To be happy and healthy, we all need to practice self-care. In Australia’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’d like to share five great ways to love yourself.
1. Let go stress
We’ve all been feeling the pressures and uncertainty of 2020. But our thoughts are powerful, and anxious ones have been shown to impact not only our confidence, but our health. In fact, chronic stress can weaken our immune system. Groundbreaking American research even showed that students sitting exams had fewer natural killer cells to fight tumours and viral infections.
To let go of unhealthy stress, it’s important to make time for self-care practices, says psychotherapist Shirley Hughes. Some suggestions include a morning or evening relaxation – try the app Insight Timer for 60,000 free meditations, a relaxing hair salon treatment, listening to or dancing to your favourite music, or even watching a funny show. Laughter is, literally, medicine for your body, that boosts natural feel good hormones.
Shirley also suggests you focus on what could go right, rather than what could go wrong, in your daily life. Whenever you have a negative thought, try to replace it with a happy thought or memory, she says. Thinking the best is definitely a way to love yourself more.
2. Move for health and happiness
It’s easy to get too busy, or too out of shape, to feel like exercising. But it might help if you knew that exercise is like a vitamin pill that can lower your risk of everything from heart disease to cancer. In fact regular exercise appears to lower breast cancer risk by between 10 and 20 per cent. It does this by lowering blood estrogen levels, helping control weight and boosting your immune response.
If you need a little bit more encouragement to put your sneakers on, consider this: exercise can help you look younger! It improves your muscle, bone and skin health – check out your post-exercise glow – and even slows cell aging.
The Department of Health recommends 50 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, every week. Get a bike, an exercise buddy, or a Fitbit. Sign up for a dance or a yoga class. Go hiking, swimming or just for a brisk walk. Lift heavy things, walk the dog, or do some gardening. Every bit counts.
3. Love how you look
If you think it’s selfish to spend time and money pampering yourself, think again. How we feel about ourselves is directly related to how healthy we are, with multiple research studies showing that positive emotion can even lengthen your life!
So grab your diary and schedule some appointments for yourself, treating them just as importantly as you would date with your best friend. Your wish list could include a soothing massage, a flattering haircut and colour with regular maintenance appointments to keep up your look, a luxury pedicure or manicure, or a weekday blow-dry. Spending some time on the most important person in your life is a sign that you know how to protect your health and happiness.
4. Feed your body right
What you eat really matters. Think of yourself like a sports car, not a run-down rust bucket, and feed your body the best fuel you can.
The Cancer Council Australia recommends at least five servings of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day. Team those fresh, crunchy, natural foods with some satisfying wholegrains; some lean meat, fish and poultry and fat-reduced dairy foods, or perhaps some organic soy products if you are vegetarian or vegan; some nuts and seeds for healthy fats; and plenty of filtered water.
Don’t be boring about it. Do a cooking class, or buy a cookbook that has plenty of healthy and delicious recipes. Commit to reducing the amount of saturated fats and salt in your diet – most often in deep fried, takeaway and processed foods; and high sugar foods like cakes and soft drinks too. These foods don’t contain the vitamins and minerals you need to keep your body looking and feeling good and they are more likely to add kilos.
Being overweight is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, especially for women after menopause. While you might enjoy a cocktail, a wine, or a G&T, the Cancer Council also recommends women have no more than one standard drink a day.
5. Do a breast check monthly
Every month, do a breast self-exam. This helps you to get to know how your breasts look and feel, so you can pick up any small changes. And, if you’re 50 – 74, take advantage of a free, two-yearly mammogram through state-based BreastScreen services. Caught early, breast cancer has a high survival rate.