On 5th July 1948, the UK National Health Service was launched, with the aim of providing free health care to everyone in the UK. Financed entirely through taxation of UK residents, this was a great innovation in healthcare and soon became the envy of the world.
"This is the biggest single experiment in social service that the world has ever seen undertaken." - Aneurin Bevan (1948)
We are extremely fortunate to have such a wonderful organisation which provides us with an emergency care safety net and general healthcare service. We have all heard the stories of the system being abused and taken for granted - a trip to the hospital for a headache or cold and an ambulance called for a minor ailment. However, I do often ask myself, has this amazing free service made us lazy regarding our personal healthcare? Are we too quick to rush to our GP instead of helping ourselves look after our own health and wellbeing?
Over time, with the expansion of the population and another recession, people have become increasingly stressed and unwell, and this in turn has put a greater demand on the NHS with an inevitable knock-on effect on resources. We can argue that too much time and money is spent on administration, the growing population has over-stretched and hampered the NHS, or that there is a lack of government funding. Whatever the cause, there is definitely a daily negative impact on resources and services, not to mention the wonderful carers, nurses and doctors who are working long hours and also feeling the added pressures. What we should concentrate on is what we can do to preserve this wonderful service and how we can, each and every one of us, play our part in preserving and supporting our special service.
"The NHS is a national treasure, and we need to work with the entire health system to make sure it is sustainable for years to come." - Jeremy Hunt, health secretary
We so often spend a fortune on cosmetics, clothes and knickknacks but are begrudge spending money on our health. I asked myself, "How much have I spent in the last 12 months on unnecessary objects? Clothes I haven't worn, cosmetics I haven't needed, and items I don't have the room for?" I decided to look into this, and started by counting all the nail varnishes I owned (plus the undercoat and top coats and varnish remover, cotton wool etc.). The total cost to buy it all would be around a staggering £150 - WOW - and this is not to mention make-up and my many lotions and potions. I then asked myself, "When was the last time I spent money on my health?" Besides my annual yoga pass, I could not remember the last time I did or bought something that was purely for my mental or physical wellbeing - if my body has a problem I expect the NHS service to fix it for me, for free! That is when it hit me: our NHS is amazing and we must help wherever we can and never, ever take it for granted.
What Can You Do to Help Yourselves and Put Less Stress on the NHS?
There is no one simple answer, as we need to arm ourselves with the correct knowledge and basic healthcare. In an interview, Helen Naumann of the wellbeing holiday company Electric Bloom, said that she feels that if everyone had some knowledge, like those "grandmother's remedies" of old, as well as the new health information being discovered every day, we could take a more active role in improving our health and wellbeing.
A good starting point is to re-educate ourselves, gaining vital information to give us the mind-set to become healthier and happier. I say "happier" as it has been proved that if you are tired, stressed or low, you are more likely to become physically unwell. In turn, one of the first things to suffer is our diet - we resort to unhealthy fast foods and non-functional food choices (hello, ready meal and a quick burger on the move!). The ensuing lethargy from not nourishing our bodies properly becomes a vicious circle we get caught in, and can affect both our physical and mental wellbeing.
There are many blogs out there on the internet dedicated to constructive, intelligent health information. For example, we all know exercise can help lift our moods, but some of us simply don't know how to fit in the time between all the everyday chores. So how would we fit this into our daily lives? That is one of the many questions you can get on different wellness blogs.
Being fit and healthy is not a quick fix. It takes knowledge, intelligence and time - a fad diet may help you lose weight in the short term but what are the long-term effects? My cousin lost 3 stone in 3 quick months; one odd side effect was that she started to suffer from hay fever - something she still suffers from, some 12 years later. Why did her body react to such a quick weight loss in that way? Understanding your body will empower you to make healthy life changes, not only for you but also your family, helping you work towards a healthier lifestyle for all concerned.
Choosing the right type of exercise for you is so important, whether that's taking up an early morning swim each day or deciding to get away from it all on a wellness holiday. For example, you might believe that what you need is a weight management programme, but then discover that it is stress that has affected your hormones and thus your weight - so in fact, what you really need is to learn to manage your stress levels.
The majority of the health and wellbeing programmes available incorporate a wellness consultation, nutrition, therapies and activities. Some examples of different types of wellness programmes you can expect to find are discussed below.
Ayurveda is a 5000 year old science, incorporating nutrition, treatments, herbs, yoga and meditation. It originated in India and is still practiced today. Ayurveda will help you understand your body, your constitution and your needs. If you're looking to get away from it all, you can't go wrong with some of the Ayurveda clinics in Sri Lanka.
Food is our human fuel; it nourishes both our bodies and minds - it is therefore logical that bad fuel will have a detrimental effect on our energy levels and physical and mental wellbeing. You wouldn't put diesel in a car that takes petrol, so why do we put processed foods in our bodies? Many of us consume processed fast foods and sugar for a quick energy burst, or even as our daily diet, even though we know it's not good for us. We are so often bombarded with good and bad nutritional information but it is not always clearly explained - we need to learn more about food and its nutritional value to our bodies.
For example, think of what Mother Earth provides and when it provides it. We should eat seasonal food, rather than food that has been grown artificially or travelled thousands of miles to provide us with year-round access, e.g. strawberries in the winter. Meat is no longer treated as a luxury - we eat meat daily; the quality of that meat when we buy mass-produced product is no better for you than eating a cheap burger. And that supermarket salad might well contain more fat than a Big Mac! My advice - know your produce and what you're putting into your body.
We are always told that we are not as healthy as our parents' generation and the generations before them. We're less active and more stressed. This is often not due to a lack of money, but rather our state of mind. We are constantly bombarded with information but the secret is to find what works for you, your body and your lifestyle.
We often hear the word "detox", but what does it really mean? And why would we even choose to detox? To detox is to cleanse, and people all over the world have been cleansing their bodies (and minds) for decades, often through religious fasting or specific elimination of certain foods. For example, India has the Panchakarma. The ancient Greeks and the Chinese were well ahead of the game and followed what we would now call a macrobiotic diet.
Why is it so important to have a healthy mind in order to maintain a healthy body? Simply put, if our minds are burnt out or stressed, this can have an effect on our ability to make healthy life choices. This can have a detrimental effect on our adrenal system, which in turn throws out our hormone balance. Learning to deal with stress is vital.
In our modern world, we are bombarded with images of wafer-thin models, beautiful bodies and perfect Adonis males; it is no surprise that we are overly critical of our own bodies. What's important is to keep in mind that each person's body shape is different. We know we eat too much in the west, and often exercise too little, but the correct balance for your body is the healthiest way forward - it does not necessarily mean the thinnest! For this reason, think more of weight management than weight loss. Managing and maintaining your healthy body weight and having a healthy body image is so very important - something women tend to forget and now, increasingly, men too.
Rebalancing and reconnecting with our natural rhythms is also important - as human beings we can do this by taking time to relax amongst nature and outside in the open. "I'm not a morning person; I'm an owl, not a lark" - I have said this all my life. That was until a few years ago, when I first visited Kenya. Here, I discovered my natural rhythm, as nature intended. I was the first person up (except for the Masai who watched over us all night) and the first person who wanted to go to bed when the sun went down. After 7 nights, my body clock found its natural rhythm. I woke up feeling refreshed and alert. I was shocked at the change as this was unplanned and unexpected - a complete change in how I always thought my bodied functioned. I realised that we need nature and its rhythms more than we know.
Most importantly, you need to take responsibility for your own health when possible. The NHS is there as our safety net in times of need; remember our wonderful nurses and doctors are not magicians. Your first port of call when unwell, if not serious, should be to talk to a pharmacist who can let you know if you need to see a doctor or go to hospital.
• Food: Encompasses everything from how we look and feel. Cleanse just before the change of seasons.
• Exercise: Healthy body and mind. Try and take some exercise outside.
• Stress: Find yoga and meditation classes to help with stress levels and keep you flexible.