Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2008, 12:00am

This week: Healthy habits

Hong Kong is a vibrant and chaotic place, with most people's lives sharing the characteristic of being hectic. I have always wished the Earth would rotate a little slower so I would have more time in the day for all the things that need to be done. I have trouble balancing work and leisure most days, and sacrifice sleep and health more often than I would like - a problem most Hongkongers have.

Being a general practitioner rather than a specialist vet, I am a jack of all trades and have a practical mindset. On a daily basis, I not only have to scientifically diagnose animals' illnesses, but also give practical solutions for owners to follow. For example, it is unwise to get owners to risk their hands feeding tablets to a vicious cat or dog.

So I am going to approach this issue of balancing life like I would a disease, and try to present a logical and practical solution. It is important to define the problem first. The first element - work - is easy; it can be boiled down to the job that brings in your monthly salary. For most people, it is a serious endeavour that isn't much fun - and is certainly not meditative. Those lucky yoga teachers out there can feel smug right about now.

The second element is leisure, which can be defined as something you enjoy. Leisure pursuits are not necessarily healthy - and I know there are many of you out there who consider sleeping and eating your number one favourite pastime. But I categorise eating and sleeping as the third factor, because they are both necessities and don't really replace leisure.

The fourth and most neglected element is healthy activities. Most Hongkongers don't have the time or inclination for them. We can go to the gym or jog every day, which is good for our physical wellbeing, but there are other types of wellbeing that need to be nurtured - mental and spiritual wellbeing. Spiritual wellbeing is not necessarily religious; it can be looked upon as a state of mind that gives your life direction and meaning, such as having children or other loved ones or friends. It is not necessary to separate physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing because they are intrinsically linked in many daily activities.

In summary, once we have satisfied the four elements I mentioned and the three subcategories for healthiness, you have a formula for a reasonably balanced lifestyle.

Now that we have the goal defined, we need to work out how to go about achieving it. Assuming you work about eight to 10 hours a day and need at least seven to eight hours of sleep to function properly, you have six to nine hours a day for leisure and health activities. Humans, like all animals, are creatures of habit, and if there is something we like doing, we can do it a lot without getting bored. Taken to extremes, some of us can get obsessed with our favourite activity. If obsession occurs, we tend to neglect other elements needed for a balanced lifestyle, so rule No1 is moderation - don't go overboard unless you are training for the Olympics. Those who are Buddhists know what I mean.

As for leisure and healthy activities, I use the term hobby to help visualise the solution to our lifestyle dilemma. You need a few hobbies that will encompass the physical, mental and spiritual needs of your body. For example, cycling or other sports could satisfy your physical needs, while augmenting mental stability and spiritual needs through concentration and heightened awareness. There are activities that are not so wide ranging, such as watching a movie or playing a computer game, that satisfy your mental needs but neglect your physical and spiritual sides. So these activities, while not destructive, need to be done in moderation and need to accompany other hobbies.

Crafts or creative hobbies can also sustain several physical needs. For example, photography can get you out of your armchair. It stimulates the creative right side of the brain and at the same time, has a meditative quality to it.

We all need to make time for these healthy activities. I don't think of them as an indulgence but as a 'need' that is as necessary as eating and sleeping. Like eating and sleeping, they need to be done daily to reap the maximum benefit.

So weekend play-hard types, or the annual leave travel-around-the-world types, you will find fitting in more leisure activities during your regular workdays better for your blood pressure and nerves.

I haven't given you a specific recipe for a balanced lifestyle because activities I find extremely mundane and boring many may find exciting, and vice versa. And there are so many potential activities, it is impossible to cover them all. But I hope to structure your thinking better, in a practical and easily understandable manner, for you to find your own solution to a more balanced and healthier lifestyle.




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