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Health & Fitness

5 ways to achieve wellness at home

According to someone who’s traveled the world in its pursuit.

The cover of the book Destination: Wellness by Annie Daly Credit: Chronicle Prism Publishing

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“Wellness” is a nebulous term. It can mean one thing to one person and something totally different to another—that plant-based diet and yoga contingent versus the red meat-and-CrossFit faction—so it can be hard to know how it should be interpreted.

The good news? There’s no right or wrong answer, and a lot of it depends on what works for you, or so says Annie Daly, author of Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Wherever You Are. For the book, she traveled to Jamaica, Hawaii, Norway, India, Japan, and Brazil—all places often cited as containing the keys to health and wellbeing—to explore the different health practices of each country, and what they mean to the people who live there. We spoke with Daly about what she learned from each place and how you can attain and maintain a general sense of wellbeing right at home.

1. Find a movement style that works for you

an asian chinese mid adult exercising at home putting her toy poodle at her back
Credit: Getty Images / Edwin Tan

Any way you move will help you out.

Some people really like exercising. Others… don’t. If you count yourself among that latter group, you may be in search of some form of fitness that you don’t dread but still provides the many benefits of working out. In Destination Wellness, Daly explores how some form of movement is a core health tenet in the areas she visited. But it doesn’t have to be executed by forcing yourself to go to a gym or anteing up the big bucks for a boutique exercise studio. In Jamaica, Daly learned about Ital, a belief system prominent in Rastafarianism in which adherents eat a fully or primarily plant-based diet to increase overall vitality. (That’s where the word comes from, too.) Before heading to Jamaica, she interviewed Chronixx, a Jamaican reggae star who follows Ital. He explained that he practices yoga, but only a few poses a day, as yoga should be a state of mind—not something to attend.

That said, following a program can help you make exercise feel like a part of your life or a state of mind. This could be something like sessions on the Peloton, or following a workout app, or an inspiring YouTube trainer. Daly is a fan of The Class, a workout that blends yoga and cardio moves and aims to deliver exercised-based emotional catharsis to its participants. The Class is based in New York City, but it offers access to its digital studio for $40 a month. “I’ve only learned to love it during COVID, with the virtual studio,” Daly says. “I love it because it’s an emotional experience but it’s a physical one, too.”

Any kind of movement can help you clear the mind and come to terms with your emotions. Running for 15 minutes or walking for an hour a day can help clear the mind and reduce feelings of depression, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. In short? Just get moving, in whatever way works for you.

2. Get outside when you can

Pleased young bearded man demonstrating his smile while going to his new working area
Credit: Getty Images / yacobchuk

A little fresh air does a lot of good.

If your exercise ends up being a simple (or not-so-simple) walk? That’s great—especially if you can get outside to do it. In Norway, one of Daly’s destinations, anyone is allowed to roam around and camp on uncultivated lands (a practice called allemannsretten). This allows Norwegians to pursue friluftsliv, which means “the free-air life,” and that most citizens do a lot of hiking, starting at a very young age.

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But even if you don’t have access to fjords and the ability (or desire) to trek or camp out wherever you go, there’s still a lot to gain from getting some fresh air, wherever you are—simply being around any natural setting and can reduce stress, blood pressure, and the heart rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Spending time in nature is pretty prevalent for me right now,” Daly says. “It’s really just about getting outside every day, going outside to do my errands.”

Just lace up a good pair of shoes and head out, either on a nature trail or a short outdoor walk to the local store. Keep an eye on the sights and sounds around you and make sure not to inadvertently drop any garbage on your way—the “leave no trace” principles apply, even if you’re just taking a walk around the block. If you want to really connect with nature, skip the tunes or podcast and listen to the sounds around you. (But maybe keep a pair of earbuds in your pocket just in case.)

3. Prioritize seeing the people you love

Multi-generation family having a party in the back yard
Credit: Getty Images / pixelfit

Being with your people makes a big difference.

It can be easy to brush off engagements with friends and family if you’re feeling overwhelmed with work, school, or just know it would be easier to sit at home with Netflix. But social interaction is crucial: A strong social network increases the likelihood of survival by 50%, and social disconnection can be as harmful as smoking, obesity, and being sedentary, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine.

Daly’s experiences in Brazil taught her that it’s all about embracing community—your family, chosen or adoptive family, and friends—which, a lot of the time, means never quite being alone. “It’s about making the time, which is something I learned in Brazil," Daly says. "Even when you feel overwhelmed, go hang out with your people.” You don’t have to be with all of your loved ones all the time—and for most of us, this is rarely possible anyway—but it’s a good reminder that if you have an opportunity to attend a gathering with your people (including virtual ones), you’re not likely to regret showing up.

4. Take note of how you’re feeling

Young woman in blue warm sweater sitting near the big window of coffee shop and writing a Christmas shopping list with cup of blue latte. Planning Christmas holidays. Organising and planning concept.
Credit: Getty Images / Kostikova

One way to keep track of your thoughts is writing them down.

Mindfulness” is one of those buzzwords that can instantly elicit a groan or an appreciative hum, depending on who you’re talking to. And it can mean a few different things. One is being present, which Daly explored when she took a two-week hike from Kyoto to Tokyo and learned the customs of staying in ryokans (free guesthouses along the trial). It could also mean maintaining a connection with yourself, your history, and your ancestors, which she learned about in Hawaii, and doing your best to attain physical and mental balance. Or it could be attained by practicing Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine practice Daly learned about in India.

If you’re not sure where to start, you can try keeping a journal. Daly says she brings a journal along with her on her travels or takes it out when she’s at home to take a few moments to jot down some thoughts. “A lot of the time, I don’t really know what I’m thinking until I write it down. I’ll think that I’m analyzing it but it’s not the same for me if I’m not writing it down,” Daly says.

Keeping a journal can help reduce intrusive or harmful thoughts and improve memory, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. And, when sleep writer Lindsey Vickers tried keeping a gratitude journal, she found that it helped her sleep more soundly at night.

All in all, writing thoughts down, whether positive or negative, may help clarify and organize thoughts and feelings, reduce stress, and perceive the world with a clearer eye—all of which can help you stay more present and, well, mindful.

5. Remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated

Cheerful black couple having fun while relaxing on sofa at home.
Credit: Getty Images / skynesher

If your wellness routine feels too rigid, it probably isn't right for you.

Your pursuit of wellness shouldn’t be something that makes you feel drained—and you don’t have to travel anywhere to do it. “I think the main thing I realized during [the COVID-19 lockdown] is that these global practices are all things that you can do at home,” Daly says. You also don’t need to jump through a lot of hoops or drop a ton of cash.

“That's important right now, when people are definitely being marketed toward ‘We’re now emerging, you’re vaccinated, it’s time to go on this wellness retreat,’ ” Daly says. This is not to say that a wellness retreat is a bad thing, but “remember that you can’t check in to wellness. You’re going to feel great for three days, but true long-lasting wellness is what you do at home every single day,” Daly says.

Like most health-related things, it’s a balance. You don’t have to become an ascetic, but you should consider if you actually want to buy something, and why. “On my travels I realized that it’s not just not buying the products,” Daly says. “It’s doing these things that proactively help you stay well in the long run.”

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