The genius of the WI’s approach to health and wellbeing is that it does so through emphasising enjoyment, and what I’ve come to think of as the Five Cs: Cooking, Creativity, Community, Horticulture, and Curiosity.
The WI promotes cooking over dieting.
It might seem obvious, but a good diet is about food.
“Physicians nowadays more than ever need to advise patients about food,” says Dr. David Eisenberg. “Not just nutrition facts, not biochemistry, but food.”
This means that cooking is essential to our long-term wellbeing.
Knowing how to cook enables people to take responsibility over food selection and preparation. They don’t have to rely on heavily processed convince foods or foods that undermine their health.
This short course on nutrition by Stanford University also brings the focus back to food.
It is free and you can sign up any time.
The WI promotes creativity and crafting as part of a balanced lifestyle.
Learning a new craft can boost your mood and confidence, open you up to challenging yourself and trying new things, and finishing a project brings a wonderful sense of accomplishment and purpose.
Because crafting often takes time, a hobby such as knitting is an antidote to the fast pace of the modern world. It forces you to slow down, take your time, and be patient and persistent.
Creative thinking is also essential for problem solving, and that time away from our usual routines and problems can be deeply restorative.
These effects are increased when you do something creative with someone else, or make something for a friend or cause.
The Mental Health Foundation calls relationships “the forgotten foundation of mental health”.
We know that connecting with friends makes our lives better (even if you’re an introvert like me), but you might not realise just how important your social interactions are for your physical and mental health.
Recently a major study showed that having a strong social network can boost longevity by 50%.
The benefit of friends, family and even colleagues turns out to be just as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit. And by the study’s numbers, interpersonal social networks are more crucial to physical health than exercising or beating obesity.
The Mental Health Foundation adds that mental health is not just about dealing with mental illness, but about reaching your potential as an individual and “making a contribution”.
As the largest women’s volunteering force in the UK, the WI provides members with many opportunities to contribute to their communities through its campaigns and volunteer work.
The act of volunteering is an affirmation that who you are and what you do matters, and that the people around you matter as well.
Gardening grounds us in nature and connects us to other living things.
It gets you outside and in the fresh air and sunlight, something which is especially important during the winter months.
It also puts you in touch with the more-than-human world, helping you to see your life in the greater scheme of things.
Like other forms of creativity, gardening can bring you into the present moment and refocus your mind.
Unlike other forms of creativity however, the creativity of gardening means that you are responsible for maintaining and even creating life. What was an empty concrete patio at the beginning of one year might be blooming with flowers and buzzing with bees at the end of the next.
This is a commitment, but one that can bring structure and routine to people’s lives.
I love how the WI talks about fitness.
When it comes to exercise, curiosity takes president over waistlines and gym memberships.
Just what what IS over that hill? No, I have never tried pole-dancing… sounds fun! Gosh, I never thought I’d be trying martial arts. Who knew!
Being active and keeping our bodies in good condition is incredibly important, but it is also something that creates a lot of guilt and awkwardness in many of us.
Your body is not a project. By rejecting that notion, the WI focuses instead makes exercise about experiences rather than making yourself over.
Ironically, though, by focusing on what your body can do rather than what it looks like, you may end up with a better body image.
Books, learning, and other challenges also fall under this C of Curiosity.
This is not by any means because it is a miscellaneous category, but because being open to experiences encompasses mental and physical activities just the same.
Most of us joined the WI to try new things and meet new people.
That is the thread that runs through the WI’s healthy living philosophy: from real food to real people and experiences, a healthy lifestyle is not about something abstract or complicated.
It’s about what you do and doing it together.