Living here can give you sun, sea and relaxation and we are proof that it has been vital in improving our health and wellbeing in Spain too.
Binning that stressful commute (sitting in smog ridden traffic each day) and reducing the amount of work pressure we were under back in the UK, has been instrumental in helping our health return to a more balanced level. Couple that with fresh air and a much healthier diet than the “grab something readymade from the supermarket on the way home” we had previously, and we saw the benefits within a rather short time after moving to Spain. However, those are just a couple of the automatic improvements made. There is a lot more we can do – and it doesn’t have to include following strict diets or doing 128 situps before your first cup of tea of the day.
Regardless of where we live however, in order to live an even longer and happier life, it’s essential that we prioritise our health, no matter where we may be based and no matter how busy our daily routines may be.
Taking a few small steps in the right direction could dramatically improve your quality of life and improve your long-term health and wellbeing in the process. With these simple strategies below, you’ll already be on your way to making immensely positive impacts on your health for the long-term future. Living heathily can be fun – and who doesn’t want more fun eh?
Get rid of stress.
Although you may not realise it, stress can have huge implications on both physical health and mental wellbeing. Everyone suffers from periods of stress at some stage or another in their lives; however, when it reaches an extreme, this is when it seriously needs to be controlled.
Stress can be caused by work-related issues or personal problems and can affect any of us at any time of our life. This could particularly be the case if you have recently relocated to Spain, and you are trying to settle into the community and find your feet. This would be a daunting experience for anybody. It is often the case that sufferers of stress turn to food or alcohol to manage their anxieties; however, this isn’t necessarily combatting the problem, but instead, is just masking it.
While normal stress can be good for the body, chronic stress can be dangerous. Constant stress on the body can cause health-related problems such as the likes of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
There are many ways you can combat stress. Deep breathing can lower your heart rate while soaking in the bath or playing with your pet can also help you to relax and unwind. Spending just 10 minutes per day doing something you enjoy can make all the difference to your mental state, as a way of helping you feel reinvigorated and motivated. Some swear by yoga, others listen to music, others still may go for a walk. Whatever works for you (aside from hitting the bottle) can benefit you by reducing stress levels.
Get enough sleep
If sleeping were a competition – I’d definitely be in the top five! I do love my sleep and struggle to cope if I regularly get less than the amount that is recommended. Most people don’t get enough sleep, even though it is recommended adults should be getting at least seven or more hours per night to maintain good physical and mental health.
Although having a siesta used to be a popular pastime in Spain, where a nap would be taken in the early afternoon, currently much of Spain has rejected the siesta. It is fast becoming a stereotype as opposed to hard fact, with 60 percent of Spaniards claiming they have never had a siesta. Speaking personally – I have fully embraced the siesta and have one most days… as do many in the town where we live. Certainly during the hot summer months – it’s a must for me and most people we know.
Although less quality sleep won’t cause any immediate health implications, over some time, you could increase your risk of heart attacks or strokes regardless of your age, weight or any other health concerns you may have. Your body needs the rest, so listen to it and get what it needs.
Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t easy for many people; whether they struggle to fall asleep initially or stay asleep long enough to feel energised. Insomnia is thought to affect one in three people, so rest assured, you’re not alone, and there are ways to combat the issue.
One way to help you drop off would be to create a regular sleep pattern. Go to bed that little bit earlier to allow your body to relax, so you aren’t struggling to sleep at a suitable hour. Also be sure to set a daily alarm, so you know when it’s time to get up, rather than jumping out of bed too early. Your body should then get used to a routine, and you may notice that your sleeping habits will improve.
I find that reading something on my Kindle helps me to drop off. I steer clear of books that stimulate the brain and stick to trashy novels. My Kindle is propped up in its holder, the screen is dimmed, and I find I can dose off rather quickly.
Exercise is one of the most important aspects of maintaining good health and wellbeing for our body and mind. If you want to feel better in yourself and add years to your life, then you need to be incorporating regular exercise into your daily regime. Exercise can help prevent weight gain because it helps burn off those extra calories. It also combats a range of health problems such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and mental health conditions. It can also help those who have chronic arthritis, in terms of improving their ability to perform daily tasks such as climbing stairs, opening lids, driving, or walking.
According to the NHS, adults should aim to get active every single day of their lives and as a minimum, incorporate 150 minutes of physical activity into their week. Now let’s be serious about this for a moment. For some people – exercise comes easily; they thrive on it. I’m not one of those people. Most of my exercise would be trotting up and down the stairs between the office and the kitchen, or the office and the front door. Do I find myself running through the streets on a regular basis? Sweating in my jogging pants? No! Honestly – I’d rather pull my toenails out and pour salt on the wounds. But exercise doesn’t have to be extreme. A bit of gentle exertion can be just as good for you.
