The Big 5 for Health | Great Health Guide
The Big 5 for Health

The Big 5 for Health

Written by Jane Kilkenny accredited athletics coach

Having just returned from an amazing adventure in Africa to run the Big 5 Marathon, it highlighted just how important the key factors of wellbeing are in our lives. Now running a marathon in a South African game reserve may sound a little extreme to many people, but the important message remains the same. When we prioritise our health by looking after the five key factors of exercise, nutrition, hydration, sleep and mental health, the rewards are truly amazing. I consider these factors the Big 5 for our health.

We are all living our lives at a frenetic pace, driven by our 24/7 economy and technology bombarding us with information and noise. When you throw in a pandemic, wild weather conditions, political unrest and social change, it’s no wonder why stress and anxiety are at record levels around the world.

Here are the Big 5 to focus on to maximize our health:

1. Exercise routine. Leading up to the trip, my marathon training was the focus of my exercise routine. Even on the days when I was super busy, I knew that I had to make the time for training, because you did not fly halfway around the world for a race and not be prepared. I had a few injury setbacks, but like any challenges you must remain focused on the big picture and work your way towards the goal.

2. Eating fresh wholesome foods and limiting processed foods. Nutrition for good health and sporting performance is about eating fresh wholesome foods and limiting processed foods. Now whilst that sounds very simplistic, we also need to factor in portion sizes, snacking, food availability and preparation. During my trip we had set mealtimes and great healthy food options available. But we were also out in the middle of nowhere so there were no trips to the shop for some extra snacks. Often, we eat out of boredom or stress, or we allow ourselves to get so hungry we over-consume without thinking. If you struggle with nutrition, get some help to reset your eating habits.

3. Stay hydrated. Running a marathon is simply not possible without paying serious attention to hydration. Dehydration is the quickest way to derail your event so you must ensure you are well hydrated before, during and after the run. Mild dehydration is so common, and we often overlook our fluid intake when we feel tired or hungry, when we might simply need some water instead of reaching for a sugary treat for a quick pick-up.

4. Prioritise sleep. Sleep is one of the most essential factors for good health and we often forget to prioritise it. Being away from your regular routine always gives you the chance to get more rest. However, the biggest wakeup call on this trip, was that I had no access to TV, internet or other media channels so going to bed early was simple, and very refreshing. Digital devices are a constant source of entertainment and interaction in our lives. I did have limited access to a Wi-Fi network, if necessary, but it was a much simpler option to ignore it, and therefore much easier to choose sleep.

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5. Being unplugged is also the best option for a mental health reset. This was further enhanced by the incredible nature experiences on offer, seeing animals such as elephants, lions, giraffe and zebra all in their natural habitat was truly awe inspiring. Now it’s not every day that we get to experience these creatures but time in nature is something we can all choose to do on a regular basis. Living life in 3D, instead of via a screen, allows us to truly experience our surroundings. This includes interacting with nature but also the special people in our lives because face to face human connection can never be replaced.

So, my experience at the Big 5 Marathon was an amazing reminder of how good we can feel when we simplify our lives. Making good choices on a daily basis, focusing on health, and taking time out each day can change our perspective. Don’t be dragged down and become overwhelmed by the chaos in the world, keep things in balance and enjoy living the best life.

Author of this article:

Jane Kilkenny has over 25 years’ experience in health and fitness. She specialises in exercise for kids and teenagers having trained at the Children’s Hospital Institute of Sports Medicine (CHISM) Westmead NSW in 2004. She is also a High-Performance specialist and a Level 4 IAAF athletics coach. Jane can be contacted via her website.

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