Whole Life Health - Small(ish) Changes with some Big Results
Updated: Feb 2
Over the past few years, alongside our continued transition to sustainability, we’ve also been on a transition into what we’re calling ‘whole life health’… because we can’t think of something better to call it and it does do what it ‘says on the tin’.
Jake is up for trying things that are ‘a bit out there’ but also has a rather scientific mind (he’s a crazy geek in other words!)… this means he’s quite a good Guinea pig - although he’s testing on himself so this makes him an ethically sourced Guinea pig! Once Jake has tested something for a while, Freya then catches up - sometimes reluctantly, sometimes excitedly, and the kids pick up on some bits and bobs along the way. If we try something and it makes us feel great, more productive, whole and healthy and has some good science behind it then it sticks; if not, it gets dropped again, simples!
It's fair to say that the last year has been tough for everyone worldwide. The list below has massively helped us cope with the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual stress / madness / confusion / fed-upness and to actually thrive amid it all; sure there are off days, but increasingly less so. In fact, over the past 6 months we’ve been closer to our best (as far as we can tell) despite things around us being much worse.
The below have emerged as we’ve intentionally tried to build resilience, balance and really healthy living over the past four years while we’ve faced court cases, business setbacks, accusations, family fallout, financial difficulty, bereavement, caring for relatives with dementia, dealing with narcissists - you know, usual life stuff!
Anyway - here’s the list of things - we hope they may prove helpful to you… there’s no intrinsic moral value and we’re not trying to preach, just sharing our experience… take ‘em or leave ‘em as you see fit! Although you will see that a lot of these complement each other quite nicely.
Right, starting with one of the biggies. Perhaps the most obvious, most effective and most difficult to do, seemingly. It’s well established just how important a good long night’s sleep is for us. From allowing our bodies’ cells to recover, repair and grow through to balancing hormones, maintaining a healthy body composition and of course optimal brain function… we NEED good sleep.
Lots of the points below are related to being able to fall asleep quickly and easily as well as achieving deep and long sleep… however, all of this is irrelevant if you’re not making sleep a priority. Over the past few years we’ve gradually got tighter and tighter on a good sleep-wake routine, aiming to be in bed and to get up at pretty much the same time every day. Nearly all of the research points to this being one of the most significant, if not the most significant factor in achieving good sleep regularly. We also aim for the upper end of what is recommended for adults just to make sure we accommodate for any sleep-set-backs. Generally we’re in bed from 10pm till 7am. There does of course need to be some flexibility, but it’s important not to let that become an excuse…
Excuses are very easy to find when it comes to sleep. There is always more work to be done, something interesting to watch on Youtube (screens close to bedtime? No, no, no!), the washing up that didn't get done right after dinner or that strange urge just to be awake for no good reason; perhaps the inner teenager never really goes away? Anyhow, this really is the place to be ruthless and to not allow too much compromise. Nailing sleep has made us more productive and precise at work, made us feel and perform better physically, cleared mental fog, created better emotional regulation, lowered inflammation, increased workout recovery and probably kept our immune systems in good shape… we suggest that prioritising sleep will do the same for you!
Keep reading for more tips that’ll help you get a good night!
Key Benefits: Better physical performance, better mental performance, lowered chronic inflammation, lower stress levels, mood enhancement, better recovery, hormonal regulation, immune boosting, appetite regulation, body composition management.
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 9/10
Going Grain Free
Wheat, corn, rice, oats… you know, the staples of the modern world - well - yeah, we’ve eliminated them from our diet… almost!
Whaaaat? Why? I hear you cry. Are you guys allergic? Well, Jake is mildly intolerant but nothing to write home about, unless he has durum wheat (pasta and cous cous) and then he can’t write at all because he’s in so much pain - but, we digress.
