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Let's define Wellbeing:

The term ‘mind-body-spirit’ gets used a lot. But it is true – they are all connected and play a role in health and wellbeing. However, you don’t have to eat organic mung beans and sit for hours in the lotus position to achieve it.

The Better Health Channel defines wellbeing asnot just the absence of disease or illness but a complex combination of a person’s physical, mental, emotional and social health factors. Wellbeing is strongly linked to happiness and life satisfaction”. In short, wellbeing could be described as how you feel about yourself and your life at this very minute.

Wellbeing and Health are interchangeable. Being healthy is relatively simple in theory but achieving it can also be very hard. This is especially so as we get older, part of the difficulties may be mindset such as:

  • “Aren’t we supposed to relax after retirement, start winding down and enjoying the pleasures in life?”
  • “I’m too old to start changing my ways now”

Or the difficulties may be due to other barriers such as:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fear of falling
  • Dependence on others
  • Loss of past pleasurable pursuits
  • Apathy
  • Isolation

As well as tackling our physical and environmental barriers, we also require a degree of discipline, motivation and drive to follow the prescribed guidelines for health and wellbeing. For a person to have the drive, motivation and discipline necessary for change – they first need to find worth/value in the end goal. We all have this ability when we can see “the big picture” and perceive something is worth the effort. For example, if someone has been told they are at high risk of a heart attack – they may be motivated to change their lifestyle; if they were not at an immediate health risk they may have less motivation to do so.

The fact is, ‘the things we often find pleasure in are not always the things that are good for our health‘, and this can make living a healthy lifestyle hard. It must be a bit hard – or we would all be healthy and preventable diseases would not exist! What are these guilty pleasures that can damage our long term health? Think smoking, drinking, eating high sugar- high salt -high saturated fat foods mixed with a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrient diet and low social interaction.

The good news is that having these things occasionally and in moderation should not greatly impact on long term health outcomes (well except for smoking, sorry).

Living in the 21st Century means you can access much more scientific and evidence based research on disease prevention than ever before right at your finger tips.

Keeping reading – you just might get motivated for change…

A Healthy Heart & Disease Prevention

It is not hard to see why people get overwhelmed with all that they need to do to stay healthy, especially if you follow the media. There are vast amounts of information out there on what we are supposed to do in the name of health but it really can be simplified.

If you follow the guidelines of heart health you are very much on your way to reducing the risk of many chronic diseases. Add social engagement, meaningful leisure and ongoing learning and you may just prevent many more.

Of course there are no guarantees and there are other factors outside lifestyle choices that can increase our chance of illness and disease. For example; advanced age, genetics, life experience and existing precursory conditions can increase risks for chronic disease. But we do have the choice and ability to minimise the risks of illness and diseases, identify and manage symptoms early and strive towards ongoing quality of life!

Now of course if it was easy to follow these Heart Health Principles then the incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression, some cancers and other chronic diseases would not be so high within the global population. That is why when things get tough, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, the number one thing you can do is get the support and help you need. You can scroll down to the end to locate what supports are available to you.

If you have existing conditions such as diabetes or if some conditions run in the family or your immune system is not great, then educate yourself and see if you fit into any of the ‘at risk’ factors for chronic diseases. If so, learn what you can do to lower your chance of onset.

You can’t do it all on your own. You can’t possibly know all that is out there that can help you. Nor would you be expected to know all that you should be aware of. it takes a Village hopefully have provided a good starting point. But it is always good to speak to your doctor about any concerns or changes you are experiencing with your health.

Remember age is not a disease. Being a certain age does not mean you need to endure pain or discomfort unnecessarily nor does it mean you can finally stop trying to live well. It is important that you believe your health and wellbeing is just as important as someone’s in their 20’s, regardless of your age.

To simplify things – heart health depends on lifestyle choices:

Lifestyle choices for optimal hearth health

According to the Heart Foundation, the above is achieved by:

Which are the same lifestyle choices you need to reduce your risk of:

  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke & TIA’s
  • Some cancers
  • Osteoporosis
  • Falls

Just to name a few.

Basically maintaining your weight, keeping active, limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking and following a nutritious diet is the same common theme for preventing or managing many disease and health issues.

Now let’s add just a few more lifestyle choices.

