As a health and care professional, looking after your physical well-being should be a top priority.
We’ve all heard the expression 'Healthy Body, Healthy Mind' and today we have a growing body of knowledge which evidences exactly why this is true.
Physical activity generates biochemicals that can have a big impact on how you feel and think. Likewise, how you feel and think in turn impacts your physical well-being.
This section provides information to help you to optimise four key dimensions of your physical health and well-being:
- Physical Activity
- Healthy eating
- Physical Relaxation.
Physical activity plays a large role in enhancing our psychological well-being and mental health. The World Health Organization defines it as ‘any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure’.
How much physical activity do I need to do?
Even relatively small increases in physical activity can contribute to improved overall health and quality of life. Everyone is different. So, finding the right activity for you – which you enjoy and which is right for your level of fitness – is essential to sustainability.
Equally, any activities that can be built into your daily routine all add to your physical activity, such as:
- using the stairs rather than the lift
- parking a bit further away from your destination
- going for a walk during your lunch break
- or even dancing around the room.
Physical activity guidelines for adults and older adults
Source: UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines
Walking and Cycling
Increasing how much you walk, or cycle can be an easy way to increase your overall physical activity levels. Walking and cycling have a range of benefits, including:
- Promoting mental well-being
- Providing an opportunity to enjoy the outdoor environment
- Reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and Type 2 diabetes
- Keeping the musculoskeletal system healthy
Physical Activity Resources
In this next section we have provided some links to resources we think you may find helpful.
You can find free, easy 10-minute workouts here and exercise videos to try at home on the NHS Fitness Studio.
- The Active 10 App
The Active 10 app shows how much brisk walking you are doing and helps to show how you can fit a ten-minute brisk walk into your day. Users can set their own goals and the app encourages people to progress up to 30 minutes of brisk walking per day, to meet the 150 minutes recommended by the Chief Medical Officer. Download the Active 10 app:
- Sport England
A detailed resource about getting active at home and outside, including what on-demand activities are available for your interests.
- PAHA (Scotland)
The Physical Activity and Health Alliance (PAHA) website contains articles about physical activity and health issues and shares information and experiences.
- Health in Wales
The Health in Wales website includes information about physical activity initiatives in Wales including fitness advice, exercise referral schemes and free swimming sessions.
- NI Direct
The NI Direct physical activity page contains information about the benefits of physical activity as well as links to physical activity schemes in Northern Ireland.
- Oxfordshire MIND
Their Well-being Guide may be useful to you, particularly if you are worried about your mental health and want to try doing more physical activity.
Listen to the Mental Health Foundation Podcast:
Exercise & Mental Health:
Eating a balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health and feeling at our best. A varied, balanced, healthy diet:
- helps us to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
- improves our general sense of well-being
- reduces the risk of many conditions including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis
Important: If you have any special dietary needs or a medical condition you should ask your doctor or a registered dietitian for advice on eating well.
The British Nutrition Foundation has helpful recommendations and tips on healthy eating.
The Eatwell Guide helps explain the different types and quantities of food that make up a healthy diet and why it is good to try to get this balance, right throughout the week.
We need to include five food groups:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
- Beans, pulses, eggs, meat and other proteins
- Dairy and alternatives
- Oils and spreads.
If you choose a variety of foods from each of these groups, you can easily achieve this healthy balance. Foods high in fat, salt and sugars are not needed in the diet, so if you do choose to include them, then try to have them less often and in smaller amounts.
Below, is a link to a video explaining the Eatwell guide.
Tips for healthy eating
You might also find it useful to have a look at:
The impact a good night’s sleep can have on our physical and mental health is widely recognised.
For a healthcare professional, not getting enough sleep can also impact the quality of patient care. Sleep deprivation can result in cognitive impairment, particularly if you are undertaking tasks that require vigilance, decision-making, and the use of short and long-term memory.
As a result of COVID-19, it has been reported that some healthcare staff have suffered from adverse effects, including insomnia. You can read more about the impact of sleep on our mental and physical well-being at the following links. Or you can continue reading this page to find tips to help you improve your sleep.
Healthy sleep: tasks, steps and guidance
- Keep to a routine.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Avoid vigorous exercise closer to bedtime.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks e.g. coffee, tea, green tea, and foods, like chocolate.
- Avoid daytime naps, or limit them to between 15 and 20 minutes.
- Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Limit exposure to white or blue light close to bedtime (eg electronic devices and LED lights).
- Try not to work in bed.
- Avoid heavy alcohol use and heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Try light stretching exercises, such as yoga or Tai-chi.
- Or try a warm bath or a shower for relaxation before bedtime.
Getting to sleep
- If you are having trouble falling asleep for longer than 15 minutes, get out of bed and do something less engaging or something relaxing.
- If you get out of bed, keep the lights dim, and avoid blue light exposure. Stop clock watching; set the alarm and turn it around so that you cannot see the time display.
- If you have persistent worries, jot them down on a piece of paper and leave it aside, until you can come back to think about them in the light of day.
Seek medical support if you experience sleep disorders
If you experience any of the following, they could be signs that your sleep health is impaired:
- Work-related mistakes
- Inability to concentrate or make decisions
- Extreme irritability
- Strong emotional reactions
- Drowsy driving.
Other signs include loud snoring, apnoea, restless legs or periodic leg movements closer to bedtime.Adapted from: Optimal sleep health among frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Helpful sleep resources
- Free sleep apps - here is a list of well-being apps offered to NHS workers.
- Sleepio - This is a clinically evidenced sleep improvement programme that is fully automated and highly personalised, using cognitive behavioural techniques to help improve poor sleep. Big Health is offering free access to Sleepio for all NHS staff until 31 December, active now. You can find out more here.
- Useful websites: Guys and St Thomas Education and NHS Apps Library
- Useful downloads: How to Sleep Better - Mental Health Foundation (PDF).
There are many ways to relax physically and mentally and the most important thing is that you take the time to explore and discover what works best for you. Everyday ways to relax and release stress and tension from the mind and body, include:
- Talking - being with trusted family and friends
- Chewing gum or sucking boiled sweets - this can release a rewarding feeling in the brain
- Taking a bath or shower at the end of the day - this relieves muscle tension and encourages better sleep
- Using perfumes/aromas - to evoke memories of happy or peaceful places
- Stroking/hugging your pet
- Gardening - see our information about connecting with nature.
- Listening to soothing music
- Laughter and smiling - whether this is from watching a comedy, listening to a funny podcast or remembering funny occasions.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
This helps manage physical tension in the body, reduce stress and aid better sleep. It provides a sense of control and utilises adrenaline in the big muscle groups. It works particularly well when matched with breathing techniques.
Download PDF: The Mitchell Method.
- Breathing Relaxation Techniques
Calm, steady breathing encourages the “relaxation response” in the Parasympathetic Nervous System and prevents over-breathing. Most breathing exercises tend to employ the in-breath through the nose (if comfortable) and out breath through the mouth. Thinking of a calm word or colour as you breathe in and releasing a sighing noise or whatever you may wish to let go of as you breathe out, can help.
The NHS website has breathing exercises to relieve stress.
- Self Myofascial Release technique (SMR)
This can help to smooth out the connective tissue that attaches and stabilises your muscles, also known as fascia. SMR requires you to self-massage your muscles with a foam roller, a firm massage ball or a massage stick/roll to help relieve certain areas of pain.
See more information here.
Yoga focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental well-being.
This is the systematic practice of creating a detailed mental image of an attractive, peaceful and soothing setting or environment. Visualisation can be practised on its own, but can also be beneficially paired with other physical relaxation techniques. See the following links: