Five Essential Habits to Establish Today for Optimal Health!
As a naturopathic physician I, and my colleagues, know we ask A LOT from our patients. We often put together complex plans that can sometimes involve a multitude of steps because when we are working with you we are not only working to cure the one symptom you may be coming in with but the underlying etiology that is ultimately causing what is ailing you. To attain the goal of essentially treating the root cause you have probably walked out of your ND’s office with something that more resembles a short-story than a typical doctor’s treatment plan. So…you’ve got this short story in front of you, maybe it’s from me as your provider, or maybe it’s from another provider, but I want to give you my two cents on what I think the TOP FIVE THINGS are to focus on implementing today so as change your health for the better, as quickly as possible.
1. Intuitive eating with a focus on whole foods.
Intuitive eating is the fancier name for what I like to call the 80-20 rule, meaning 80% of the time eat mostly plants, whole foods and things that come out of the ground, off a bush/tree/vine, out of the ocean or from the land and 20% of the time, eat what you damn well please! Dietary changes can be hard to implement but by incorporating the 80-20 rule/intuitive eating your relationship with food should start to shift to the point where you don’t feel bad for having a donut every now and then and you being to listen to the signals your body is giving you for the type of nourishment it may want or need. Also, be sure to buy everything organic and non-GMO to the best of your ability – I’m not here to drive you crazy so just do your best – a serving of GMO, non-organic vegetables is better than no vegetables at all! The Environmental Working Group also has a great guide that helps you determine which foods it is more important to buy organic and non-GMO and which you can “cheat” on a little bit: Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. A whole foods diet can not only help with weight management if that’s on your health goal list but it also helps prevent or treat chronic metabolic diseases such as endocrine disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer(1).
*Pro-tip: If buying non-GMO and organic might put too much of a stretch on your wallet, consider checking out Winco and Grocery Outlet for steep discounts on these items. Yes, it adds another stop but if you make a list and find a spot that has maybe a Fred Meyer to buy your produce at and a Winco and/or Grocery Outlet nearby then you can cut your grocery bill significantly without spending too much more time.
2. Restorative sleep.
Restful sleep is essential not only so we’re not crabby, foggy-headed and tired every single day, but restful and adequate sleep has shown a protective effect against chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension and can even help encourage tissue healing and reduce pain(2). Sleep hygiene is what I encourage to provide patients with the most restful and restorative sleep and though most of you probably know what sleep hygiene is, just in case you haven’t been introduced to this theory, here it is again. Sleep hygiene is a typical tool used to make sure your sleep is as restful and restorative as possible and it involves the following: make sure your room is pitch black, cool (60-64 deg F), quiet and calm (think fluffy pillows, blankets, etc.). Really it boils down to that your room should feel like a wonderful spa where you can recuperate.
*Pro-tip: Aside from making sure your mattress is not over 10-years old, changing out your pillows and other bedding accouterments can help to improve the calming aspect of your bed. Amazon obviously is a great place to shop for bedding but don’t be afraid to check out local retailers too – a lot of them offer frequent discounts especially if you put something in your cart and then don’t finish the check-out process.
3. Daily movement.
Exercise, movement, play – whatever you want to call it – moving your body in some way, every day is incredibly important! Exercise has been studied for a long time now and not only helps reduce morbidity and mortality, but it helps to reduce pain, decrease anxiety, stress, and depression, improve mental clarity and so much more(3).
*Pro-tip: Initiating a regular movement routine can be very difficult but if you’re willing to try, there are more free apps, programs, videos, routines than you could ever get through! Some of my favorites are 8 Fit, Women’s Health and Men’s Health magazines (they’ve also great Instagram accounts), Yoga with Adrienne and Nike NTC (which is also free right now!). My absolute favorite place to start though, especially if daily movement is something newer for you, is “The Seven Minute Scientific Workout.”
This really goes without saying seeing as water (not tea, not coffee, not soda, no energy drinks, not juice, etc.) is essential to life! Ideally, it would be great if everyone could get at least half their body weight in ounces in water daily. So for a 170 lb person that would be 85 ounces of water daily – and really if you are active or if it is hot outside and you are perspiring, you should actually be getting more(4). Yes, tea, coffee, and some other beverages provide water however there are also other components in those liquids that can sometimes be a little dehydrating so really aim for half your body weight in water daily!
*Pro-tip: Having a hard time increasing your water because you don’t like the taste? Add a squeeze of lemon, lime or put some frozen berries in your water to improve the taste! Feeling like you’re having to pee ALL the time because you’ve increased your water? Try adding a pinch of sea salt into 20 ounces of water and drink! The little bit of salt will help you retain more of the water and you will also find with drinking more water, more often, your bladder will learn and not send the “I’m full!” signal quite so frequently.
5. Stress management.
This seems to be a real buzz word of late but just because it is all over social media doesn’t mean it is any less important! Stress, though useful in certain situations, can be damaging if we experience it too often/for too long of a time period(5). Daily mindfulness or meditation is a great way to balance your stress levels not only by allowing you space to do a self-check-in but it can also teach you techniques that will allow you to thrive instead of wilt during stressful times(6).
*Pro-tip: There is a multitude of free apps and websites with mindfulness sessions, guided imagery, etc. Some of my favorites are 10% Happier, Mindful.org, Calm and if you have pain that causes the majority of your stress, Curable. Some of these apps or websites are full of free sessions, others cost and the price can vary.
The Bottom Line
These may seem like incredibly simple items, but I guarantee you if you can incorporate these essential five habits regularly and with conviction (no waffling here…) then you will find your health starts to take a positive turn very quickly!
1. The Best Diet: Quality Counts | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/best-diet-quality-counts/. Accessed April 9, 2020.
2. Study links irregular sleep patterns to metabolic disorders | National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2019/study-links-irregular-sleep-patterns-metabolic-disorders. Accessed April 9, 2020.
3. Warburton DER, Nicol CW, Bredin SSD. Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. CMAJ. 2006;174(6):801-809. doi:10.1503/cmaj.051351
4. Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
5. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: New insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Science OA. 2015;1(3). doi:10.4155/fso.15.21
6. Galante J, Dufour G, Vainre M, et al. A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in university students (the Mindful Student Study): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Public Health. 2018;3(2):e72-e81. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30231-1
*DISCLAIMER: This document is not intended to treat or diagnose disease. Before implementing any new treatment protocols be sure to consult with a licensed physician. The author has nothing to disclose in regards to supplements or products mentioned within this document and the author does not receive any monetary or other incentives to mention the recommended supplements or products.