Balance or Replace: The Net Benefit of Health Based Decision Making

Rob Richards

Like most of us I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle but I do have my moments of weakness. Devouring a greasy fast food hamburger is so satisfying in the moment but soon after I am consumed with guilt about the saturated fat, salt and calories that I have just subjected my body to.

I reason with myself that if I eat extra broccoli for dinner that night, the healthiness of the broccoli will somehow negate the unhealthiness of the hamburger. Sounds logical.

But maybe there’s a simpler approach that doesn’t involve broccoli. What if, rather than eating the hamburger I replaced it with a fruit salad? Even without empirical science to test this, intuitively this seems healthier than eating the hamburger in the first place. If I make this replacement just once, I probably won’t see much of a health benefit. But if I replace my hamburger binge with a fruit salad two or three times a week for a number of years, it’s safe to expect a reasonable net health benefit. Even if I still choose to have a hamburger a couple of nights a week.

You may be nodding your head thinking ‘yes, nothing overly controversial here’ – the idea of replacing an unhealthy action with a healthier one is probably one that we’re all familiar with when it comes to our diet. But what excites me is applying this idea of replacement to another profoundly important area our lives when it comes to our health – and that is replacing our recreational screen time with being outdoors in a natural environment.

A rapidly amounting mass of international research indicates that our current behavioural usage of screen technology is related to a string of health issues such as myopia, sleep disruption, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, poor self esteem and physical issues such as less robust limbs, weight gain and associated cardiovascular disease ……the list goes on. On the contrary an equally impressive body of international evidence is revealing the health and well-being benefits of spending time in outdoor natural environments, such as reducing anxiety, stress and chronic inflammation, improving immune system functioning and enhancing brain function, sensory awareness and feelings of wellbeing.

For long term health benefits there needs to be some long term behaviour change but it’s not always that easy to squeeze in new time slots in an already over-scheduled life.

This is where the value of replacement is so important … think of times during the week that you’re in front of a screen and it is not absolutely necessary to be there. Here are some replacement options to ponder:

5 mins – if that is all you can spare from the microchips (a bit embarrassing) then take a walk to a window with a view of the green stuff or close your eyes in a quiet place and remember a happy time you had in the outdoors.

  • 15 mins –  the time that it takes you to play a game of Solitaire, swap it for a walk in the back garden, the tree lined street or a play with the dog (but don’t kick it because you lost Solitaire!)
  • 30 mins – replace Facebook with a walk in the park or sitting in your back garden watching something that you normally spray like the bees, ants, flies or spiders going about their daily business keeping humans alive.
  • 1 hour – now you are starting to show some commitment to your health. Get outside and turn your phone off, find a park, a creek, an urban forest or a nursery. Take some deep breaths, walk…. but walk slowly like you’re not late for your next Board meeting, look up – see the blue sky and clouds, look down – see the grass and leaves. Observe the birds, insects, flies on the dog poo or your own heartbeat. Tell yourself how good this is for you because you are doing it and you’re not in front of the information overload window.

Hey you might even start to feel a little less anxious, a bit more chilled, a bit less angry with the driver in front or a little more in touch with yourself.

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