Now, the reasons for giving up the modern stodge is twofold…
One. They really aren’t that good for us. But wait, Ian Botham told us for years that whole grains are good for our heart. Yes he did. Guess what, he got paid to do so. Much like all of the people behind the grain industry are paid handsomely for being involved… hang on, we’ll come back to this conspiracy theory - let's concentrate on grains not being good for us… Domesticated grains are a relatively modern invention and the basic fact is we just haven’t evolved quick enough to eat them. Grains rely on intensive farming which didn't exist in the days of our hunter gatherer ancestors - our culture evolved super quick with the advent of agriculture but our genes did not. Grains are not processed very well by our bodies, they cause a heck load of inflammation and not just acutely but chronically (because we’re eating grains chronically… all the time). Constituents found in grains, and chief among them gluten, do some serious damage to the epithelial cells of our gut lining - that’s our single celled defence wall against the outside world (the outside world that you put into your inside world). We do not want to break down our gut lining - it is one of the biggest players in our immune system and the way our body learns to respond, defend against and assimilate useful parts of the outside world (including bacterias and yes… viruses). Grains also contain a fair whack of anti-nutrients, that stop what is good in grains and other foods actually being absorbed by our body. We could go on, but that’s a quick summary
Two. Grains are royally fluffing up our global food system and the planet in general. Grains are grown in mono crop cultures - they are the only thing in the field. If left to its own devices nature does not do this. The Amazon rainforest or temperate heathland is a mishmash of different plants all occupying different types of space and soil and providing a rich habitat for wildlife creating a thriving ecosystem. A field of wheat is the opposite! Generally a semi-sterile tract of land with no diversity that has been sprayed with an inorganic mix of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous that makes the plants grow big and grow quick. This looks good for a while, but such engineered bounty comes with problems - pests, funguses and weeds (who are trying desperately to fix the natural balance we’re fighting against). These are followed by pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. All of these lovely compounds are then making it into our bodies via the food we eat and they aren't efficiently filtered out because we don't have a full line of defence; it's been broken down by the grains that are smuggling the chemicals in. To top the something-icide cocktail off, most grains are artificially dried at the end of the season using a cheeky chappy called glyphosate. Glyphosate makes sure you can get a reliable crop that isn't affected by end-of-season issues such as frost - sounds good! Downside is… it’s now becoming well documented as a major causal factor in - you guessed it - cancer! Check out some of the maps correlating glyphosate use and cancer rates. You’ll also see from a quick google search that there is some serious money going into trying to make sure glyphosate ‘isn’t cancer causing’ (wink wink, nudge nudge). There are also a number of other alarming effects linked to glyphosate and its cidal cocktail of friends - dementia, autoimmune disease, metabolic syndrome… you know… things that go in lists like that.
So, there are our reasons but have we noticed any difference in our health?
Jake no longer has constantly sweaty hands! That's enough in and of itself, but there's more… we are no loner bloated most evenings, our levels of inflammation have dropped dramatically (Jake's hands aren't actually as big as we thought and his wedding ring is now too large), we sleep better, our energy levels are higher, we don’t have cravings for junk food and we have less achey joints.
Perhaps the most startling of effects is that we no longer have hayfever. Those of you who suffer with hayfever will know what a big deal this is. Those of you who have seen Jake suffer with hayfever will know what and even bigger deal this is. During his teens Jake’s hayfever was so bad he landed himself in hospital. Since cutting grains hayfever has not been an issue. How have we narrowed it down to grains? Well, we occasionally have a sneaky bagel as part of our Saturday morning elvis tradition (bagel, bacon cooked in maple syrup, banana & peanut butter) - guess what… hayfever symptoms and sweaty hands kick-off about 45 minutes later. These are only mild so we tolerate them for the breakfasty splurge. This probably also helps us to not become full on allergic to grain. The goal here is to make our own bagels from less domesticated grains and always keep them organic… we’ll get there in time!
Another great byproduct is the fact that the grains need replacing with something - hello truck loads of organic vegetables, nuts and seeds - what’s not to like about that? We’ve also replaced grains (and most other low grade carbs and sugars) with lots of healthy fats.
For those freaking out about missing bread, pastry, certain desserts - no need! There is now a decent variety of great recipes out there (links at the bottom) using alternative ingredients - we made a kick ass cornish pasty a few weeks ago, mainly made with coconut flour!
Key Benefits: better immune system, reduced inflammation, no more hayfever, better sleep, more nutrients absorbed, more room for veg in our life, increased energy.
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 10/10
Erm… yup, already doing that guys…
Ah, sorry, should have said ‘conscious breathing’.
Usually our breathing happens without thinking - which is good, otherwise we’d have to consciously multitask all the time and the last match of the Autumn Nations Cup between England and France would have actually killed Jake!
We’ve started taking time to do some conscious breath work. This has partly been inspired by a backdrop of meditation practice but also more recently through yoga, developing a hypnobirthing course for Expecting and a Dutch bloke called Wim Hof.
