I love a good “Top Ten” list. It’s probably because I’m an impatient reader (ok, probably an impatient human in general but I’m working on it) and have been known to skip to the last chapter of a novel to see what happens. Who has time for plot development? We’re all rushed and over-busy. We leave little to no time for ourselves to do the things we should be doing: exercising, planning and eating healthy meals, taking time to do things we enjoy – it all gets pushed to the backburner during our crazy busy days. But I embolden you to take a few minutes to read this article… I’ll keep it short and sweet. This is my “Top Ten” list of the things that I feel make the biggest difference in the lives of my patients. True wellness happens when we pay attention to what matters most. To me, these are the things that truly matter.
- Practice daily meditation. In a recent article, published in the medical journal JAMA , researchers from John Hopkins University showed that mindfulness meditation can help ease anxiety, depression and pain. The practice of mindfulness meditation is simply sitting quietly and comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present. Even 5 minutes of meditation per day (optimal is 30 minutes twice per day) can help balance both mind and body.
- Be a nighttime creature of habit. Getting a good night’s sleep is paramount to improved health and wellbeing. We all know that we don’t feel very good when we don’t sleep well, but more importantly, chronic sleep deprivation can contribute serious health problems such as high blood pressure, increased stress hormones, and irregular heartbeat. To get a better night’s sleep, create nighttime habits that prepare your body and mind for sleep such as drinking herbal tea, taking a warm bath, meditation, and unplugging from all electronics an hour before bed.
- Move your body every day. Yes, EVERY DAY. If I had to choose the single most important thing on this list to improve all aspects of health, exercise would win hands down. The goal should be to exercise 45-60 minutes 4-5 days per week, but it all counts! Park in the furthest parking spot (better yet, just walk!), take the stairs, do some squats while brushing your teeth – it all counts. Our bodies are meant to move and the more sedentary we are, the faster our bodies will break down. Make a commitment to break a sweat once a day.
- Get a checkup. According to a recent study, nearly 50% of Americans have either high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or a combination of the three. All three are major risk factors for heart disease which is the leading cause of death in this country. What’s more, close to 10% of patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol don’t know they have it; 3% for diabetes. Take care of your ticker – go get a physical and some blood work. Knowledge is power!
- Eat more… (plants that is). With all the fad diets out there, it’s no wonder people are confused. This year has everyone back in hunter gatherer mode eating wild wildebeest cooked on a spit. I say, keep it simple – whole foods, no processed, mostly plants. A plant based diet is where it’s at. I love the quote from Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. If you fill your plate with mostly plants and eat sensible portion sizes of food that your great great grandmother would recognize as such, you’re probably doing ok.
- Take a good multivitamin and an extra D. You never know which vitamin or mineral you might be missing and depletion of only one essential nutrient can set off imbalances in a wide range of metabolic pathways. Poor diet, poor soil quality, and lack of variation in food intake are some of the reasons we find deficiencies. Eating a wide array of local, in season, organic fruits and veggies, taking a good multivitamin and a little extra vitamin D are all good things to do to ensure your body is functioning at its best.
- Connect with nature. “Go get your mind right” is something my husband tells me when he sees me stressing out or worrying, and this is my cue to go outdoors and clear my head. Nature puts things into perspective and I can’t help but feel less stressed when I stand next to the ocean or go for a hike. Seeing the vastness and beauty of nature has a way of making problems seem less huge and horrifying. Managing and decreasing stress are vital to good health, so get YOUR mind right and get outdoors.
- Drink more water. Think about how your house plants look after you forget to water them and imagine your body organs the same way when you’re dehydrated. The health benefits of water are numerous and include improved kidney function, weight management, and improved bowel function. So how much should you drink? Here’s an easy calculation: body weight x 2/3 = oz of water to consume daily. Increase and adjust for exercise.
- Connect to the people you love. Did you know that loneliness is a risk factor for early death? I almost fell out of my seat when I recently read this in the medical journal, Science. To quote the authors, “Social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health – rivaling the effect of well-established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical activity.” I find it so fascinating and incredibly sad that being lonely can affect our physiology so much that it can increase our risk of early death. So connect with those you love, mend broken relationships, seek social connection, join a club or church group. Better yet, notice those around you who might be facing isolation and loneliness and reach out to them. Invite a neighbor to dinner. Not only will you improve your own health, but you just might increase the lifespan of someone around you. How amazing is that?
- Boost your health with a daily dose of gratitude. Research studies in mental health show that grateful people tend to be healthier than their not so grateful counterparts. They tend to engage in healthier lifestyle traits such as regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Those who practice daily gratitude also tend to have better immune function, antioxidant function, and handle stress better which has all sorts of awesome health benefits such as decreasing the risk of heart disease and cancer. So here’s your prescription: Start your day either thinking about or writing down five things that you are grateful for. Dose it daily and you’ll be healthier and happier this year and years to come.
Dr. Aimee Warren