Every week we hear about new health information. What are the best “superfoods” to eat? How does plastic affect our health? Is using a microwave good for our health or bad? How much exercise should we be getting? Keeping up with all the latest information can be stressful. We think it is time to stop, take a breath, relax, and know that good health is not supposed to be hard. It is really about taking the time to focus on a few simple practices that can make you feel rested, whole, happy, and filled with positive energy. These following suggestions can help you – simply and practically – stay healthy:
- Just breathe. This simple practice lowers blood pressure, reduces your heart rate, improves digestion and sleep, and keeps stress to a minimum. Begin by taking a long, slow deep breath and holding it for a count of four, and then releasing it slowly. Take at least four breaths in this way and do this at least twice a day.
- Listen to your body. Our bodies are talking to us all the time but we are often too busy or preoccupied with other things to listen. Often, our bodies “scream” before they get our attention. We might get a mild cold, migraines, or other more serious illnesses before we “listen.” Start by taking a breath and asking yourself “How does my body feel?” “What does it need from me today?” “Do I have any discomfort or pain?” “How is my energy level?” Instead of getting mad or frustrated when it is sick or tired, actually open a dialogue with it and see how you can transform your health.
- Be one with nature. Thoreau knew that nature was the “tonic for the soul.” But many of us today are disconnected from the natural world. We leave our houses and get into cars to go to work. Traveling on freeways, we don’t see any open space and then go to work where we are inside buildings all day. We use technology to experience “virtual” adventures, don’t feel the sun on our faces except on vacation, rarely see wild birds, plants, or animals except in a national park, and can’t see the stars because of light pollution. Experiencing nature every day – even if it is a walk in the park or watching a hummingbird drink from a feeder – is vital to our very essence. It also feels great!
- Practice forgiveness. To really improve your health, let go of the past, especially regrets and resentments that cause you to remain “stuck” in the very basest part of the brain. Each time you replay a past offense, your body lives through it again and often responds as it did the first time you experienced the offense. The prefrontal cortex of the brain (where most of our highest brain functions take place) is activated when we live with love and compassion. When we practice forgiveness through ritual or meditation or simply being present, we achieve better health since mindfulness is counterintuitive to resentment.
- Get moving. There are few things that are better for your body than moving it! From controlling weight to lowering blood pressure to fending off arthritis, the “blues,” and even some cancers, movement is good for your health. While many experts recommend moving for at least one hour a day, many people find this daunting. Remember, it doesn’t have to be done all at once, or be formal, fancy, or expensive. Walking is a great way to support your new movement goal and including friends or a canine companion can help make it even more fun.
- Eat whole foods. One of the most important things we can do is to eat more “whole” foods – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds – and eat less “processed” foods. This simple step can help reduce weight and reduce the risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, and metabolic syndrome. Choosing organic, sustainably- and humanely-raised foods also support your health as well as the health of other human beings, communities, and the planet.
- Have some fun! While many of us are trying to prioritize eating the right foods, exercising more, and connecting with loved ones, we need to also focus on having fun and incorporating play into our everyday lives. Try making every aspect of health fun. Choose activities that make you smile, explore new recipes to tantalize your taste buds, and engage in creative activities that are fun.
- Lean on your friends. Friendship is the key to staying well. People with great social support systems are less likely to die young. Many experts recommend two types of friends. “Foxhole” friends are those who will be there for you at 3 a.m. no matter what and “party” friends are those who make you laugh. You don’t need friends who are toxic or drain you of energy (“energy vampires”). “Shedding” those types of friendships is also important to staying healthy.
- Change the channel. One of the healthiest things you can do for yourself is consider your “mind diet.” News channels, even in the best of times, can often become a stress-inducing vacuum. In difficult times, it can grow into an addiction that undermines your health. Networks cycle through the same bad news over and over and it “hooks” you in by turning everything into a crisis. The body does not differentiate between real problems and sensationalized ones and will respond with the same stress response. This can lead to health problems. What can you do? Pay attention to how you feel during the news and when you start to feel bad, consider changing the channel or turning off the TV, and shift your attention to something positive. Go for a walk, read a good book, or play with your kids or a pet. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore real world issues. It just means you may be healthier focusing on what you can do to positively contribute to the world (or the issue) instead of feeling helpless as you watch what is happening.
- Be fearless! Staying healthy often means tackling your fears. Fear makes us feel “stuck” and can lead to other health problems such as anxiety, depression, or cardiovascular disease. Try starting each day with a short meditation or prayer in which you ask for guidance so you can be of service. Incorporate a yoga pose (such as Child’s Pose) to help you stretch when meditating. This can clear your mind and help you move forward in the day without negativity as you choose to come from a positive state of mind.
Reference: Dowdle, H. (2009). Feel your best. Body + Soul, July 2009, 75-80.