Hello there, I’m HSL’s Occupational Therapist (OT) and champion of comfort, Julie Jennings. As an OT my core objective is to help people maintain independence in their lives – something that plays a major part in the personal health and wellbeing of both mind and body. One of the most important ways in which I can help people achieve this, and live better lives, is by encouraging them to rest better and move better; and as with many things in life, balance is the key to this success.
A ‘good’ rest means that your body is well prepared to perform daily tasks better – whether that’s simply pottering around the house or trekking up a mountain. To rest better, our body needs to relax while maintaining good posture; and to move better, posture is just as critical for optimum functional movement.
It’s easy to underestimate the power that comes with good posture – it’s the way nature intended us to be and enables us to do things better and most efficiently. So many of us however, are not aware of the consequences of what can result from poor posture and bad habits.
In my profession many people ask me ‘why do I need to sit like this?’ But the truth is that we could all benefit from adopting a good seating position. Being ‘sat down’ is now a natural part of everyday modern life – be it to rest, engage in social activities, as part of our job, while driving or to simply eat. In fact we sit down for over half of our life! In turn, poor habits – such as slouching or having a chair too big or small – can cause aches and pains or, worse, create a chain reaction leading to more serious chronic conditions.
For some people sitting more will be essential due to health reasons. Others will have difficulty with their posture due to genetic or medical conditions. But the message that we all need to consider is the type of support our body requires at different stages of our life.
If we look back to the beginning of our lives, babies need a great deal of postural support to help encourage healthy bone development; this awareness however seems to get lost as we grow older. From an early age we are taught to sit at desks at school and for many people the status quo of ‘being seated’ carries on into a working environment. But no one is there to tell us the danger of poor posture. So it is at no surprise that many of us will enter middle age to discover noticeable symptoms of poor posture that have been compounded over the years.
Aside from posture, it’s crucial that we sit better to get the right amount of quality rest we need each day. Rest is a vital part of being healthy and provides benefits to our heart, body and mind. In fact it has been scientifically proven that getting an adequate amount of sleep can strengthen memory, help us to learn new things more easily and help us to live longer, better quality lives. Lack of sleep on the other hand is seen to have the opposite effect.
In addition, sleep provides us with a natural restorative period, allowing for our body’s natural defence mechanisms to come into play after daily events. This is a vital time for us to heal or simply make sense of the days happenings. However, it is not always necessary to sleep in order to assist our body and mind to carry out their functions; simply having a rest period during the day can be just as helpful. This provides time to relax muscles and joints ensuring our brains can process the information that it has received. This essentially means that when we are better rested, we are able to carry out everyday tasks better.
This may start to sound like contradictory information but as important as it is to rest, it is also equally as important to keep moving; it’s all about keeping that balance. Studies show that in the over 65’s physical activity reduces and they are noted as the least active age group. Unfortunately with this comes a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other circulatory illnesses that impact upon the body’s natural functions.
Just like a diesel engine, our joints should be thought of as a machine with moving parts that need to be regularly maintained in order to keep them working well. If we don’t move our joints regularly through the whole range of movement that they are designed to, then these functions will decline. Essentially if you don’t regularly use your muscles or joints then they will shrink and weaken, leaving you more susceptible to stress fractures and other more serious injuries.
The other serious danger of not staying active is that all the things that we enjoy doing and take for granted will become far more difficult; tasks such as playing with the grandchildren, meeting up with friends or simply walking to the shops will become an everyday burden. This will affect mental as well as physical wellbeing.
There are many ways that people can develop a healthier and happier lifestyle and it’s important to say that it is not solely down to exercise. Keeping in touch with society, the local community and friends and neighbours will increase social interaction and in turn naturally promote better movement. This will also lead to conversations which are important for naturally stimulating the brain.
Sleeping well and eating healthily are also both vital in maintaining a healthy body. Ideally people should aim to undertake thirty minutes of exercise on at least five days a week. This can be as simple as going for a long walk and some light swimming to the more rigorous activities of riding a bike or playing tennis. It is important to note that it is more beneficial to take up activities that you enjoy – as you’ll be more likely to want to pursue them!
It is imperative to remember that it is never too late to reap the health rewards that come with a more active lifestyle. To put this into context, older adults can reduce their risk of heart disease and strokes to a similar level as younger adults who are also active. If people have been inactive for a while then the best thing you can do is to just get moving. For the more we do, the greater the health benefits we can expect to achieve.
Ultimately the outcome of living better lives is a subjective concept and will inevitably mean different things for different people. For some it will mean having financial security, a nice home, a good job, regular holidays or spending more time with the grandchildren. For others it might simply be to have the ability to engage in everyday activities. The point is that whatever the terms mean for an individual, having a healthy body and an active mind is crucial to achieving our desired aims in the first place.
Regardless of our age, we need to rest well to ensure that our body is able to grow, develop, repair and restore itself as it is designed to do. We also need to keep active, to keep our body parts strong and agile to be able to cope with the demands of our daily lives. Therefore if someone asks me the best general advice I could give for people that visit me it would be to both rest better and move better.
Ultimately resting better + moving better = living better and this formula can lead to a whole host of other tangible benefits such as happiness. This is what I, Julie Jennings and HSL’s Head of Comfort, try to promote when helping people, both in body and mind. A key ingredient to this success is, as with many things in life, balance. Put simply, resting well enables our body to perform daily demands that we depend on.
Essentially, HSL believe in four main priorities which enable people to lead better and more fulfilled lives. The first is having the correct seating position and because of this the second is resting well. The third is being able to move better due to the rest that you’ve already experienced. The final principle is enabling people to do all the things in life they enjoy doing in a balanced and measured way.