19 February 2010

A different take on promoting wellbeing?

This piece first appeared on Croakey, The Crikey Health Blog

Can you think of five things you can do to improve your health and well-being? If your list looks something like mine, it will involve exercising more, eating better, sleeping longer, spending more time with friends and family, and being less stressed. Laudable goals, but are they achievable?

As health professionals we rely on evidence when coming up with interventions to improve well-being. What would an evidence-based list look like?

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) in the UK has tackled this task. Their list includes:

  1. Connect…
    With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
  2. Be active…
    Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy; one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
  3. Take notice…
    Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are on a train, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
  4. Keep Learning…
    Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, as well as being fun to do.
  5. Give…
    Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and will create connections with the people around you.

This isn’t some Sunday newspaper mind-body-spirit liftout list.

All of the NEF report’s actions are underpinned by a solid evidence base. The actions were each selected because they could be acted upon, they act as a buffer for mental ill-health, and they enhance well-being.

What’s striking about the list developed by NEF is that it goes beyond the health messages most of us hear and that governments promote. How many of the NEF list’s actions do we encounter in health social marketing campaigns? The “be active” message is reasonably well understood, but what about the others?

The other thing that’s striking about the list is that the actions don’t just benefit individuals. There would be substantial benefits to families and communities if we connected more with each other, volunteered more, and kept learning.

The NEF report has a number of limitations and the authors, Jody Aked, Nic Marks, Corrina Cordon and Sam Thompson, recognise these.

It doesn’t include important factors that can be beyond individuals’ control, such as work environments, nutrition, access to green space, and where people live. As such it’s not a comprehensive list of actions that are required to promote well-being, or an exhaustive list of the things that the health and social service sectors need to do.

If we took promoting well-being seriously, our health social marketing campaigns would look quite different. This list of five simple, practical actions provides a different vision of how we can promote well-being.

We can do more than bashing people over the head with negative messages about what they’re not doing.


There have been a number of interesting comments about this on Croakey. It's worth taking a look.