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V is for vitality

What is the origin of the word vitality?

Vitality is derived from the Latin vitalis "of or belonging to life (vita)" and later in the 1590s from the Latin vitalitatem (nominative vitalitas) "vital force, life," from vitalis "pertaining to life". It can also be described as the power giving continuance of life, present in all living things.

What does vitality mean for us?

"A vital person is someone whose aliveness and spirit are expressed not only in personal productivity and activity-such individuals often infectiously energize those with whom they come into contact." (Peterson and Seligman)

Vitality is the state of being strong and active; having energy, enthusiasm and a feeling of aliveness. When we have vitality, we have the capacity to live and grow fully; we have physical or mental energy or strength and we flourish. We are positive and don’t approach things half-heartedly; seeing life as an adventure to be lived not as something to be endured.

“When you take the time to cleanse your physical body of accumulated stress and toxicity, you are rewarded with increased vitality and optimal health”. Debbie Ford

We use a body mass index (BMI) to measure our body's fitness but it is not until relatively recently that neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett and her colleagues turned their attention to brain health and developed a brain vitality index (BVI) to measure the health of our brain. Professor Bartlett has examined how we can prevent brain ageing and teach our brain positive lessons. She is passionate about the brain and helping people rewire their brains to unlock habits learnt over a lifetime that are holding them back from reaching their potential.

The Brain vitality index (BVI) has ten levels from one to ten: one being completely lifeless and lacking in vitality and ten living a full and meaningful life. It is useful to reflect on where you feel you are on this scale and how you might change that

I am feeling...Selena Bartlett

1. Lifeless, empty, that nothing matters

2. sad, lonely, grief, scared, rejected

3. angry, furious, in pain, hurt

4. stressed out, worried, fearful, anxious, nervous

5. stuck in a rut, sick of my life, run down, burnt out

6. happy, cheerful, active, contented, can’t complain

7. loved, supported, strong, grateful, inspired

8. great, passionate, enthusiastic, excited

9. fulfilled, forgiving, joyful, compassionate,

10. loving a vital life, full of meaning and purpose, giving to others for future generations

For further information re this BVI why not listen to this TED Talk

How do we increase our vitality?

“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.” Susan Sontag

We become alive when we have a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives and see what we do as meaningful so it is important to reflect on what we do and why and also to do things because we want to; things we are passionate about or interest us, not just do things because we have to do them.

As in all things there needs to be a balance between discipline and simple enjoyment.

“A 'treat' is different from a 'reward,' which must be justified or earned. A treat is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it. Treats give us greater vitality, which boosts self-control, which helps us maintain our healthy habits.” Gretchen Rubin

Studies show that if you have greater purpose in life it increases your vitality and it improves you brain resistance to deterioration.

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

We also feel alive when we feel healthy and mentally alert and capable therefore it makes sense to try and maintain our bodies through a balance of good nutrition, physical activity and rest but also to give as much attention to our mental health too; both by facing up to challenges and increasing our resilience and by focusing on uplifting things thereby increasing our opportunities to flourish.

This is a useful PDF link to measuring your vitality simply at home

As well as working specifically on things that increase our vitality it is sensible to reduce things which drain our energy and vitality. Stress-induced emotions consume huge amounts of energy so it is important to look for ways to lessen that which causes stress in our lives. Simply put, we become tired when we have to much to do so it will help to lighten our load by streamlining our ‘To do’ list.

The type of foods we eat can have a dramatic effect on our vitality levels. Eating low- carbohydrate foods or foods whose sugars are absorbed slowly (those with a low Glycaemic Index) can help avoid the slump in energy that often occurs after eating foods with quickly absorbed sugars or refined starches. If you increase your consumption of e.g. proteins, vitamins (fat and water soluble) fats, healthy oils eg olive, whole grains, high-fibre vegetables, nuts etc and reduce high GI foods then your blood sugar levels will remain more stable.

We often feel tired because we become dehydrated. Dehydration is very common and various studies show that possibly up to 70% people of people are not hydrated sufficiently at any one time. The adult human body contains around 60% water. All the cells in the body, including our brain cells, depend on this water to carry out essential functions. Water helps transport oxygen and nutrients critical to the brain for optimal function, whilst providing cushioning and lubrication to the brain tissue. If water levels are too low, our brain cells cannot function properly, leading to cognitive problems.

To keep your brain adequately hydrated, it is recommended (Armstrong LE, Johnson EC (2018) Water Intake, Water Balance, and the Elusive Daily Water Requirement. Nutrients 10, 1928) that women consume 2 to 2.7 litres (8 to 11 cups) and men consume 2.5 to 3.7 litres (10 to 15 cups) of fluids per day (though individual needs may vary depending on activity level and medication use). It is also important to remember that cognitive function can be impaired by overhydration (Bethancourt HJ, Kenney WL, Almeida DM et al. (2019) Cognitive performance in relation to hydration status and water intake among older adults, NHANES 2011–2014. European Journal of Nutrition.)

Exercise can help one sleep more soundly and provides your cells with more energy to burn and circulate oxygen. In addition, exercising can lead to higher brain dopamine levels, which helps to elevate mood.

Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health.” Matthew Walker

Sleep is essential. Decent sleep is vital to optimal health and for various aspects of brain function; it can improve your focus, concentration, productivity, and performance.

“The cure for all the ills and wrongs, the cares, the sorrows, and the crimes of humanity, all lie in the one word 'love'. It is the divine vitality that everywhere produces and restores life.” Lydia M. Child

Love is synonymous with vitality and it restores life and deepens our relationships

“The inner fire is the most important thing mankind possesses.”

Edith Södergran

As mentioned earlier, having a purpose and a sense of passion is important; not just tinkering at the edges of things or paying lip service but really allowing ourselves to be fully immersed in different activities and organisations so we can share and discover our passions and be drawn by natural curiosity to new things

What do you love to do? Does it play a central part to your daily, weekly, monthly schedule?

If you have forgotten and don't know, then try to discover what ignites you. What did you love to do when you were younger? Maybe look at those things as a starting point and restart now

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.”

Martha Graham … find it and nurture it!

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