How to Keep Well in War Time, by Dr Clegg


Posted by Jan Lawrence

‘How to Keep Well in Wartime’ by Dr Clegg was first printed in 1943 for the Ministry of Health to set out ‘simple safeguards, common sense rules, and good habits for people to make part and parcel of their everyday lives.’   In 2007 it was reprinted by the Imperial War Museum.
(RRP £4.99     ISBN 978-1-904897-65-1)

I found large parts of this book were as relevant today as they were in 1943 and echo the advice given in parts of In Equilibrium’s Lifestyle and Personal Well-Being workshops.

Most people like to feel in control of their lives, but sometimes world events happen or situations occur which make us feel less in control or even that ‘the playing field has altered.’

In 1943 they did not use the term resilience; Dr Clegg called it ‘vigorous health’ and wrote ‘the objective to maintain vigorous health called for a conscious effort from each one of us.’   In this article I outline some of the main things they did during WWII which are still relevant today.

We need to become experts at pacing ourselves so we can help ourselves and others.  Those who are overtired mentally or physically do not produce as good work.  In order to overcome difficulties at work employers require employees to have the energy to rise to the occasion.

We each need to make sure we get enough quality sleep.  This can vary for each individual between 4 and 10 hours, with the average being 7 or 8 hours per night.  Ensure your bed is comfortable, the pillow right for you, and that your bedroom gets enough fresh air.  It has been found that some people who eat their evening meal early can wake about 3 or 4 am due to a low blood sugar.  If you are an early eater, try a small bowl of cereal or a hot drink before bed.  Shift work can cause many people problems with their sleeping patterns.  If possible, try to avoid having to work an early shift straight after a late shift.

We need to get enough exercise, at least twenty minutes brisk walking six days a week, or another form of aerobic exercise.  It is important to find out what exercise suits you and perhaps find a buddy to do it with to help you motivate each other.  For example, what is now being called sexercise can be a great way of switching off before going to sleep, as well as helping your fitness!

We do need to build in recovery time, especially if the work is intensive with deadlines to meet; or if we are fire fighting; or if we work away from home a lot.  Learn how best to be kind to yourself, whilst also supporting colleagues.  The forces and war production found this in WWII.  Soldiers driving convoys in the blackout had to stop every hour for a five minute rest and every three hours for a longer break or a meal.

Here I should mention a couple of points relevant to our lives today which did not have to be considered in the 1940’s.  Remember, if you work with small print on LCD screens you may need a short break even more often.  Also, if you sit at a desk most of the day, you can develop bad posture and your body may stiffen up.  Get up, wander around, focus into the distance, and drink enough water.

Many retired WWII patients have told me how important their army buddies or their colleagues in the factories, etc. were.  Good teamwork is essential and together with a good officer or equivalent leader makes all the difference.

Today we have technology to keep in touch whereas during WWII communication was mainly by letter.  More and more people who have to work away from home nowadays use not just their mobile, but also, for example, video on Skype to read a good night story to their children when absent for the night.

In conclusion: then as now be regular in your living habits – eating, sleeping, resting, working, even, as it said in 1943, emptying your bowels! Enjoy good habits: start the day with a healthy breakfast; good quality fruit is an excellent energy snack; get enough fresh air and sunshine; learn physical and mental relaxation techniques; and make the most of your free time.

I thought the original book was well written and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  It tactfully suggested moderation in all things, health and moral responsibility, and even mentioned the adverse effect of a drop too much alcohol!  In summary, if a bomb or a bullet had your name on it, you could not do much about it, but what you did have control over was to avoid unnecessary risks and live trying to do your best in each moment … and, in that regard, the same still holds true today.

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