8 Ways to Improve Your Health & Look YoungerThe current statistics indicate that nearly 45% of Americans have a chronic illness defined as an ongoing, generally incurable illness or condition such as heart disease, asthma, cancer or diabetes, and that this number has increased dramatically over the last 30 years with predictions that it will continue to rise. According to the Mayo Clinic almost 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription medication with more than half of the population taking two prescriptions. The last two decades have provided me with an intense opportunity to learn about health, medicine, the different kinds of medicine, and what it takes for your body to be healthy and well. Disclosure: I am not in the medical field and nothing in this blog post can be construed as medical advice. You should get medical advice from a licensed medical practitioner. What I am sharing today is my personal opinion, based on what I have learned and implemented in my own life. I am not on any prescription medications although some people think I should be medicated – Haha. Joking. Not joking. I have the energy I had when I was in college and only a few gray hairs – as in very, very few. And I work at being healthy.
- SLEEP According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep. Sleep is the ONLY TIME that your body has a chance to go to work on repairing itself. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School states that insufficient sleep is linked to weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, mood disorders, depression anxiety, mental distress, and a lower life expectancy. They also state that insufficient sleep takes a toll on perception and judgement – mental performance. There is the amount of sleep that you get each night and then there is the quality of sleep that you get. For your body to function well, it’s a fact that you need to get the right amount of sleep and good quality sleep. Most recommendations for how much sleep you need is between 7 to 9 hours per night.
- Connectedness & Relatedness You may be shocked that I have listed this as number 2, but wait until you hear why. Loneliness and social isolation increase premature death by up to 50% making it a bigger threat than obesity according to two meta-analyses from Brigham Young University. Social isolation is defined as a lack of contact with other individuals. Loneliness is described as a feeling that one is emotionally disconnected from others, so you can feel lonely even if you are in a group of people. Compelling research by J. Tanskanen and T. Anttila (Am J Public Health 2016 November; 106(11): 2042-2048. NCBI.NIM.NIH.GOV) indicates that a lack of social connections is as influential a mortality risk as traditional health-related indicators such as alcohol, smoking or obesity.All this means that getting connected to and related to people will greatly enhance your health! That might be easier for some of you than others, but regardless of the level of difficulty, if you want improved health and the potential to live longer, it is important to develop relationships and put yourself in situations where you can connect with people. How to do that is a lengthy enough topic for a future blog post. Bottom line – dealing with any feelings of loneliness and social isolation will boost your health and surely make you feel better.
- Walking or Exercising While many Americans despise the thought of exercise, walking is a doable option for most – not all – but most people. Walking or some form of exercise has the benefit of being preventative for: stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, some specific cancers notably colon and breast, arthritis, and falls. Additionally, walking or some form of exercise has been proven to improve mood and cognitive function, boost energy, help you sleep better and it’s good for your sex life. Walking is my preferred method of exercise because it is easy on the body, can be done almost anywhere (even while you are waiting for your turn at the phone store), and it is relatively low cost – the cost of a good pair of walking sneakers.If you have an ongoing health issue you should consult with your physician before embarking on any exercise program. Period. I use an old-fashioned pedometer to track my daily steps and record them in my planner. Regardless of what exercise you do – walking or other – any exercise carries significant health benefits. Like Nike says – Just Do It.
- Improving Your Diet Even people who do not own an automobile understand full well that a motor vehicle will not go if the gas tank is empty. We inherently understand that cars require not only gasoline (or diesel fuel), but also transmission fluid, brake fluid, antifreeze, and so on. Your body operates in much the same way. Your body is fueled by what you eat and drink. Therefore, any small changes you make to improve your diet will go a long way to help you be healthier and feel better and potentially look younger. The more I have learned about nutrition, the more respect and value I place on nutrition. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up red meat, French fries, or deep-fried chicken. It simply means that any changes that you are willing to make to improve your diet will help you improve your health.As the author of an Allergy & Celiac Cookbook, which contains a whole chapter on nutrition and special diets, this subject is worthy of multiple blog posts. Suffice to say for this post, consider substituting a beverage loaded with nutrition like a fruit or green smoothie for one of your less nutritious drinks (soda, coffee, tea, etc.). Consider adding one more green vegetable per day. Substitute a healthier entrée for a less healthy entrée. Start thinking about what you eat and drink and the nutritional density of those foods and beverages. And if you are unwilling to improve your diet, see item #8 in this post, which is all I can offer you.
