The Wire: Autumn 2022 – Seven positive health habits that other nations and cultures can teach you

(Estimated read time 5 minutes)

Seven positive health habits that other nations and cultures can teach you

There are plenty of cultural differences between the UK and other countries, in the way we eat, work, and live our lives.

Whilst we might think these foreign practices to be unusual, have you ever stopped to consider whether they might benefit you? 

Here are seven habits from other countries and cultures that you might want to embrace in order to live a healthier and happier life.

1. Canadian National Park passes

In January 2022, doctors in Canada were given a new kind of medicine they could prescribe to their patients: annual passes to nearby national parks. 

The initiative is designed to encourage people to spend more time in nature, whether that be through hiking or simply taking the opportunity to sit outside.

Studies have shown that spending time outside can have incredible health benefits, such as relieving anxiety, increasing self-esteem, and lowering stress.

Experts recommended investing two hours a week into nature, so taking a leaf out of Canada’s book and adding a 20-minute walk into your daily routine or planning a picnic is an easy way to improve your mental and physical health.

2. Sweden “fika” breaks

Fika is a Swedish tradition that involves taking time out of your day to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and a cake. At many companies, fika is not just encouraged – it is mandatory.

The short breaks allow employees to spend time catching up with each other and boosting team morale. Additionally, breaks from work are beneficial to employees’ mental health, as well as increasing productivity, making Sweden the 11th most productive country in the world.

Try splitting your day up with a fifteen-minute fika. Give yourself time to enjoy a drink and a sweet treat, as well as chat to your family, friends, or colleagues before continuing with your day, and watch how much your productivity improves.

3. Singapore cleanliness

The Keep Singapore Clean campaign has been running for over 50 years and proved its effectiveness in 2021 when it was voted the greenest and cleanest city in the world.

Their strict standards – including a ban on importing chewing gum or fines for forgetting to flush a public toilet – have led to their average life expectancy rising from 66 to 83, the third highest in the world. 

Keeping your home and other places you frequent clean is an excellent way to improve your morale, as well as reducing the chance of getting unwanted infestations. Simply emptying your bins as soon as they are full or wiping down surfaces with disinfectant can also lessen your chances of falling ill from contagious diseases.

4. Thai massages

Thai massages – known as “Nuad bo-rarn” in Thai, which roughly translates as “ancient healing way” – have been around for thousands of years. The practice is closely related to Buddhism, and involves aspects of yoga, Ayurveda, and Chinese medicine.

These massages offer a range of health benefits, such as an increased range of motion, reduced back pain and headache intensity, as well as lowering stress. Research has shown that it can even be used to aid stroke patients, as it reduces their pain level and improves their ability to recover certain functions.

Flying to Thailand for a massage may seem excessive, but luckily there are plenty of places that offer the practice of Thai massages in the UK that you can visit.

5. Japan’s portion control

There is a common saying in Japan – “hara hachi bu” – which translates to “eat until you are 80% full”. Instead of stuffing yourself with food, this encourages people to stop eating before it becomes uncomfortable, giving your body enough nutrition to do its job without overdoing it.

This mindful method of eating reduces calorie intake and so reduces the levels of obesity in Japan, and leads to many benefits, such as delaying the appearance of aging and increased life expectancy.

Next time you sit down to eat a meal, keep this saying in mind. Checking in with your levels of hunger and asking yourself whether you are still enjoying the meal will help you to adapt your portions to the perfect size for you.

6. Turkish baths

Turkish baths – also known as “hammam” – go far beyond just cleaning yourself. It is a form of hot steam hydrotherapy and is associated with a myriad of physical and emotional health benefits, including reducing stress, improving blood circulation, and removing toxins from the pores in your skin.

If you would like to try this miraculous experience yourself, there are several Turkish hammams dotted around the UK that you can visit. In fact, Harrogate is home to one of the best-preserved Victorian Turkish baths in the world, and it is still functional today.

7. India’s “sitting on the floor”

Sitting on the floor to eat meals is a common practice in India, and an excellent way to aid your digestive system. 

Bending forwards and backwards to pick up more food gently massages your pancreas, which stimulates digestion, and it also encourages you to be more mindful of what you are eating, as all your focus is on the meal.

Although it may seem like a strange custom to practice in the UK, do not be afraid to ignore your dining table for an evening and try it for yourself!

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