5 (Free!) ways to show yourself self-love this Valentine’s Day

February is the month of love – but how often do we include ourselves in our list of love recipients? The truth is that we can’t really love anyone else without first loving ourselves, which is something we often overlook. When it comes to self-love, one of the best places to begin is to look at our physical health in terms of how loving we are towards our bodies.

You may think that looking after your body involves spending money, such as paying for a juice fast, buying protein shakes and supplements, taking out a gym membership or paying for a personal trainer or nutritionist. While these may all be viable options, there are also a surprising number of things you can do to keep your body in optimal health that don’t cost a thing. Here are five places to start:

  1. Eat whole foods: Eating a simple diet of whole foods – that is, food as it’s found in nature rather than being processed – can be one of the most effective ways to improve your physical health. This is for two main reasons: you’re accessing the vitamins and minerals naturally found in the food that may be stripped out when they’re processed, and you’re avoiding chemicals and preservatives that are typically added during the production process. So, rather than drinking boxed apple juice, eat whole apples, and rather than buying fried chips from a fast-food restaurant, boil, mash or bake whole potatoes. If you can eat organic foods that are free of pesticides then that’s even better, and this doesn’t necessarily mean shopping at expensive grocery stores: you can easily grow your own vegetables, herbs, sprouts or microgreens even with just a bit of counter space that gets natural sunlight.
  2. Get natural morning light. It’s well known that getting exposure to natural light strongly impacts everything from our mood and sleep patterns to our immune system and hormone levels. But American neuroscientist Andrew Huberman says that viewing morning sunlight is even more beneficial in supporting mental and physical health than getting natural light at any other time of the day. He recommends you get outside as early as possible within the first hours of waking (even if there is cloud cover), as this increases cortisol early in the day which supports your immune system, your metabolism and your ability to focus. Getting sufficient morning light also prepares your body for sleep later that night, he says.
  3. Ground yourself. The practice of “earthing” or “grounding” means walking barefoot on soil, grass or sand, and while alternative health practitioners have long spoken of the benefits of doing this, mainstream science now also recognises its many health advantages including regulating your heart rate and glucose levels, reducing stress and boosting your immune system. Most recently, a 2023 paper found that having direct contact with the natural electric charge of the earth has a significant anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
  4. Exercise outdoors. Most of us know the importance of exercise for our overall health, but it turns out that exercising outside is even better. Several studies over the past decade have found that exercising in natural environments can help alleviate mental fatigue, improve mood and even boost self-esteem. Instead of running on the treadmill inside, try taking a walk or jogging outside, or doing a yoga class online in your garden or backyard. Exercise is also an investment that can impact other areas of your life, such as reducing your medical costs and even your medical aid contributions if you belong to a medical aid. Some medical aids, such as Fedhealth, have a range of flexible plans where you can customise the exact cover for your particular health needs.
  5. Think positive thoughts. Did you know your thoughts can impact your physical body? The most obvious example of this is how stress and anxiety can have negative effects such as high blood pressure, insomnia and headaches. On the flip side though, having an upbeat mental state has now been linked to lower blood pressure, a lower risk of heart disease, better blood sugar levels and a longer lifespan overall. Recognising this mind-body connection means you can take a more empowered view of your own health, whether that’s practising daily positive affirmations, meditation or mindfulness.

This month of love, make a commitment to self-love in addition to showing love to others. By starting with these free and simple ways to improve your own physical and mental wellbeing, you’ll be healthier, happier and have more to give those around you.