Remote Wellness: A guide to staying healthy when living or working in remote and rural areas
Living and working remotely can present many challenges when it comes to maintaining good physical and mental health. The supply and price of healthy food, along with access to gym facilities, can make it difficult for people who live in remote and rural areas to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report that people living in remote and rural areas have shorter lifespans, higher levels of disease and poorer access to and use of health services compared with people living in metropolitan areas1. While geographic isolation presents many unique challenges when it comes to achieving and maintaining good health, many health problems can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and caring for our social and mental wellbeing2.
Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist, Rachel Hawkins, shares her tips for staying healthy when living and working remotely below.
Tips for eating a healthy diet when living or working in remote areas
- The price of healthy food is more expensive in remote areas3. However, there are a few things that you can do to save money on groceries
- Buy seasonal produce
- Opt for generic or ‘home’ brands
- Buy in bulk (if you have the storage space to do so)
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat and slow cook them until tender
- Eat smaller portions of meat with larger servings of legumes and vegetables at mealtimes
- If fresh fruits and vegetables are not available, purchase frozen or tinned varieties instead. Tinned foods often have added sugar and/or salt, so make sure to check the food labels and opt for brands that contain the lowest amount of added sugar and salt
- Choose wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice where possible as they are packed full of fibre and will help to reduce chronic disease risk4
- Stock your pantry with non-perishable staples including rolled oats, brown rice and pasta, tinned lentils, beans, vegetables and fish, nuts, seeds, long-life milk, extra virgin olive oil and honey so that you always have basic ingredients in the home
- Stock your freezer with items such as frozen meats, fruits, vegetables, bread, cheese, homemade soups and sauces so that you have food staples available to make healthy homemade meals in between trips to the grocery store
- Consider investing in a multinutrient supplement such as Nuzest Good Green Vitality to fill the nutritional gaps in your diet during times when it is difficult to get your hands-on fresh produce
Tips for staying active when living or working in remote and rural areas
Many remote areas have climates that make it difficult to be active outdoors all year round because it is either too hot or too wet, while others simply lack gym and sporting facilities.
There are many opportunities to be physically active at home. These include…
- Downloading fitness apps and using them to guide you through home workouts. Check out our favourite fitness apps here!
- Doing body weight exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges
- Using household items such as tinned foods as hand weights
- Doing household chores such as gardening, mowing the lawn and vacuuming
For those who are able to exercise outdoors…
- Consider outdoor activities such as walking, running, cycling or even a team sport
- Increase your incidental exercise by spending as much time on your feet as possible. Walk around on your lunch break or during the ad breaks of your favourite tv show, ask your boss for a stand-up desk, or park your car away from work so you have to walk further to and from your car. Every bit of extra movement helps in the long run
Tips for caring for your mental and social wellbeing when living or working in remote areas
Living in isolated geographic locations increases the risk of people becoming lonely. Loneliness and social isolation are considered to be significant wellbeing issues as they can be harmful to both mental and physical health5. There are a few ways to prevent social isolation and loneliness…
- Find a way to connect to a community. This community doesn’t have to be geographic; it could be a positive online community of people who share common interests. For example, SWEAT or KIC for women who have health and fitness related goals.
- Meet up with workmates or friends in social situations. This could include going for a walk or meeting for dinner at the local pub. This helps to build and maintain social connections.
- Consider adopting a family pet. Around two thirds of dog and cat owners report companionship as a reason for owning a pet5. Owning a pet has been directly linked to feeling socially connected, so acts as a strategy for preventing loneliness.
Mental illness effects one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 years each year6. Mental illnesses are conditions that affect mood, thinking and behaviour. Common conditions include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia and dementia. While the prevalence of mental disorders is similar throughout Australia, the rates of suicide and self-harm are higher in remote and rural areas and increase exponentially with remoteness6.
If you are concerned about your own mental health, or the mental health of a loved one, there are a number of things that you can do…
- Start a conversation. If you are struggling with your mental health, consider opening up to a friend or family member about this. Mental illnesses are incredibly common. In fact, almost half of all Australians will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life! Starting a conversation with someone you trust can help to alleviate worry and anxiety and ensure you don’t feel alone. If you think a loved one may be struggling with their mental health, simply checking in and asking if they are ok is a simple way to offer support.
- Seek support from a health care professional. Your GP will assess, diagnose and establish an individualised care plan for you. This may involve referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or other specialist doctor. There are a number of telehealth services available to people living in remote and rural communities in Australia which help to make mental health services more easily accessible.
- Utilise online and telephone-based services. There are a number of online and telephone-based support services that can be accessed for immediate crisis support. They include Lifeline, Beyond Blue, Headspace and The Butterfly Foundation.
For diet, exercise and wellness tips for staying healthy when travelling, read Remote Wellness Part 2: A guide to staying healthy when travelling.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Rural and remote health. Accessed 12/2/2020. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/rural-health/rural-remote-health/contents/rural-health
- Australian Government Department of Health. Healthy weight guide for people living in rural and remote areas. Accessed 12/2/2020. http://healthyweight.health.gov.au/wps/portal/Home/helping-hand/different-needs/for-people-living-in-rural-and-remote-areas/!ut/p/a0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfGjzOI9jFxdDY1MDD3dzbycDTzNLfwsfP0MjYLNTfQLsh0VAcTLTZA!/
- Australian Government Department of Health. Head to Health: Supporting yourself – rural and remote people. Accessed 12/2/2020. https://headtohealth.gov.au/supporting-yourself/support-for/rural-and-remote-people
- Queensland Government. Queensland Health: Why should I eat wholegrains? Accessed 12/2/2020. Accessed https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/why-you-should-eat-wholegrains-wholemeal-cereal-serves
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Social isolation and loneliness. Accessed 12/2/2020. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/social-isolation-and-loneliness
- Bishop, L., Ransom, A., Laverty, M., & Gale, L. (2017). Mental health in remote and rural communities. Canberra: Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.
- Australian Government Department of Health. More than half of all Australian adults are not active enough. Accessed 12/2/2020. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/F01F92328EDADA5BCA257BF0001E720D/$File/brochure%20PA%20Guidelines_A5_18-64yrs.PDF
The information provided in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is general advice. It should not, nor is it intended to be, relied on as a substitute for individual medical advice or care. If the contents of this, or any other of the blogs in this series raises any concerns or questions regarding your health, please consult a qualified healthcare practitioner.