All of the above have the same common denominator of paying attention to your breathing and in some cases beginning to manipulate it. Some do this with the idea of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest - chilling out), some to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight - adrenaline at the ready), some to energise you but also keep calm and controlled (somewhere in the middle) but all of them require some mindfulness - being in the moment. This is, perhaps, one of the keys that make breath work so powerful. Learning to just be in the moment concentrating on one thing - you. There’s tons of stuff out there on mindfulness so go read, watch and play if you’re interested; but there’s something so special about breath work in particular that you’ll find it in cultures the world over, where it has been practiced one way or another for millennia.
We’ll briefly flesh out the Wim Hof method as it's a great way to get to grips quickly with a few different breathing methods as well as being a kick-start to breath consciousness and we’ve found it to have some decent benefits.
The basic method is to fully inhale, making sure to use both belly and chest breathing (contract that diaphragm) and then let go - its a quite a fast paced thing - pretty much controlled hyperventilation. You do this 30 to 40 times in succession and then breathe out and hold the out breath until your gasp reflex kicks in. Still with us? We know, it’s weird, but hang in there. You then hold an in breath for 15 seconds to ‘recover’ and then do the whole thing again for as many times as you fancy.
What the heck?! Yeah it does seem a little wack-a-doodle but there is some interesting science going on here.
In the hyperventilation phase you cause your blood to hyper-oxygenate (above average oxygen levels in the blood). This means that your red blood cells are so stuffed with oxygen that they struggle to release it to your working cells - this is bad…ish. Your body can cope with this for a while through dumping a load of adrenaline and cortisol into your system - this is your fight-flight mode getting you ready for action. Only thing is, you’re lying on the sofa and there is nothing scary going on and you’re not about to be eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger. You, yourself, are stimulating a physical stress on your body without any life endangering external stress being applied.
Still with us?
Ok, why is this a good thing?
The stress we’ve put our body under is known as a hormetic-stress, a mini-stress within a controlled environment that actually helps us adapt to that stress, over time. Think of exercise. Its good for you, when engaged with at low levels followed by rest and adaptation. If we made you run 2 marathons a day, everyday, with no prior training, this would not be good for you… as in, death inducing, maybe. If your cells don’t get oxygen for a very long time… this too is death inducing, or at least loss of consciousness inducing. So, this controlled hyperventilation teaches our body to cope with and survive on lower levels of oxygen.
Wim Hof has taken people with no altitude training to the top of mountains like Kilimanjaro in half the usual time after putting them through his breath training (along with cold expose and mindset training). This process also teaches our body to better deal with cortisol and adrenaline and therefore better manage the everyday stressors of life - this has been one of the real kickers for us with controlled breathing. Our ancestors were well used to moments of very high stress - the sabre-tooth sort - and a generally lower stress majority of life. We moderns tend to be the other way round, this is a great way to begin to redress the balance!
Moving on to the breath hold. Here’s where the excess oxygen in your blood is able to be released to your cells. Your cells are happy! Strangely, so are you! It’s during this phase that you activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Your body releases a cocktail of happy hormones as well as a load of endocanniboids which lead to you feeling blissed out (some people liken this to being high - we wouldn't know - but it does feel good) and also have been linked to better regulation of homeostasis (keeping your body on track) which has potential benefits in the realms of inflammation and pain, nausea, appetite & metabolism, cardiovascular system function, sleep… the list goes on. Oh and it’s quite cool how long you can learn to hold your breath and even begin to play with changing your heart rate just by thinking/telling it to speed up/slow down. This really is a great way to strengthen your mind-body connection and start to delve into a new realm of self-regulation.
Wim has achieved some pretty amazing things and taught others to do the same. He’s a full on eccentric which may put you off and he sometimes confuses his own science, but on the whole the science and studies done on him and those he’s trained are pretty eye opening and sound. At the current time he may be overstating some of the benefits of his method but the anecdotal evidence (there’s a heck load of it) may tip over into the realm of rigorous science in the not too distant future. For the time being there are some proven benefits of his method in general and the breath work is well worth checking out. If it all seems too much for you, then just breathe… feel it, play with it, become more aware of it… and yourself! Alternatively sign up for one of our hypnobirthing courses… even if you're not carrying a baby!
Key Benefits: mindfulness, strengthened mind-body connection, lower stress levels, lowered inflammation, better sleep, altitude sickness relief (just in case?), short term immune system regulation, improved willpower.
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 7/10
Yes, yes, we see you running away as quickly as possible, heading for your duvet and never wanting to read anything we write again. But this is good… yeah really!
