Most women are plagued by the same five complaints, but tuning into your body - or becoming 'body wise' - is the key to preventing them from becoming serious long-term threats to your health. Charlotte Haigh reveals how…
Let’s talk body wise…
You’re smart, work hard and consider yourself pretty successful. You probably think that you’re emotionally intelligent, too. But when it comes to your health, you may not have thought about the concept of ‘body intelligence’ or becoming ‘body wise’. In a groundbreaking new book, Bodywise, Dr Rachel Carlton Abrams outlines this new approach, which is influenced by the preference for ‘preventative’ medicine over ‘cure’.
‘The sheer pace of modern women’s lives means we’re cut off from listening to our bodies,’ she says. As a result, over 75 per cent of us are plagued by the same constellation of debilitating conditions, which are warning signs of underlying issues which left unchecked can develop into serious or life-threatening health problems. And yet we attempt to carry on living with them.
‘Research shows these symptoms are all caused by chronic body depletion, because we’re worn down by toxic relationships or jobs, not getting enough sleep, not eating the right food, and being inactive,’ says Dr Abrams. ‘In Western medicine, doctors favour “cures” over “prevention”, which they don’t really talk about. But in Chinese medicine vital life energy is key – it is what’s known as “chi”. When it’s depleted by these lifestyle factors, the basic energy of all your systems is drained. Your aim should be to stop reaching for short-term fixes. Instead, start tuning into your body’s signals.’
‘Science is increasingly showing how much the subconscious brain directs our lives,’ says Dr Abrams. ‘If you suffer from shoulder or stomach pain Monday to Friday, which is better at weekends, your lifestyle is trying to tell you something.’ Here’s how to become body wise before you get ill.
#1. Body wise warning sign: low libido
If you ignore it: You’re at risk of developing hormonal dysfunction.
If you do one thing: Slow down, says Dr Abrams. ‘You can’t expect your sex drive to simply be there if you are frantic all day and then drop into bed.’ Find ways to rebalance your energy, as good sex relies on it freely flowing around your body. ‘A lot of women associate sex with emotional trauma and the Eastern view is that it can be held in the body, making physical contact unenjoyable or even painful. This doesn’t have to mean rape or assault. If you’ve had sex you regret or an difficult pelvic examination, you may store the memories. Try to pinpoint unresolved issues and practise breathing deeply into your belly when you feel anxious about sex. Acupuncture also gets your chi flowing smoothly, which boosts your vitality and in turn your libido.’ Flaxseed oil can balance your hormones and improve lubrication. Try Holland & Barrett Flaxseed Oil Capsules, £7.65 for 60 capsules.
#2. Body wise warning sign: anxiety and depression
You find it difficult taking an interest or pleasure in things, are distracted by worries and often feel hopeless, like you’re a failure.
If you ignore it: You risk long-term mental-health problems and high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes and heart disease.
If you do one thing: Get out of breath at least every other day. ‘Exercise tends to work better than antidepressants,’ says Dr Abrams. ‘But to reap the benefits, you need to exert yourself for 30 minutes, five days a week.’ Daily meditation sessions help reduce stress hormones, too. You could also tap into the Japanese trend of ‘forest bathing’ – walking among trees while focusing on your breathing. Research conducted on people in their twenties found that 30 minutes spent in green open spaces reduced cortisol levels, blood pressure and other signs of anxiety. Taking lavender oil can help, too – it’s been shown in studies to be as effective as antidepressants. Try Kalms Lavender Capsules, £6.49 for 14 capsules (kalmsrange.com).
#3. Body wise warning sign: allergies and autoimmune issues
You have itchy, dry skin and/or your skin reacts easily to scents or lotions. You suffer from bloating, constipation and diarrhoea, as well as hay fever or asthma.
If you ignore it: You’re at risk of inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or coeliac disease.
If you do one thing: Get in tune with your gut. ‘It’s vital that you can link any signs of illness with what you’ve eaten,’ says Dr Abrams. ‘Autoimmune symptoms are caused by your body saying “no” to a substance, and that may reflect what’s happening in your life,’ she says. ‘Is there something that isn’t good for you – a relationship or job? Addressing these issues could ease your sensitivity.’ Also, take a high-quality fish oil with at least 1,000mg EPA (a type of essential fatty acid) and 500mg DHA, and add the omega-6 fatty acid, GLA, at 600mg twice daily. These combined will help reduce the inflammation linked to allergies.’ Try Healthspan Super Strength Omega 3, 6 and 9, £12.95 for 90 capsules (healthspan.co.uk).
#4. Body wise warning sign: chronic pain
You’re plagued by headaches, back pain or aching limbs and joints that affect your mood and stop you from exercising or socialising.
If you ignore it: You risk worsening an underlying condition, such as arthritis or lupus – an autoimmune disease that makes the body’s immune system hyperactive and attacks healthy tissue.
If you do one thing: Avoid sitting for more than one hour at a time. ‘Being sedentary actually causes joint inflammation,’ says Dr Abrams. ‘And studies show that even if you work out once a day, sitting for the rest of the time is still damaging. Make sure you get up and move every hour.’ Try turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties – Healthspan Opti-Turmeric, £16.95 for 60 capsules (healthspan.co.uk).
#5. Body wise warning sign: fatigue
Muscle weakness, lack of concentration, difficulty waking up and head fogginess without caffeine.
If you ignore it: You risk getting anaemia, chronic and recurrent colds, flu and respiratory infections, which wear down the immune system.
If you do one thing: Minimise tech and maximise rest. The pressures of balancing all our responsibilities and the constant hum of digital technology is leading to an epidemic of adrenal fatigue. ‘If you’ve been battling high or even low-level stress for a long time, you probably have consistently raised levels of the hormone cortisol, which we produce to help process this stress,’ says Dr Abrams. ‘Switch off all screens at 9pm each night and spend time actually chatting to friends – it fights stress, helps balance your adrenals and boosts your mood,’ says Abrams. Also try ashwagandha, an Indian herb that’s known to aid adrenal balance.’ Try Pukka Wholistic Ashwagandha, £16.96 for 30 capsules (pukkaherbs.com).