Football is still very popular in Spain, as is basketball, tennis, and cycling. Any one of these can be a fun activity to partake in. Exercising doesn’t have to be too strenuous. Many decide to walk or cycle instead of using a car or public transport to get around. The more physical exercise you can incorporate into your day, the better, but sometimes you will have to think outside the box about how you can do this.
Why not try out a new sport? Sports such as tennis or football are ideal for those who have an amazing physical ability, while the likes of yoga and golf may be best for individuals who are looking to start getting active, without pushing themselves too hard.
One way to commit yourself to try out a new sport would be to invest in high-quality equipment that is set to last you for years to come while promising great performance. Golfers, for example, should firstly purchase a professional club complete with the most forgiving irons for incredible distance, outstanding accuracy, and a soft feel when hitting the ball. Golf is huge in Spain – and with such fabulous courses as La Manga available, it’s no surprise that so many have taken it up as a sport after moving here. Picture it now – you’re having an amble around the greens, breathing in the fresh air, and making friends – without breaking into a sweat. What’s not to like?!
Whatever sport you enjoy, knowing that you’ll improve quickly with the use of professional equipment may encourage you to stick to your sport and keep up a good exercise regime.
Yeah yeah – I’m a smoker. But I’m about to don my hypocritical cap and give everyone a lecture that I should really be listening to myself.
Tobacco is one of the most preventable causes of illness and death; however so many people today still choose to smoke, despite being aware of the health risks. If you wish to lower your risk of an array of long-term health conditions, you should try and stop smoking with immediate effect.
Tobacco contributes to a large number of cancers. It was discovered that 90% of men who had lung cancer in the USA alone, were previous or current smokers. Smoking has also been known to cause cancer in the mouth, lip, tongue, kidney, and bladder.
Although quitting smoking isn’t the easiest of tasks, there are now many ways to help you tackle the addition. Some choose to go ‘cold turkey’ without any aids at all, but there is a strong likelihood you will fail without the right help. You could seek behavioural therapy, counselling or use nicotine chewing gum or patches.
Quitting smoking will become a lifelong commitment you need to make to yourself and on average, takes around six attempts until you have successfully combatted the addiction.
Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink
I do love a glass of wine, me! Not to the levels that I used to – but (unless I’m headed out with friends) my levels are probably at 3 or 4 glasses per week. Gone are my “pubbing and clubbing” days where I’d easily sink a bottle or two of wine then move onto shots! These days I much prefer a tapas crawl… having a small plate of food with each drink. That helps in two ways. Firstly, it slows your drinking down somewhat, and secondly it lines your stomach with food rather than alcohol. What’s not to like?!
While many of us drink for social reasons, there are times when drinking becomes a “need” and turns into an addiction. Excessive alcohol consumption is one of the major causes of the disease known as liver cirrhosis, which can lead to the likes of internal haemorrhage, muscle waste, confusion, infections, and kidney failure.
If you believe you may be drinking over the odds, it’s time to seek change. The most crucial step to recovery is realising that you have a problem and go on to make a commitment to seek help for the issue; whether that be through counselling, therapy or rehabilitation.
A healthy diet
This is an area I get very enthusiastic about. I do love my food!! One of the most important factors to incorporate into your lifestyle is eating a well-balanced diet. The key to a healthy diet is eating the correct number of calories for your level of activity, which depends on how much energy you use throughout the day.
So, if you eat and drink more than your body needs, you’ll put on weight at a very fast rate because instead of the calories being consumed by energy, they’re being stored as fat in the body. On the other hand, if you’re undernourished, you’re at risk of losing a substantial amount of weight. You should be eating a wide variety of foods to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs for a well-balanced diet.
On average, men should be getting around 2,500 calories per day, while women should be consuming around 2000 calories per day. Personally I never calorie count. I am a huge believer in “everything in moderation”. So I eat sweet treats, cheese, tasty treats- all those things that we love… but in moderation. I love to graze… eating smaller portions but more frequently rather than huge meals. At 5’8″ and still a size 10 to 12 (UK sizes), it works for me. Of course I’m sure that genetics has a little to do with it – but as a very overweight person in my late teens / early twenties… I have found that moderation is key. Spain is perfect for this – tapas here we come!!