We first started with cold exposure about 2 years ago with some cold showers - we’re now taking ice baths and enjoying outdoor swimming pools in February. At first they can seem awful; you tense up and begrudge having turned the dial down. You can just go ‘cold turkey’ (sorry!) and get over it and get used to it until you learn to relax and enjoy - which we have - seriously - they are a really pleasurable experience now. Alternatively you could take a slightly more measured approach of gradually building up (Wim Hof’s method has a good method for gradually building up in a sustainable way). He also has some good extra bits and bobs for dealing with painful extremities - our hands and feet wrecked at first but after some targeted work (hand and foot ice water baths) they are quite happy in the cold.
So, that is the what. What is the why?
Let’s back pedal again to our hunter-gather ancestors. They didn’t have central heating, climate controlled cars, onesies or lavender scented microwavable bean bags. Sure they loved being round the fire and would have cuddled each other for warmth and wrapped themselves in the skins of elks. They also would have had times of being subjected to the cold whilst out hunting, gathering, fishing, legging it from predators or just having a wash in the stream. This regular exposure to cold provided, here it is again, a hormetic stressor, which helped them become - and stay - adapted to the cold.
So why do we need to bother? We’re not hunter gatherers and we don’t need to adapt. I can get my little bit of intense stress elsewhere, thank you very much.
Well, the mechanisms the body uses in order to adapt to the cold have a number of other, far reaching benefits. Our vascular system begins to get ‘trained’. Our blood vessels are controlled by millions of tiny muscles that allow more or less blood to flow to certain parts of the body. Our modern vascular network has become lazy as it rarely need to adapt that much. Gradual exposure to cold kicks these systems into action, teaching our body to conserve blood at our core, serving our vital organs and also teaches us to heat the blood at the core more than normal and send it back out to the extremities to keep them ticking over. Wim Hof has spent a crazy amount of time in ice baths - we’re talking hours - and manages his body temperature just fine. Oh and the mountain hikes he’s taken people on are usually done in just a pair of shorts. But remember he, and others, have trained themselves to do this over time and combined this with breathing and mindfulness.
This training of the vascular system means it is better conditioned for everyday life - Jake’s resting heart rate has dropped 10bpm since being more rigorous with cold therapy (along with the breathing techniques) and at lower exercise intensities his heart rate is also much lower that it used to be (geeking out with heart rate monitors is making him feel like a real sport-scientist again). This means the heart is having to work less hard to get blood around the body - this is obviously a very good thing!
We’ve also found that cold showers just before bed - ok, reread that…
Yup, before bed, have been really helpful for improving sleep. Our bodies are expecting to cool down in the evening to a body temperature lower than the rest of the day - but they often don't get this and perhaps even get the opposite. A quick cold shower helps the body down regulate and prepare for some sound sleep. A lot of people overheat themselves during the night and thus have disturbed sleep. Seriously, its worth a try!
There’s also the potential for activating more energy burned from brown fat and creating more brown (or beige) fat. Brown fat is burned easily for heat generation (known as non-shivering thermogenesis) whereas white fat is hard to shift. Don’t get too excited though, this still needs more research and it’s never going to be a substitute for getting your nutrition sorted out. By the way, if you try this and find yourself shivering - you’ve over done it - go steady and build up!
It’s worth stressing that you should avoid cold exposure right after intense exercise like weight lifting - you do need the acute inflammation post-workout to deal with metabolites and prevent overtraining and injury. That said, a lot of athletes report how useful cold exposure is in general (not directly post work-out) to reduce chronic inflammation so don't be scared off if you’re trying to smash a PB.
Key Benefits: Less day-to-day stress, mood enhancement, less inflammation, blood pressure regulation, better sleep, vascular system training, cold management, willpower training, heart working less hard, mild fat loss?
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 8/10
The human body is a marvel of engineering and the human mind is also capable of creating marvels of engineering - but sometimes, perhaps more often than not, our minds come up with engineering that does us a huge disservice. Case in point ladies and gentlemen… the shoe.
Shoes are meant to protect our feet from the dangers of the world,; cold (which as we now know, we should embrace-ish) scuffs, grazes and stubbed toes (arrrrrrgh!)
