Personal Health

Personal Health

Looking after yourself

Physical health

Living with schizophrenia does not mean you cannot have an active and healthy lifestyle - it actually may be even more important for you. While it is understandable that your focus may be on your mental health and wellbeing, taking a little time to understand your physical health is equally as important.

If you have an illness it is possible that you will have some physical health problems too. There are some simple things you can do to look after your physical health as well as your mental health; all of which can help you live a more active and healthier life, for example taking regular exercise, and eating a healthy and varied diet.

Talk to your healthcare professional

There are some physical health conditions that are more common amongst people living with schizophrenia, such as weight gain, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. Some lifestyle choices, for example smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise may also contribute to an increased risk of physical health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

If you have any concerns about your physical health you should talk to your healthcare professional. If it is an emergency you should call an ambulance or visit your local hospital’s emergency department.

Exercise

Many people find it difficult to get enough exercise, and you may find that living with schizophrenia makes it seem even harder to look after your physical health and stay fit. However, trying to regularly exercise is an important part of staying well – both mentally and physically. This does not mean you must go out and spend money on the latest exercise equipment or clothes. Going for a short walk in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt is just as good for you as it would be if you were wearing the latest in high-tech hiking gear. The important thing is that you are exercising.

You might be surprised to learn that things that you might not think of as exercise are in fact just that. For example, housework, gardening and most everyday chores can help you stay physically fitter and you might find that thinking about how vacuuming is helping your fitness might make it seem a more pleasurable task.

If you find it hard to exercise try and think about what might help you become more active. If you think that exercising with other people might help you keep active then you could look at local classes or maybe even joining a gym. Joining an exercise class could have other benefits too – you may find the routine helpful and meeting with other people enjoyable. Look in your local newspaper or ask friends and family for classes that may be more convenient for you.

Sexual health

A diagnosis of schizophrenia does not mean you cannot have a healthy and enjoyable sex life. But as with everything, it is important that you look after your sexual health just as you do for your mental and physical health. Take time to get to know your body and what it looks and feels like when you are healthy. That way if you start to experience any new symptoms you will know that something is possibly wrong and that you may need to make an appointment to see your healthcare professional. Different factors may cause a change in your sexual health, such as:

  • Psychosocial factors
  • Side effect from your schizophrenia medication
  • Sexually transmitted infection
  • Other medication independent from schizophrenia

Sexual health problems can sometimes feel embarrassing, and people may not want to go and talk to their healthcare professional about them. This is as much a problem for people both with, and without, schizophrenia. Your healthcare professional will want to keep you well whether something is affecting your mental health, your physical health or your sexual health. So if you have problems with your sexual health feel free to talk to your healthcare professional about it. Although your healthcare professional will be more than comfortable talking about your sexual health, you may find it less embarrassing to go to a specialist sexual health clinic instead. Most hospitals will have a department that is dedicated to sexual health. You will be able to find the details of your nearest sexual health service online or look out for information in your library, local doctors surgery or pharmacy. They will be able to assist you with routine check-up appointments.

If you have any questions, or notice any signs of a sexual transmitted infection, speak to your healthcare professional without delay. Most sexually transmitted infections are easily treated if diagnosed early and are nothing to be ashamed about. You should also not have sex with anyone until your healthcare professional has told you that any infection has been treated successfully.

You may experience side-effects from your medication that affect your ability to enjoy a normal, healthy sex life. For example you may not have the same desire to have sex (libido), or, if you are a man, it might be difficult to achieve and maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction). These sexual side-effects may be due to medication, but also other factors such as lifestyle factors. This can be distressing but, in many cases, there are treatments available that can help overcome them. Although they may seem embarrassing to you, your healthcare professional will be comfortable discussing them with you and exploring possible solutions.

Diet

We all need to eat the right foods and in the right amounts. Sometimes this can be difficult but there are certain things you can do to make this a little easier for you. For many people eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking some form of exercise makes them fitter, happier, and more able to enjoy their lives. Diet and exercise are particularly important if your medication has caused you to gain some weight.

Planning your meals

Planning your meals in advance can help ensure you eat a balanced diet. By planning your meals, you can also introduce routine and structure into your day which may help you in other ways, such as remembering to take your medicines. Try spending some time once a week planning what you would like to eat for the next week. If you need some inspiration you could visit your local library and settle down with a selection of recipe books, or you could look on the internet for recipes. When you are planning your meals try to make sure you are eating a variety of different foods. Try and eat at least five portions of fresh fruit or vegetables every day and try to cut down on the amount of sugar, fat and processed foods.

Shopping

Once you have decided what it is you want to eat you can then write a shopping list ready for a trip to the supermarket. Writing a list is a very sensible thing to do; it helps with budgeting, it makes sure that you buy the things you need to prepare your food, and, if you stick to the list, it will help you avoid buying foods that you do not need or want. Many people find cooking for themselves and their friends or loved ones very relaxing and rewarding.

Spiritual Health

Many people also like to make time to look after their spiritual health. You could set time aside to be alone and think about how your week has gone and what you would like to achieve in the following week, or join a local group that meets to meditate together. Many people find that they enjoy sharing the feeling of calmness that comes from activities such as meditation. For others, it could be taking part in more formal and organised spiritual activities such as going to church, to the mosque or another place of worship. An advantage of joining a group is it can help you to feel like you belong to a community with whom you can meet people to talk and socialise with.

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References

National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Psychosis and schizophrenia in adults: prevention and management. 2014. CG178.
APA Clinical Guidelines. American Psychiatric Association. Practice Guidelines for the treatment of patients with schizophrenia. 2004.
Harrigan et al. Psychol Med 2003; 33: 97–110.
Bottlender et al. Schizophr Res 2003; 62: 37–44.
Weiden et al. Psychiatr Serv 2004; 55: 886–891.
Robinson et al. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1999; 56: 241–247.
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