Helping our body help itself…

One of my big interests as a result of years in high-performance sport and living with a spinal cord injury is how we can optimize our health. By health I mean having good energy and an ability to be present and engage with where we are, what we are doing or who we are with. Managing energy is important in a sporting context to train and perform, but I am acutely aware of how my health often hasn’t been optimal. I have had too many hospital stays, most of them very avoidable! If we don’t have good mental and physical energy for every part of our life: work, relationships, social and fun stuff, then we are living sub-optimally. 

Many of us are living with chronic stress, too much desk or computer time, dutifully conforming to expectations of our job or role, not prioritising our wellbeing and at the cost of our happiness and health. I think this quote by Belinda Kirk from her book the Adventure Revolution sums it up well (p.47). 

“We have an innate need to belong, so we dutifully follow rules and conform. This tendency has enabled humanity to build civilisations. We’re told that by behaving like this we can create efficiency and achieve success, but we’ve somehow lost the balance along the way…”  

I have definitely lost balance at times. I have often over-done things from physical training to certain foods (some of which I thought were healthy), and in the process compromised my immune system and intermittently lost my spark. We often sacrifice our health for habits that don’t serve us. Many of us rely on a health system that is great at managing acute trauma but typically not chronic conditions as a result of our lifestyle choices. We feed our brains with news that is usually bad, fill our bodies with processed food and drink, and immerse ourselves in environments that are often polluting to our energy. The risk to our wellbeing is greater than ever, and our health system is stressed.

If we want to change things we have to make an effort, but our human tendency is to resist change as it takes us out of our comfort zone. It is easier to keep on doing what we always did, but this then keeps us limited. Often, it takes a crisis before we are willing to change.

Living with paraplegia creates more vulnerability to health issues. In 2022 I was about to pedal a cool Formula 1 handbike on the back of a yacht to generate power on the boat whilst sailing to Greenland, but instead spent a fortnight in an Icelandic hospital with sepsis. Due to antibiotic resistance I needed back-shelf antibiotics. It was scary, and that was the crisis that triggered me to delve deeper into how we can take more responsibility for our health and wellbeing.  

Most of know what it is like to feel unwell, to have pain or no energy, and of course, the opposite too: to feel energised and vibrant. What would it be like to experience more of that vibrancy and health? Is it possible to feel physically and mentally great all or most of the time? 

Initiatives like the Zoe podcast and products have generated wider interest (at least in the UK), but also fields like functional medicine (focused on finding root causes), regenerative, longevity and lifestyle medicine are growing in popularity. 

My own interest in this was piqued last year on listening to podcasts by Dr Gladden at Gladden Longevity in the USA, and since then I have begun digging deeper into the ideas and searching for areas of expertise closer to home. This month I visited the Harpal Clinic in London, their mission to: “Help your body help itself”.  I met with Dr Bains, the founder, and some of her dedicated team. I am excited to be a case-study for their holistic approach to finding root causes, combining functional medicine with stress and lifestyle methods. The consultation was to explore my own health, as well as helping me consider some of the broader issues that can impact us with a spinal cord injury.  

Whilst the detail of our health and lifestyle patterns are unique to each of us, my aim is to share any insights that might be useful to you too. I’ll explore some general themes like sleep and brainwave health, stress and the mind-body connection but also some specifics like digestive system health, skin health, bladder health and urinary tract infections (UTI’s). I hope to add in some perspectives from medics, practitioners and experts to help enhance the quality and to provide different voices on each topic. More soon…