Shoes do a good job of all of the above however they have become so big, bulky and rigid that they also stop our feet moving how they’re meant to, stop the natural strengthening of our muscles - which we develop really well as babies in little to no shoes - and prevent the huge amount of neurones in our feet giving the biofeedback (understanding of our environment) that they are meant to give us. Most shoes these days also have an unnatural heel to toe difference that puts our feet on an angle - and that’s just your average shoe - don’t even get us started on high heels.
Jake used to get a really bad back when running and he ran in shoes specifically chosen for his over pronating, weak feet which gave them the support they ‘needed’ in order to be OK but never get any stronger or overcome that weakness. Freya used to have bad knees when doing a wide variety of physical activity and one of the kids had plantar fasciitis.
Enter the barefoot shoe.
We transitioned to barefoot shoes so that our feet are still proceeded from the outside world (shoes are still preferable in the modern world with concrete and shards of glass lying around) but we have the freedom for our feet to move in much more natural way. When our feet move more naturally not only do they strengthen but they cause a cascading effect of postural correction and strengthening right up the body. All of our running and aches and many day-to-day aches disappeared and the plantar fasciitis even cleared up. Oh and Jake is actually developing some calf muscles!
Whether you’re struggling with any of the above or not, we heartily recommend transitioning to barefoot. But do it gradually, especially if you’re not as active as perhaps you know you should be. Just like the rest of the body, the feet need time to get stronger and adapt to the new stress they’ll be under. Try just wearing them indoors to begin with, then some short walks, on to longer walks and maybe some gym work and then work up to running and sprinting and living your life with freedom for your feet.
Key Benefits: strong feet, ankles, calves and beyond, better connection to what is below your feet, postural connection, less aches and pains.
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 6/10
Less Exercise & More Exercise (Intensity)
We’ve always been active - a large chunk of the back garden is a gym and the neighbours are accustomed to seeing us run round the block with kettle bells. A lot of our training used to focus on very intense sessions for most of the days of the week - think bootcamp, circuit training, heavy weight sessions and some middle distance running. If Jake missed a couple of days of training he became agitated and downcast - he was missing the dopamine hit of the intense sessions - he was an addict… there are worse things to be addicted to right? But this need for a fix probably wasn't so healthy and perhaps the training itself was not so healthy.
Chronic cardio sessions that are also putting a huge strain on the muscular system and nervous system are going out of fashion, albeit slowly, in the scientific literature. Long term, high intensity cardio burns our glycogen reserves or sugars in our blood, this in turn creates a shed load of oxidative stress on the body and, when it doesn’t have adequate time to recover, this leads to way too much inflammation. Chronic cardio also leads to a disruption in hormone balance that becomes ever harder to rectify as we keep crunching out those spin sessions. This leads to people feeling depleted, sore, irritable and, in the long run, burnt out. Elite athletes obviously have some long intense sessions (although less than they used to) but they also have some crazy advanced recovery strategies that aren't accessible to the average Joe. Even then there is still a tendency towards some of the issues above.
So, what is the answer? Simples really, lots and lots of low level physical activity (at around 180 heat beats per minute minus your age - or where you can still talk without too much difficulty) - this should include lots of walking (we’ve found having a dog very helpful here) but can also include cycling, paddle boarding, table tennis, a good long hike etc etc. This should also include some good supportive exercises like yoga or pilates that work your flexibility, mobility and core strength.
This regular activity should then be punctuated with some short intense functional resistance sessions - start with squats, deadlifts, pushups, pull-ups and then include more advanced exercises if you fancy. On top of this you want to include an all out effort every so often - we tend to do some running sprints every seven to ten days. Again, here we have a good hormetic stressor. In fact, we are once again working with our genes and mirroring our ancestors… Lots of low level activity gathering and gleaning, occasionally lifting heavy rocks to build with and then legging it from the sabre-tooth tiger (there seems to be a lot of those around in my head-canon of human history).
We’ve largely applied this to our life-routine. We still throw in the odd day of bootcamp madness but its no longer a daily event. Jake is much more chilled with his exercise obsession and we find we can still hit our daily activity goal (thanks polar watches) with much less soreness, fatigue, sleepless nights, or mental fog and our body composition has improved, win! We’ve also found that when we do need to put our body under a big strain - moving a few tonnes of soil or the like, its actually much easier, we are more fit for life.
Key benefits: fit for life, less exercise addiction, less inflammation, better body composition, better sleep, less muscle soreness, more relaxed lifestyle, not burning out.
