapy and detox programs.
– Global survey, 2022 U.S. Mindbody Wellness Index
5. Have some fun
In the structure of good health, the scaffolding must include fun. This is why folks have devised silent raves, goat yoga and stitch-and-bitch knitting sessions at local cafés. When humans are always on the hunt for new ways to feel better, the options for creative self-care become endless.
To keep your body moving like it used to in the halcyon days of childhood, hula hoop workouts are Mayo Clinic-approved to nudge your fitness into high gear. (Or low, or medium — it’s all good!) Online classes found on YouTube are easily accessible for all levels, and the only equipment needed is a hula hoop, either weighted or regular. Expect improved balance and cardiovascular outcomes, along with a lot of high fives from the neighbourhood kids.
Another option is to take the plunge — the cold plunge. It’s hard to miss the sheer number of people (mostly because they’re shrieking with laughter) parading into the frigid waters off the city’s beaches. Numerous studies have shown cold plunging combats tension and fatigue while improving memory and mood, so there’s no doubt as to why it has gained an enormous following in recent years. Whether you’re looking to improve back pain or get a better sleep, head down to your local beach for a free — if chilly — therapy session.
6. Ask for help
The global pandemic was demonstrably bad for our mental health. More than half of Canadians surveyed in a recent Angus Reid poll said their mental health declined during the pandemic, with women between the ages of 35 and 54 carrying the brunt of the dip and younger people reporting higher rates of emotional stress than ever before.
But despite improved technological access to online counseling, services with trained therapists are still hard to come by. Dr. McKay says he sees patients of all ages seeking more support and struggling to find it. “Since the pandemic, most of the usual psychologists I refer to are not accepting new patients due to high volumes,” he says. “Psychiatric services are overwhelmed in many areas.”
If finding — or affording — a therapist is tough, try a few suggestions collated from Psychology Today. They include: breaking out of self-focused inner dialogue; being firm in your non-negotiables when it comes to things you can’t tolerate; and viewing anxiety and the reasons for it as temporary, as just moments you are passing through.
While we are finding our footing after a turbulent two years, many of us can admit that despite the emotional and physical toll exacted by the pandemic, it’s also given us an opportunity to reflect on what’s important. And whether the pandemic is truly over or not, we’re ready to carry some hard-learned lessons into a healthier, more connected future.