Five ways to be well: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give


If you’re feeling a little jaded after the Christmas and New Year break, don’t worry, you’re among friends! It’s Friday in New Zealand, incredibly hot weather for us in Canterbury (we reached 35.7 degrees yesterday, 33 the day before, and it’s not expected to drop much today), and it’s my first week back at work since Christmas.

Over Christmas I did have the chance to catch up on some reading, and I was delighted to find an editorial in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy about a project developed by the UK Government to promote ‘mental capital’ – or to improve the wellbeing of people. The project was developed because:

An individual’s mental capital and mental wellbeing
crucially affect their path through life. Moreover, they are
vitally important for the healthy functioning of families,
communities and society. Together, they fundamentally
affect behaviour, social cohesion, social inclusion, and our
prosperity (Foresight 2008, p10).

So, bless them, the UK Government ‘synthesised information from 80 literature reviews and seeking advice from over 400 experts and stakeholders from disciplines such as neuroscience, economics and psychology.’ to produce a 332-page final report and five supplementary reports, and finally coming up with a mental wellbeing action plan of five activities a day along the lines of the ‘five fruits and veges a day’ concept.

There is a large amount of information within both the summary document and contained on the Foresight website. And although it’s fairly detailed and written for readers across the spectrum (not just health care workers), it has some gems that can be summed up by the five actions:


Be active

Take notice

Keep learning


The report contains good definitions of each of these and some activities that can help embed them in daily life.

The Occupational Therapy editorial suggests that these could be incorporated into occupational therapy treatments – I’d go further to say that like chiropracters and physiotherapists who endorse certain mattresses, and dentists who endorse healthy food, it’s time psychologists and occupational therapists started to get involved in public health and endorsed these concepts formally.

Occupational therapists often complain that they’re misunderstood – time to correct this and become identified with wellbeing, activity and positivity. That all of the recommendations have good evidence behind them only adds to their value as a way to engage the whole community in healthy living.

There are quite a few easily accessed articles on this project:
– an article published in NATURE|Vol 455|23 October 2008
– the executive summary published in the Foresight website
– a series of video presentations on the Foresight website including Professor Cary Cooper, Wellbeing at work; and Professor Tom Kirkwood & Professor Felicia Huppert – Mental Capital and Mental Wellbeing.
– I especially enjoyed seeing the list of literature reviews included in the Project Outputs page

I wonder if other governments around the world could put their heads together and acknowledge this work – and then get on to do something about it, as the UK Government has.  Beats grumbling on about the economic situation and thinking only about financial remedies without considering ways to build resilience in people – which is where our wealth really lies.

Aked J, Marks N, Cordon C, Thompson S (2008) Five ways to wellbeing.
A report presented to the Foresight Project on communicating the
evidence base for improving people’s wellbeing. Available at the
New Economics Foundation website:
Accessed on 09.01.2009.
Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (2008) Final Project report
– Executive summary. London: The Government Office for Science.
Available at:
capital_&_wellbeing_Exec_Sum.pdf Accessed on 09.01.2009.

Ilott, I. (2008). A Present of Evidence for Everyday Activities. British Journal of Occupational Therapy.  71 (12). p 509.


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