Now you’re well on your way to experiencing a sense of health and wellbeing. But there may be times where you feel unable to stick to any, or all, of the above optimal lifestyle choices. The important thing is not to completely give up trying. You have to ‘pick your fights’ and figure out what you are willing to do, what you are willing to give up and what you are willing to risk in regard to your health and wellbeing.

At the end of the day, as we age, the main motivating factor we have is maintaining our independence for as long we can – while still enjoying life along the way (just not too much of it!).

Dementia Prevention and Cognitive Reserve

We have already discussed how heart health is linked to brain health. But good general health is also reliant on our brain. The brain underpins everything we do and it is directly affected by the integrity of our other body systems. Consequently, there are many factors outside of the central nervous system (our brain) that can impact your dementia risk. Below are the seven major modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

Seven major modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Low educational attainment
  2. Physical inactivity
  3. Midlife obesity
  4. Midlife hypertension
  5. Diabetes
  6. Smoking and
  7. Depression

Did you notice that only one of these modifiable risk factors is not related to cardiovascular health?

EDUCATION & DEMENTIA:

Latest research from Dementia Australia report that people with: higher levels of education, more mentally demanding occupations and more intellectually stimulating leisure activities have a lower risk of dementia onset.

Research also suggests that mental activity may provide greater ‘brain reserve’. Because of something called neural plasticity, brain or cognitive reserve can create new pathways (or a bypass if you like) where signals have been cut off because of damage caused by the dementia. The new ‘bypass’ allows the blocked messages to find an alternate route and get through.

To create the greatest brain reserve it is best to learn a completely new skill that is challenging enough to create new neural bundles. For example, learn a new language or a complicated card game like Bridge. Something where you feel a little out of your comfort zone and need to put a bit of effort into learning.

Note: It is also important to add that should you or someone you know already have a diagnosis of dementia, it is important that they continue to be active and participate in mentally stimulating activities which may delay the progression of the disease.

WHY IS SOCIALISATION SO IMPORTANT

Typically, social engagement is defined as the frequency and quality of people’s social interactions with friends, family, and others. One of the major theories in this area is that social engagement requires a significant amount of cognitive effort, which might help to maintain brain function. For example:

  • Engaging in more social activities
  • Having larger social networks
  • Lower perceived loneliness
  • Being married

Note: If you or somebody you know has dementia it is important that they maintain social participation as the benefits of social engagement can slow down the progress of the disease.

Social engagement also buffers against loneliness, depression and anxiety

The benefits of being social play an important role in protecting you from psychological distress and can enhance your sense of wellbeing.

Social isolation is considered a predictor for mental health issues such as depression and is also associated with increased functional difficulties, lower motivation or ability to cope with change, higher dependence for daily tasks and an overall perception of a less satisfying life.

Remember! Depression is a risk factor for heart disease and dementia.

WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP ‘OCCUPIED”

According to Shelly, our community aged care occupational therapist:

An occupation is basically anything we do, whether it be cooking, playing bowls, having a shower, budgeting, reading, learning, playing with a grandchild – these are all daily occupations’.

To be occupied can be defined as “meaningful daily activities that fill up our time”. (AOTA, 2008). They are activities that we either want to do or need to do and give us a sense of purpose and a sense of self.

There is a strong relationship between ‘doing’ and health and wellbeing. That is why I am so passionate about helping people to ‘do’ as much as they are able or want to do. Idleness, boredom and dependence can greatly affect our self-esteem and sense of worth, resulting in negative mental, physical and emotional issues which in turn can increase our risk of chronic disease and illness. ‘Doing’ continues to be important for those experiencing dementia. It is important that people who experience dementia are provided opportunities to participate in meaningful daily and social activities and remain as independent as their ‘capacity’ allows.

Sometimes you or someone you know may not be able to ‘do’ something the way you were doing it before but that doesn’t mean you have lost the ability to ‘do’ it completely.

Are you interesting in identifying the risk factors that may increase your chance of developing a dementia?

If so, why don’t you complete the ANU Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Index (ANU-ADRI). The ANU-ADRI is an evidence-based, validated, tool aimed at assessing individual exposure to risk factors known to be associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in late-life, that is, over the age of 60 years.

Click Here to complete the ANU-ADRI assessment:

I am always happy to help or assist you. You can contact me on 0402 324 828 or email [email protected]


INFORMATION, RESOURCES AND REFERENCES

For more information, resources and support, go to Women’s Health or Men’s Health.

