Ed Draper | How I stay healthy

This week, I invite you to get to know Ed Draper. You might recognise him - he’s a presenter at Sky Sports. Aside from the glitz and glam of TV life, his work-induced activities might be pretty similar to yours: he sits down during his commute and whilst presenting. His job demands that he’s indoors for many hours each week, with access to limited meal-time offerings from food outlets relatively close to his desk. At home, Ed is daddy.

Here are Ed’s tips and tricks on how to feel healthy, fit and able, as written by the man himself.

This is not a prescription to others. Maybe something will resonate with you and help you on your health path. But I think it’s important for everyone to figure out a plan that works for them. Try it out and then reassess. There are a lot of people on the internet today lecturing and I’m generally wary of people who promise to have ‘the answer’ – be it in nutrition, psychology or exercise.

I’m a presenter at Sky Sports. Prior to training as a journalist, I studied sport science at Loughborough University and worked as a football coach.

My studies cemented my instinct that physical and mental health are intrinsically interlinked. My personal experience was that movement, sport and feeling well in the body encouraged a positive mental state and happy thoughts. This has been backed up by research into the effects of exercise on depression, via the release of endorphins and other processes. I recently undertook some fitness instructing courses and found this research has been reinforced since my undergraduate days.

My foundation to health is movement. Be it running, swimming or football, I tend to loosely follow The American College of Sports Medicine’s counsel on doing a minimum of three 20-minute CV sessions a week. And I try to get outside to do this.

The benefits of being outdoors are huge and include UV exposure and Vitamin D synthesis (particularly in the dark winter months), and sleeping better (serotonin is converted to melatonin to make us drowsy). Being in nature and fresh air really boosts my mood: the biophilia hypothesis certainly resonates with me. John Hudson, The UK Military’s Chief Survival Instructor, pointed me to research that the health-boosting effects of nature can be obtained from just walking down a leafy street – you don’t need to follow his lead and try and build camps in the wilderness!

I try to maximise movement. At work, I might present four or five hours straight of live TV, but try to get up and walk around during every commercial break to keep the blood pumping and the body loose.

I sometimes sense a scorning attitude in some towards those who struggle with health and wellbeing – like why aren’t obese and inactive people motivated to change their ways? But I feel that the modern world in which we live discourages movement and physicality. We have to circumnavigate the world around us and make a plan to counter that sedentary-leaning reality.

I’ve lifted weights fairly regularly since my teen years, a point at which I played football to a decent level. I’m cognisant nowadays (I’m 38) of research pointing to the importance of musculature in predicting well-being into later life. I’m also trying to stave off the ebbing of my testosterone levels and the impact on energy levels that can cause.

I eat organic food at home. I eat meat, but try do that at home – when I know what it is and how the animals were raised, for selfish health and, more philosophical, ethical reasons. I try to only eat whole foods comprised of one ingredient, and avoid processed foods with manmade substances in them.

I take supplements. My father’s a doctor and nutritionist and has kept track of diminishing levels of essential micronutrients in UK soil – particularly selenium and zinc. I take a supplement called Foundation Formula produced by a company called Cytoplan.

In terms of mental health, I find physical exercise does give me big psychological boosts. But I’ve also found benefits from mindfulness meditation. Although, I’ve found much more successful escape from over thought through playing sport rather than meditating. Five-aside football, for example, is an hour where I don’t think about anything other than the ball and I find it hugely refreshing mentally. Playing sport also allows me to socialise with men in my age group who are experiencing similar life challenges and that’s important to me. I work a lot of weekends, so friendships can be difficult to maintain.

I think there’s a tendency in modern times for digital connection – text messages etc – to be used as a surrogate for real face-to-face human contact and I fear that will have negative health consequences in the long run. We’re pack animals and need to be around other humans, having fun, as often as we can – in my opinion.

In another step to preserve my mental health, I try to have digital detoxes everyday. That could be going for a walk without my phone or putting my phone in another room when talking to friends and family. Working in the media, I’m hit with thousands of messages everyday, on multiple platforms and it’s important for me to have breaks in order to get clarity and creativity. There’s a burgeoning body of research on how much stress comes with being hyper-connected. It’s a new world to us humans and I sense we don’t know the full health implications of constant communication and processing huge amounts of information.

Finally, I wanted to touch on arguably the most important aspect of health – sleep. It’s been my weakest aspect of well-being, to be honest. Partly, that was self-inflicted. Brought up with macho concepts like “sleep when you die,” I often sacrificed rest for experiences and opportunities. I burned the candle at both ends.

Some of it has been beyond my immediate control though – working a variety of shifts at all hours of the day and nights makes establishing good sleep hygiene challenging. I also have a five year-old daughter who rails against sleeping through the night! But, I’ve read research from Matthew Walker and University of Berkeley with concern. Especially, his conviction that more than 99% of people need 7 hours sleep to function healthily. The stark numbers around lack of sleep and health consequences – physical and mental – have been, pardon the pun, a wake-up call. So, I’ve begun to plan pro-actively to get to bed earlier, to reduce caffeine intake and to keep my phone out of the bedroom (I have an old-fashioned alarm clock).

In conclusion, modern life encourages us to move little, sleep little and eat processed food. Moving, resting and eating real food seems the smart way forward to me. I don’t think there’s one way to achieve it – not one way of exercising, for example – and I think the more simply we view it, the easier it is to achieve health and happiness. Ultimately, we want to live happy lives and while health and happiness are different things, they are very much interlinked.

Wishing you healthy, happy lives!