Earlier this month, we held the first inaugural Strong Women Wellbeing Summit in partnership with Fitbit. The theme? How to thrive in an uncertain world. ‘Oh, how pertinent,’ I hear you thinking. Well, we might not be able to control the rate of inflation, the goings on in Westminster or the war-hungry antics of certain world leaders, but better wellbeing is something we can work towards.
Wellbeing, at its very core, is about feeling good. It means having the energy to go about our day-to-day lives with reserves for the odd stressful event or speedy 10k. It’s having the mental bandwidth to concentrate and a positive mood that sees us able to socialise, work and relax without feeling pranged out.
Who wouldn’t want to feel more well, especially now, when we’re constantly fighting off bad news, time suckers and screens? Read on for five simple tips that our brilliant Summit experts offered for living a happier, stronger, more focused life in 2023.
Get up at the same time every day for more energy
Ahead of the Summit, we asked three Stylist staffers to track their sleep on a Fitbit. The idea was to find out their sleeping patterns and then have an expert look over the data to see what could be improved. Interestingly the one thing each of our panellists seemed to struggle with was waking up in the morning – for different reasons. Fliss, for example, is a new-ish mum who’s kept awake by her daughter crawling into bed with her. Ellen’s still recovering from years of eye-watering shift patterns and Zoe commutes between London and Aberdeen. Enough said.
While they each received a bunch of personalised insights based on their Fitbit data, sleep therapist Natalie Pennicotte-Collier suggested that the single best thing everyone could do was to wake up at the same time every day (or six mornings a week) and actually get out of bed when your alarm goes off. Why? Because snoozing can lead to ‘junk sleep’ – the kind of restless, rubbish sleep that leaves you feeling drowsy throughout the day.
You’re better off, Pennicotte-Collier told us, getting up when you intend to and getting into some sunlight. You can always go back to bed for a nap later on.
Raised push-ups are better for you than the knees-down variation
Hands up if you always do push-ups on your knees. It’s an option PTs always offer during class workouts but you may have found it really hard to progress from knees to a full push-up. That’s because, Gauri Chopra explained: “When we’re doing a push-up, we want to think about a rod going from the base of the head, through the back to the sacrum,” she explained. The problem with doing the move on your knees, Chopra says, is that “it takes out the lever to help push you up and train you how to do a full push-up. Instead, try to do push-ups against a wall or raised surface.”
In other words, if your knees are on the floor, you’re cutting the journey between the top of the position to the floor in half – and that makes it really difficult to progress.
How to do a chair/box push-up:
- Place your hands on the chair or box, hands besides your chest (slightly wider)
- Step back so you’re in a plank, with hands under shoulders
- Keep pushing up through the hands to engage the core and retract the shoulders
- Slowly bend your elbows to bring your chest towards the box/chair
- Push back up
It doesn’t matter if your chest doesn’t meet the chair or box – the idea of this move is to work up to increasing depth.
Five minutes of breathwork can significantly calm you down
It’s fair to say that before the Summit started, several members of the Strong Women team were feeling on edge. You just never know when it comes to live events – anything can happen.
Fortunately, the first speaker to come onto the stage was breathwork facilitator Rebecca Moore. She got us all to close our eyes, sit with our feet grounded on the floor and then try the following simple breathing exercises:
- Place your hands over your belly
- Allow your belly to soften, as if it’s dropping into your hands
- Breathe slowly into the palms of your hands
- Release naturally
- Repeat twice
- Put your left hand on your chest, keeping the right hand on the belly
- Inhale, sending the breath into your right hand
- Take another inhalation to bring that breath into your chest
- Steadily release the breath
- Repeat twice
- Inhale for four seconds
- Pause at the top for four
- Exhale for four seconds
- Repeat three times
- Lastly, inhale for four seconds
- Exhale for four seconds
- Pause at the bottom for four seconds
- Repeat three times
Need a little more guidance? The Fitbit Sense 2 smartwatch tracks stress and offers guided breathing techniques for calming down in next to no time.
Add beans to your rice to up your plant protein and fibre intake
We’re constantly being told to eat more fruit and veg, with Dr Tim Spector leading the charge to encourage people to eat 30 different plants a week. But plants go way beyond broccoli and apples. Seeds, nuts, legumes, pulses – they’re all brimming with fibre and they all count.
And one very simple way to increase your plant intake is to simply mix beans with your rice.
Registered dietitian and lecturer Tai Ibitoye told us that while we’re advised to eat 30g of fibre a day, most Brits are only getting around 18g. That can have dire consequences for gut health as a whopping 95% of our serotonin is made in the gut and 80% of the immune system is located there too.
Fibre has a number of benefits, including:
- Increasing short-chain fatty acid production
- Improving our mood and cognitive processes
- Increased feelings of fullness and satiety
Ibitoye explained that upping your fibre intake even slightly can help to support blood sugar levels: “Soluble fibre forms a gel with water, which helps to slow down the entry of glucose to the bloodstream.”
And the soluble fibre superstars? Beans. One cup of black beans has 4.8g of soluble fibre. Add them to your regular rice and not only do you end up with a cheap, filling side dish that contains a minimum of 9g of fibre, but also plenty of protein.
We all know that animal-based foods such as eggs, fish, poultry, red meat and dairy are ‘complete’ sources of protein. That means they contain all nine essential amino acids that we need to get from food in adequate quantities.
But it’s also more than possible to get complete vegan protein sources by combining various plants, such as beans and rice. They each contain the amino acids the other food is missing.
Focus on feeling grateful for yourself, rather than always looking externally
Neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart specialises in neuroplasticity, the nervous system’s ability to change its activity in response to stress. “The way to get cortisol out of your body is by sweating it out physically, getting the negative emotions out by journaling or speaking to someone,” she told our audience.
While that might not come as a surprise to come, more interesting was her tip for getting the most out of journaling.
“What has built up my resilience more than anything is switching my focus from gratitude for external things (such as friends, family, career opportunities and travel) to internal factors (such as my creativity, vulnerability and ability to adapt),” she continued.
“So now, when something stressful happens, through journaling I’m much more aware of what tools I have to help me to deal with the situation.”
If you tend to think about what you feel grateful for before bed, try to redirect the focus to your own attributes. Perhaps you handled a tricky situation at work and are thankful for your resilience. Maybe you’re thankful for prioritising rest over a brutal gym session. Or maybe you’re just grateful for the culinary skills that helped you put together a plate of beans on toast. Either way, doing that might well lead to feeling happier, calmer and more at peace.