Gardening for Health

I am sure for those who already enjoy gardening you already know of and enjoy the benefits. Gardening is such an amazing and motivating activity with instant and future rewards. When we talk about mind, body and spirit health for wellbeing the garden ticks all boxes.

Gardening and the mind:

  • Increases social engagement through a common interest, swapping cuttings, admirers stopping for a chat or advice
  • Keeps the mind active through planning, creating and problem solving
  • Reduces stress
  • Increases self-worth and confidence
  • Helps to prevent, manage or recover from depression
  • Activates the sensory pathways of the brain through touch, smell, sound and sight (and if edible, garden’s taste)

The body and the garden

  • Increases flexibility
  • Strengthens joints
  • Decreases blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Lowers risks of diabetes
  • Slows the progression of Osteoporosis
  • Aids absorption of Vitamin D

The Spirit and Gardening

  • Enhances mood
  • Provides feelings of accomplishment
  • Gives purpose to the day and provides routine
  • Ever changing (flowers, birds, insects)
  • Decreases boredom
  • Provides a sense of being needed through nurturing
  • Provides beauty, peacefulness/contentment/wonder
  • Can provide a sense of flow (flow is being fully immersed in an activity where the mind is focussed and fully involved, where time lapses because of the enjoyment and all other thoughts and worries cease during the length of the activity)

A quote from a husband to his wife (written on an old bill and stuck to the fridge) 5 April 2000.

To my wife Pauline
When the world wearies
And society does not satisfy
There is always the garden…

Love Chicka

Case Study:

Frank is a 90 year old gentleman who can be seen in his lovely garden every day. He is also the full-time carer for his wife, who has physical and cognitive decline. Frank’s neighbours have been able to get to know him and his wife because he is always there to be seen. He loves to chat or wave at all those that pass him, sharing his wisdom and often giving a cutting or some of his prized orchids. Frank would be the first one to say gardening keeps him fit and content. Although he experiences the same age related issues as most people his age, he always has a smile on his face. He enjoys talking to the birds that now live in his Grevillia tree. For him, being a gardener defines who he is, keeps him young and keeps him engaged. For a few hours a day he can leave his worldly worries behind and be completely in the moment. Frank is admired and an inspiration by all who know him. So is his garden! Frank and his wife are valued by all his neighbours – they will always have community support when needed.

Sustainable Gardening Australia:

 Gardening Is Beneficial for health – a meta-analysis

Health Recovery And Gardening

A research paper in the Journal of HortTechnology concluded that the patients who have a view of a garden and/or potted plants and flowers on their ward:

  • Recover faster from surgery
  • Required less pain medications
  • Were less anxious and fatigued
  • Have lower blood pressure and heart rates and less anxiety and fatigue

In comparison to those in identical rooms without flowers/gardens/potted plants.

The paper concluded that, ‘they would recommend plants for all the sick”.

A word from the author:

It takes a Village believes in the benefits of gardening or gardens for holistic wellbeing. Charlies Gift Charity Fund (which is Newcastle’s own specific charity to benefit their senior community) aims to provide subsidised gardening assistance to those who need more help to maintain their gardens so that they can continue to experience the benefits (which as you can see from the above) are extensive and just may mean the difference between remaining home and premature residential care.

Information, Resources and References

Resources to help you live well

Other Health Resources

The following sites will enable you to search a wide range of health conditions, including risk factors and prevention.

  • THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
  • NSW Health provide useful information about the “going to hospital” processes to help you be prepared, including questions to ask your doctor and specialist, going home and discharge planning.
  • Hunter New England Local Health District provides Patient and Public information on a wide range of health issues, including an older person’s health section. You will also find information regarding public hospitals and Community Health Services.
  • Newcastle Community Health Centre provide a list of community services within the Newcastle area and contact numbers.
  • Health Direct enable you to search for health conditions and provide the information and advice you may need. They also have a symptom checker for anxiety and depression, fevers and abdominal pain.
  • The Better Health Channel provides education on all your bodies systems such as your brain, heart and reproductive systems and enables you to search for a medical condition both alphabetically and by choosing a body part. This site also provides tips on healthy living. However, support resources mainly benefit those in Victoria.
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