Body, Mind & Spirit: Easy Ways to Boost Your Health and Happiness

Health-care providers in four Canadian provinces are being urged to prescribe time in nature twice a week, at least 20 minutes each time, to improve mental and physical well-being. Photo: Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa/Getty Images

From improving your posture to taking time to appreciate nature, we look at everyday ways to bolster your sense of well-being.

 

Stand Tall

Seven pages into Sit Up Straight: How to Future-Proof Your Body Against Chronic Pain with 12 Simple Movements, I was using a book to prop up my monitor and keep my screen as close to eye level as possible. It’s author Vinh Pham’s first tip to correct “iHunch,” the forward head posture screen time can cause. This slouching, the physical therapist writes in his book, not only stresses back and neck muscles, as well as the spine, but can also contribute to depression, chronic fatigue and chronic pain. 

Pham gives readers a posture hygiene plan, with stretches and exercises that can help 10 common ailments, including headaches and lower back pain. He also dedicates a chapter to specific needs. For instance, to combat bone and muscle loss — culprits for stooped posture as we age — he recommends exercise that focuses on legs and hips (walking, climbing stairs) and improving stability in everyday activities, such as using sit-to-stand exercises that strengthen legs so you can sit down without “collapsing.” 

Balance, Pham tells me, is also necessary for good posture. To improve it, try the following exercise.

Stand with weight evenly distributed on both feet. Maintaining your best upright posture, lift one leg for 2-3 seconds, put it down for 2-3 seconds. Repeat 10 times, then do the same with the other leg.  Tara Losinski

 

An Rx for Nature

A walk in the park is exactly what the doctor can order. Health-care providers in four Canadian provinces are being urged to prescribe time in nature twice a week, at least 20 minutes each time, to improve mental and physical well-being. 

The Park Prescriptions (PaRx) program launched in British Columbia in 2020 and expanded to Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 2021.  

This year, the first in a three-year commitment, Parks Canada chipped in 100 free annual Discovery Passes for adults, which will go to patients who live near more than 80 national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites and can’t afford the $72.25 fee. 

More than 4,000 doctors, nurses and health-care practitioners have signed up to PaRx. “There’s a strong and growing body of research on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver-based family physician and director of the PaRx initiative.

People who are connected to nature are also more likely to help conserve it, and Lem likes to think “that every time one of my colleagues writes a nature prescription, we’re making the planet healthier, too.”  —Jennifer Bain

 

Giving = Happiness

Why are we kind? Several studies suggest it leads to a healthier cardiovascular system and longer lifespan – possibly because when we care for others, we release hormones such as oxytocin that reduce stress and inflammation and promote healing. Other potential benefits are reduced blood pressure and better immune function. And people who perform acts of kindness have a greater sense of purpose and better self-esteem, and a lowered risk of depression and anxiety.

In a 2020 meta-analysis of 201 different studies, led by the University of Hong Kong, researchers confirmed these associations between pro-social behaviour and well-being. They also found that doing good doesn’t have to mean structured stints of volunteering. By comparison, people seemed even happier when doing informal, face-to-face favours, such as bringing soup to new parents, maybe because it strengthens our relationships, or it’s less routine. Interestingly, older people were more likely to reap benefits to physical health than younger folk.

If you’re not quite ready for in-person charity, you can just relive your memories. A 2019 experiment at the University of California demonstrated that dwelling on a kind act you performed in the past could increase well-being as much as doing the deed itself.  —Lisa Bendall

A version this article appeared in the April/May 2022 issue with the headline “Body, Mind & Spirit”, p. 26.