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 8/10
… or yoga like exercises have become a good go to for us as our supportive activity, but can also become ramped up to be a good low level cardio workout or even a resistance workout when you get going with some single limb exercises. There’s also good breath work involved and it's all rolled together as an intro to some mindfulness practice. We’ve been using an app called Asana Rebel which is fairly cheap for a year round yoga teacher and it introduces you to lots of different poses and routines that give your body an all round seeing to.
Key benefits: Mindfulness, functional fitness (especially mobility and flexibility), strengthened mind-body connection.
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 2/10
Dimmer & More Orange Light in the Evenings
Full on bright light with all the colours compiled together come coursing from our energy source, the sun, is essential for life on earth. But the sun goes down, photosynthesis lessens, the world goes to sleep - apart from humans who turn bright lights on all over the place and trick ourselves into thinking it's still daytime. That last sentence isn’t satire - we really do trick ourselves into thinking it's still daytime. The unnatural bright lights of our chandeliers, televisions and smart phones mimic the daylight sunshine, so our bodies behave as if it’s still midday. What is known as our ‘circadian rhythm’, our internal clock, goes out of whack.
This photon arrhythmia causes chaos in our hormones. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is inhibited by light - more evening light equals less desire and ability to sleep. When light hits our retina, or even our skin cells, our ghrelin levels are elevated. Ghrelin is essentially our hunger hormone. During the extended light of summer our elevated ghrelin gremlins are meant to keep us browsing for sugary berries and the like. With our modern artificially extended days the gremlins keep us raiding the cupboards for sugary junk food late at night. We won’t cover the pitfalls of said rampant rummaging now - you know them well!
To keep the gremlins in check and to ensure a better night’s sleep we have replaced all our bulbs around the house with LED smart bulbs. These bulbs are programmed to change to a dimmer and more orange light when the sun goes down. This better mimics sunset and firelight or candlelight and importantly cuts our ‘blue’ light which is chief among the wakey wakey lights of the spectrum - and is also the dominant light emitted by our screens! We’ve also installed an app called flux on our computer which tracks the sun and gradually shifts light to be more orange the later it gets - our phones also do a similar thing. Best practice is just no screens after sundown but this is rather difficult, especially in winter here in the UK. Maybe we’ll create such an idealistic haven one day!?
Key Benefits: Better sleep, reduced cravings, more communal family time, less screens .
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 4/10
Eating Organic (from your own garden… eating the soil too!)
If you didn’t skip the grain section above you’ll know all about the pitfalls of modern agricultural practice. Switching to organic spares our bodies the attack on our immune system and also means our food has been grown in good soil full of life, which means our food is full of life, which means we are full of life… after all, you are what you eat!
Going organic may seem like it just won’t work on a budget, however if you take up organic gardening you’ll save enough money to more than make up the extra spent to buying organic - trust us we’ve done the maths; not just on paper, in practice. Growing organic, especially in your own back garden also means you can get a good dose of healthy soil bacteria in your diet. Sound gross? It’s really not that bad when it comes from decent, fluffy, well looked after soil and we’re not suggesting mouthfuls of it, just don't over wash the veg you pull up. This is another great way to fortify your immune system and get some trace minerals. Some studies even show that eating healthy soils can mitigate the effects of gluten and glyphosate on the gut lining - just don't eat a croissant and justify it by consuming a tablespoon of compost!
Another benefit of growing your own is the gardening itself - it’s light exercise, you’re getting sunlight during the day - which is the necessary combo to low-light evenings - along with vitamin D creation; which most of us are deficient in. Various studies show that gardening is great for your mental health and backyard gardening tops the list of recreational activities in terms of looking after your noggin.
When we got married the garden was a lawn, a trampoline and 4 chickens scratching around. Its now a vibrant ecosystem with 8 chickens, 7 fruit frees, a fledgling food forest, beds full of perennial and annual vegetables and it’s all cost next to nothing. It has been incredibly enjoyable and has provided us with an abundance of wholesome organic food for a good chunk of the year.
key benefits: boosted immune system, improved all-round health, improved fitness, fun, save money, build community, more vitamin D, save the planet (no, really).
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 10/10
Detox the house
Detoxing via what goes into our bodies we are all, perhaps, quite familiar with. Detoxing what is around our bodies, our environment, is perhaps a bit more alien. We know we are in need of planetary detox but we’re also in real need of a detox in the immediate environment of our homes. This is another great example of times we’ve out-smarted ourselves by creating consumer conveniences that undermine our basic physical needs and makeup. We’ll dive straight into some of our changes and the whys.