Spain has some amazing fresh produce available as well as what may be the best olive oil in the world (don’t sue me, Italy!) – and we have already reaped the benefits of turning our backs on readymade nonsense, and embraced that “cook from scratch” mentality. If you make large batches of freezable food – there will always be something you can grab if short on time. Chilli con carne, magra, curry, estofado…. anything that freezes can be stored in easy to reheat containers so you’re not having to morph into Gordon Ramsay night after night. None of us should wish to turn into Jamie Oliver – that loon has no clue about Spanish paella, plus he ruined a Christmas for us a few years ago with his “lamb with rosemary” recipe.
With these facts in mind, let’s take a look at how you can achieve a balanced diet to improve your overall health and wellbeing:
1. Each meal should contain starchy carbohydrates
The food you consume throughout the day should be made up of a third of starchy carbohydrates. Examples include the likes of bread, pasta, cereals, and rice. However, higher fibre wholegrain is even better for you and will make you feel fuller for longer, so you’re less likely to snack in-between mealtimes.
2. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
You’ve probably heard that you should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day and this is certainly true (even if I’m the world’s worst). While incorporating different selections of fruit and veg into your diet may seem like a challenge, it’s far easier to manage than you think. You could add fruit and veg as an extra to any meal, or even eat them as a snack during the day. If you dread the very idea of eating fruit and veg, you could instead purchase fruit juices or create delicious smoothies with all your favourite fruits blended together.
3. Eat lots of fish
Fish is a great source of protein and an essential part of your diet, as it includes all the vitamins and nutrients needed for a healthy immune system. Fish contains omega-3, which has been suggested to prevent heart disease. You should aim to eat at least two portions of oily fish each week, from the likes of salmon, trout, sardines or pilchards. Head to your local pescadería – and treat yourselves to some fresh goodies!
4. Cut down on fat and sugar
Everyone needs some fat in their diet; however, it’s important to do so in moderation and be aware of the type of fat you’re eating. There are two main types of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated is better for your health than saturated, as the latter can increase cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is found in foods such as sausages, butter, biscuits, and pies. Instead, opt for foods which contain unsaturated fats, such as oily fish and avocados. Also, when you eat meat, be sure to cut off the fat around the edges to reduce extra fat intake.
Sugar is extremely hard to avoid as it’s in most food and drinks, so you should try to be aware of your intake. As a result, of too much sugar you could be increasing your risk of obesity without even realising it. Try and cut down on the likes of fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and sweets, as all of these contain added sugars which are extremely unhealthy.
5. Don’t skip breakfast
While you may believe that skipping breakfast will help you lose weight; it isn’t the best idea for your health. Breakfast is the most important meal and gives you the energy needed to power through the day ahead. Without it, you can be left feeling drained, lacking in energy and mentally exhausted. If you’re unsure on the type of breakfast, you should be eating, stick to cereals which are low in fat, sugar, and salt, but also high in fibre.
To be fair – I rarely eat breakfast. Naughty Elle!
6. Reduce the number of takeaways you eat
Everyone loves to treat themselves to a takeaway now and again but be sure that fast food isn’t becoming a regular part of your diet.
Fast food is usually high in refined carbs and salt and in most cases, is cooked in fatty cooking oil, all of which can negatively impact health by causing high blood pressure and increased cholesterol.
Want some foodie inspiration? Remember that we have published a rather popular recipe book. It contains 120 easy-peasy Spanish recipes, separated into easy sections. Click HERE to get yours.
Surround yourself with positive people
Enjoying life and maintaining a good social circle is a huge part of improving health and wellbeing in Spain and beyond. According to studies, good levels of socialisation has been proven to improve brain health and lower the risk of dementia. What’s more, it can also reduce symptoms of depression, meaning a greater chance of long-term happiness.
Surround yourself with people who have a positive outlook, as a way of fostering your inner positive energy and enhancing your wellbeing in Spain. A study found by Edward Diener, professor of social psychology at the University of Utah claimed that the happier the people are that you choose to surround yourself with, the more likely you will take care of yourself and implement healthy behaviours into your lifestyle as mentioned above.
As a final note, choose your friends wisely. They ultimately create an environment which can either make you feel uplifted or miserable. By all means have a large social circle, but share your goals, ambitions, and personal concerns only with those who have your best interests at heart.
That’s all folks!
Hopefully you will have found a couple of things you can immediately implement into your daily lives that will help your health and wellbeing in Spain (and beyond too). You don’t have to do everything… but perhaps start slowly and start adding an extra activity or dietary change each month. In less than a year you’ll be feeling much better – guaranteed! We did!
Elle, along with Alan, is the owner of Spain Buddy and the busy web design business – Spain Web Design by Gandy-Draper.
Born a “Norverner”, she then spent most of her life “Dann Saff” before moving to Spain in 2006. Elle’s loves are Alan, the internet, dogs, good food, and dry white wine – although not necessarily in that order.