A picture of health
They say your health is your wealth, and as you get older this becomes all the more relevant as you try to maintain a healthy mind and body. Pace Health Management senior exercise physiologist and director Mark Simpson explains.
Ageing is, unfortunately, one of the few certainties in life and, with it, comes various health and wellness challenges.
For the Australian tradie, these can be physical and mental. Whatever your trade, there is a certain degree of physical exertion involved, be it lifting heavy materials, crawling into tight spaces or working at a height.
Physical fitness is important and while this might be something that younger tradies already pride themselves on, the older generation needs to mindful of their health too.
The National Physical Activity Guidelines state that Australian adults should get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week at moderate intensity – this can be broken down to 30 minutes, five days a week. Approximately 55.4% of Australians meet this guideline and their rewards are many – exercise helps to reduce all causes of mortality by 50% including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some forms of cancer.
Exercise also has a huge bearing on mental health and is now being viewed as a cornerstone of treatment for mild anxiety and depression.
Tradies work long hours and, while the inclination might be to sit down and catch up on the footy on TV after a hard day on the site, research as shown that even 15 minutes of exercise will make a difference.
Exercise physiologists, like those here at PACE, recommend 20-40 minutes of aerobic exercise – brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming – as well as highlighting the mood-enhancing benefits of non-aerobic activity like yoga, strength training and relaxation.
But if your running shoes have been gathering dust in the back of the cupboard for a while, it’s important to know your limitations.
Start small and select an activity you like – saying you’ll take up jogging the block is all very well in theory but if it’s not something you enjoy, it won’t be long before you give up. For the older tradie, swimming is a good option as it is a low impact workout that works all of your joints and muscles.
If you’re afraid you won’t commit, talk a friend or family member into joining you. Another good trick is to use a pedometer or fitness tracker – you’ll be amazed how quickly you start watching the numbers and striving to increase them.
For many tradies, there are daily pressures associated with the job. For sole traders and small business owners, their day often doesn’t end at 5pm with everyone else but continues into the night as they try to keep a handle on paperwork and administration, as well as the most fun job of all – chasing payments for completed jobs.
Depression is a common illness and mental health is an issue that has been thrust into the spotlight in recent years.
Recent statistics show that 45% of Australians will suffer a mental health condition in their lifetime; right now one million are suffering from depression while a further two million are dealing with anxiety.
Medicinal treatment is, of course, available but in many cases a more holistic approach can be enough to set a person’s mind at ease. Mental health organisations such as Beyond Blue, R U OK? and Headspace do great work in this area and offer help via a range of channels.
As previously discussed, exercise releases serotonin and endorphins – the ‘feel good’ hormones – which helps to make us feel energetic and positive.
Even something as simple as taking a moment to breathe can help a person to overcome feelings of stress and anxiety. Our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response. While the increased heart rate, blood pressure and hormone release helps use to perform at our peak, the inability to return to a state of parasympathetic activity can be damaging.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘rest, digest and recover’ response, a state that we should spend the majority of our time in. Long-term issues may include adrenal fatigue/burn out, weight gain, chronic disease such type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke; while short term issues include: changes in sleep patterns, general lethargy and fatigue, anxiety and depression.
The easiest way to return to a parasympathetic state is, quite simply, to breathe.
The method is simple: inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Repeat for six minutes.
Finally, what we do at the end of the day is just as important as what we do during it. Everyone has different sleep patterns but there are a few pertinent facts to bear in mind when you’re burning the midnight oil for a third or fourth night running.
Tradies work long hours often starting early in the morning and working in difficult conditions. A building site plays host to a variety of potential dangers and those working on them need to have their wits about them at all times. Sure, most people have probably endured a day of work on very little sleep but it’s not a good habit to get into, especially in such a high risk occupation.
If you sleep five hours a night, your risk of injury is 60% higher compared to eight or nine hours. A recent study showed that the percentage of people who can survive on six hours or less sleep per night, without showing physical or cognitive impairment, is zero.
Technology is both a blessing and a curse in this regard – while it takes a lot of willpower to tear our eyes away from the phone or tablet at night, activating a blue light filter will, at least, change the melatonin levels which affect sleep. Experts recommend swapping the screen for a book at least one hour before bed time.
Getting sunlight and being active throughout the day will also help, while trying to maintain consistent wake up and fall asleep times will get your body into a daily routine. If you find you can’t sleep, get up and do something like reading a book before trying again.
Living healthier, in addition to everything the job throws at you, can seem like a chore, but make small changes gradually and they will all add up to a healthier, happier tradie.