We’ve eliminated smelly things full of non-organic chemical compounds. We used to constantly have nice smelling candles burning, not knowing what was in them. Turns out most of them are full of absolute cack that has never been near gingerbread or a cinnamon and apple crumble (which now seems blatantly obvious). Rather, most of them are full of hormone disruptors, inflammatory toxins, skin irritants and the list goes on - this is also true of most cosmetics, air fresheners and of course everyday cleaning items.
Our main solution has been organically and ethically sourced essential oils. Using nature to make the place smell nice as well as having specific and profound beneficial effects on our body (make us more relaxed, joyful, energised, concentrated, deal with headaches, boost immunity) - we’re also cleaning with them, washing with them, made our own cosmetics with them and learning more all the time. We’ve listed a great, go to, book in the notes at the bottom. Nowadays, when we’re around manufactured scents or cleaners, we know about it. They smell gross and we feel the skin irritation - mostly in the mouth and nose. It’s amazing how sensitive our bodies are when they are no longer assaulted with the toxins they’ve become used to.
We’re slowly cutting plastic in food related things. Plastics have got much better in terms of toxicity but they still aren't fully safe. BPA is the worst bisphenol among many culprits - BPA has gone from products but the rest remain and over the next few years we’re likely to see more head out of fashion as the research shifts. Again plastics can disrupt hormones and deposit other nasties in our food and bodies. We’ve not gone crazy plastic free all over but always try to buy plastic free or recycled because of the wider consequences, even outside of the kitchen.
Non-stick hasn’t stuck in our house - we’ve always gone for stoneware or old fashioned cast iron. We have inherited a few dodgey non-stick items but when we replace them they’ll be well seasoned cast-iron or stoneware alternatives.
We’ve introduced lots more houseplants - plants clean our air - no brainer!
We’ve still got a long way to go on this one - flame retardant fabrics, a fine-combing of our clothing and investigating more of the concerns around electromagnetic frequencies (Jake's phone now lives on flight mode until he want’s to use it - this also has the benefit of the phone not being in charge of the relationship).
Key Benefits: less toxins, greater sensitivity to toxins, cleaner air, alternatives that have bespoke positive effects, good for the environment.
noticeable effect on whole life health: 2/10
Declutter and Aim for Minimalism
“People with cluttered minds clutter their space and people with a cluttered space have a cluttered mind.” We’re not sure where that quote is from… it might just be Jake. But the science is pretty firm here. Clutter can lead to increased cortisol levels which we don’t want on a constant basis, has an effect on peoples self-worth, hampers effective work and productivity by increasing distraction and can even lead to emotional dysregulation.
We’ve gone through a process of clearing out clutter and unnecessary items that clog the place up and wow does it feel good to have a tidy, well organised and simple looking place… relatively. We have a lot of hobbies and strings to bows. There are dozens of weighted baby dolls in cupboards, juggling equipment, drums and scraps of material used in the garden and DIY. So, we haven’t created an Instagram house, but we have gone through getting rid of the multiple kitchen items (how did we build up such as stash of ladels?) ornaments that are nice but don’t get noticed because there are many other nice ornaments, we’ve organised cupboards for easy access and tried to keep surfaces free of things not currently in use. There is also a huge difference in the kids emotions depending on state of their rooms, and vice versa. We also notice that we are much more antsy when rooms are cluttered and we are more chilled when spaces are easy and open.
Key Benefits: less stress, better emotional state, increased productivity, less distraction, better relationships, more creativity.
Noticeable effect on whole life health: 3/10
Day of Rest
Taking a day off is a well established cultural idea and also a command repeatedly found in the Bible - alongside things like not killing people, stealing or having it off with someone else’s spouse.
This seems a bit over the top… or does it?
One of the justifications for a day off found in the Bible is that Israel were once slaves to an Egyptian Pharaoh and they were made to work, work, work. They are told never to go back to this slavery. Slavery to work. This seems a pretty astute observation of what is often the human condition. A human compulsion. A homo sapient drive to work in order to acquire goods or power or to keep up with the Jones’ - we so easily allow ourselves to become slaves to systems that just aren't that good for us. Perhaps even more so we allow others to become slaves in systems that aren't good for them, whilst we think that they are good for us (a point well worth dwelling on).