- Attitude & Gratitude According to Psychology Today (2015), there are 7 scientifically proven benefits to having an attitude of gratitude including: gratitude opens the door to more relationships; improves physical health; improves psychological health; enhances empathy and reduces aggression; provides better sleep; improves self-esteem, and increases mental strength. Researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, one of many researchers in the area of positivity, indicates that a positive attitude yields a faster recovery from cardiovascular stress, better sleep, fewer colds, and a greater sense of overall happiness. There now exists a sufficient body of evidence to state that you will benefit from a positive attitude and being grateful. That might be a tall order if you are pessimist (or a realist…) -and I am not even going there folks.The bottom line is that whatever you can to do be more positive and grateful will benefit your health. If you need help moving to this as a practice, then one of the old standby recommendations is to keep a gratitude journal and write down on a daily basis what you are grateful for. Certainly, getting to know others who have much bigger problems than you have should be helpful in moving you to a perpetual state of gratitude.
- Managing & Reducing Stress Chronic stress can actually decrease your lifespan by shortening our telomeres, the “end caps” of our DNA strands, which cause us to age more quickly. I understand how difficult it is and can be to manage or reduce stress. I totally get it. Yet, sometimes there are choices that we could make that would reduce or stress that we don’t recognize or see. For example, years ago I thoughtfully decided not to work with a person on a project because it would have increased my stress levels too much. As much as my decision shocked some people, I knew that I was going to be so much happier not working with said person. Once I declined the celebrated invitation to be on a special select team at work because the meetings were going to be in New York City and I was just unwilling to have that stress. In that instance, the company moved the meetings to a location that was agreeable so I would join the team.What are the things that cause you stress? What can you do to manage or reduce it? Sometimes the choices you make to manage or reduce your stress will cause other people to be unhappy. Deal with it. Or let them deal with it. Any work you can do in this area will definitely yield health benefits. You can also see my past blog posts on Leveling up your Happiness for suggestions.
- Reducing Exposure to Chemicals or Toxins
If you have never seen the video called “Ten Americans” by Ken Cook, one of the founders of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), then you are probably wondering what I am talking about. In research done by the EWG, they obtained 10 umbilical cord blood samples from newborn babies and did chemical testing on the blood. Here is a statement from Mr. Cook’s Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works:
“EWG tested these 10 Americans in 2004 and found more than 200 synthetic industrial chemicals in their blood, including dioxins and furans, flame retardants, and active ingredients in stain removers and carpet protectors. We also found lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticides that the federal government banned more than 30 years ago.” We are birthing babies that have high levels of toxic chemicals in their blood. You are unwittingly exposed to carcinogenic chemicals in many personal care products like perfume, cologne, personal care products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient, as well as cleaning products, and many more indoor chemicals and toxins that can be mitigated. Choose natural products for your personal care and cleaning. Open your windows for fresh air to improve your indoor air quality. I have so much more to say about this subject having tested one of my kids for toxic chemicals in their blood and what it took to address that, which will be covered in a future post.
- Offset Your Not So Hot Diet with Supplements According to the CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 50% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and magnesium; greater than 50% of the general population is Vitamin D deficient; 9 out of 10 Americans are deficient in potassium; 7 out of 10 Americans are deficient in Calcium; and the statistics just go on and on. While many U.S. physicians’ rail against Americans taking supplements, the statistics simply do not support that advice. If money were no object I would suggest that you get nutritional testing, which would give you concrete medical data about where your body stands with respect to nutrition. However, even if you are diagnosed with malnutrition, most insurance companies will still not pay for nutritional testing. What to take and how much to take in the way of supplements is not something that I can answer for you because that would be irresponsible. I take a good number of supplements because I have experience in this area. I only take high quality products that are recommended by the kinds of physicians I tend to prefer.
Happy & HealthyCan you truly be happy if you are unhealthy? Probably. And clearly it would take a lot more effort if you are in pain, having a health problem or challenge to be happy in life. To be healthy in our current society and culture takes some effort, a willingness to make changes that are either needed or called for, awareness, and some commitment. For me these above things that I do on an ongoing basis provide me with huge rewards or I would not do them. They are habits or practices that are ingrained in how I live life. They can become habits or practices for you. My wish for you is fantastic and glowing health where you feel well and have plenty of energy to do what you LOVE. Let me know if you have any questions.
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