We both grew up with the idea of Sabbath, which was generally narrowed down to attending church and then carrying on with the rest of the day as normal; perhaps not working for money but maybe doing a few chores or bits of work around the house etc, but there was never a full on rest; a time to put everything down and fully enjoy being. We decided we were going to get a little traditional about a day off or a ‘Sabbath’. Even a little legalistic some might say. Most people, these days balk at legalism, rigidity or disciplines but herein lies a great irony…
This legalism leads to freedom!
Jesus was pretty clear about this. A day of rest is ‘for’ humanity… it serves us, we don’t serve it!
Lord of Creation, create in us a new rhythm of life composed of hours that sustain rather than stress, of days that deliver rather than destroy, of time that tickles rather than tackles.
Lord of Liberation, by the rhythm of your truth, set us free from the bondage and baggage that breaks us, from the Pharaohs and fellows who fail us, from the plans and pursuits that prey upon us.
Lord of Resurrection, may we be raised into rhythms of your new life, dead to deceitful calendars, dead to fleeting friend requests, dead to the empty peace of our accomplishments.
To our packed-full planners, we bid, "Peace!" To our over-caffeinated consciences, we say, "Cease!" To our suffocating selves, Lord, grant us release.
Drowning in a sea of deadlines and death chimes, we rest in you, our lifeline.
By your ever-restful grace, allow us to enter your Sabbath rest as your Sabbath rest enters into us.
In the name of our Creator, our Liberator, our Resurrection and Life, we pray. Amen
Since embracing a day of rest our life has genuinely transformed. We’ve become better at truly resting, switching off from everything and not just on the day we rest but it has started spilling out into every other day as well. We’ve also realised that the world doesn’t actually fall apart if we’re not working to hold it together, funny that! We have more creativity. We are less driven to consumption (and we better recognise where we have been). Jake has become a much less driven completer-finisher and workaholic. We have more time for family, reading the Bible, meditating, enjoying the garden rather than working it, praying and simply being. It is flippin’ great. Whether you’re a follower of Jesus, a Jew, an atheist or unicorn hunter, we thoroughly recommend a day off to you!
We don’t have a set day for sabbathing - just what works in that week - but we do guard it. We don’t do screens on the sabbath apart from video calls in COVID-19 lockdown as we can’t actually see friends and family any other way right now. We try to have meals prepared the day before (slow cooker for the win) or eat very simple meals that don’t need lots of prep. We tend not to use a vehicle and we don’t buy anything or visit a shop. We spend time reading the bible and praying/meditating, sometimes alone, sometimes together. We play board games, tickle each other, walk the dog. Jake has taken to having a sab-bath - a hot one! Filled with essential oils and other good-for-you things. We’ll sometimes have a celebratory meal to begin and end the sabbath but other times there's no ceremony just a fun prayer to welcome the sabbath and settle into it.
key benefits: proper rest, connecting with self, others and God, decreased stress, more rounded perspective on life, realising that we are not so important, realising that we are so important (yeah, paradoxical, but its a balance we’ve found in the whole thing), potential for justice to begin to take root in our families, communities and world.
effect on whole life health: 10/10
Alongside the above additions we’ve made over the past few years, there are a few things that we’ll quickly mention. They aren't new or overly changed but they are all super important in our ‘whole life health’ (anyone got a better name for all this?):
Hydration - so easy to miss the mark on this one but super important - set a goal and stick to it!
Prayer - being in God’s presence, hearing from Him, knowing His heart, sharing our heart with Him, becoming more fully human.
Being thankful - to God, each other, the chickens, the dog - saying thank you as much as possible - its really good for us!
Reading scripture - a wonderful big story that we find ourselves part of, caught up in and transformed by.
Fasting - going for periods of time without food to spend more time in prayer and to have sharpened minds, better insulin sensitivity and allow bodily cells to regenerate more quickly and effectively.
Being in nature - connecting with the world around us, learning to wonder at it, be thankful for it. Smelling it, tasting it, sharing in it, being built up by it, playing in it - woohooo!
Places we’ve learned from and things to look at if you're interested:
The Primal Blueprint - Mark Sisson (Book) - Health and our ancestral genes.
The Primal Connection - Mark Sisson (Book) - Even more ancestral ideas.
Discover Permaculture - Geoff Lawton - Many resources for more sustainable living and integrated systems.
The Art of Resillinece - Ross Egely (Book) - Inspiring Stuff (Just dont try it yourself)
Wim Hof Method - Website - If you find Wim too off the wall just read his book instead (still off the wall but not as in your face).