Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Consider Health as an Expression of the Following Key Aspects
Dietary: Dietary modifications are an obvious and critical factor in creating a healthy life. Each person requires an approach that fits their own personal body type that includes age, activity level, gender and other factors. Appropriate diet is not a one size fits all plan although there are general guidelines that benefit most individuals; a plant based whole food diet is that overarching approach. Work with a practitioner who can guide you in creating a personalized plan and consider this: If revamping your eating habits seems too overwhelming you can begin by making a commitment to small changes. If you can make one dietary modification per week, you will soon have a sound-eating plan. It’s likely you will never achieve perfection but that is not what it takes to be healthy (nor is it possible)1. The general picture is much more meaningful than the occasional splurge.
Example of tracking food, Breakfast: 1 cup of cooked oatmeal with a handful of fresh berries and cup of green tea. Lunch, Mixed greens with onions, olives, red peppers, a small chicken breast and ladle scoop of quinoa. Dinner: a 4 inch piece of grilled salmon with honey-dijon glaze, sautéed spinach and mushrooms (in olive oil) a small baked sweet potato with a small bit of butter) and a romaine salad with cherry tomatoes, onions, a spoonful of crumbled feta cheese and oil and lemon. Snack: bowl of popcorn made with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic salt and a spoon of grated Parmesan.
Exercise: if you don’t exercise at all, start by incorporating a 10-15-minute walk into your day or 10-15 minutes of in home movement and stretching. First thing in the morning generally works best as it sets the pace for the rest of the day. If it is raining put on some music and dance in your living room for the time or get a tread mill or mini trampoline. There are many videos that offer simple in-home exercises for all levels. The more regularly you exercise the more you will crave it but you have to start somewhere. Remember even a little bit is far better than none. Having a regular exercise routine is a commitment to health and will do wonders for your confidence level no matter how long or short it is. One of the exercises we strongly recommended including on a daily basis is stretching. From simple stretching to fluid dance or a formal yoga class these movements provide a tremendous health benefit. This is because below the skin, surrounding and penetrating the muscles and organs is connective tissue also known as fascia. The fascia acts to surround, protect and hold our organs, vessels, nerves and attach, stabilize and connect our muscles. The fascia is primarily made of layers of protein called collagen and is bathed in fluid that is rich in hyaluronic acid. This fluid, rich in hyaluronic acid keeps the tissue lubricated and pliable allowing muscles to move smoothly. As we age our bodies’ production of hyaluronic acid (HA) decreases and as a result, the layers of tissue don’t move as well. In fact they begin to get sticky causing us to feel stiff and experience more pain. Movement, in particular that which includes stretching is an important way to counter the effects of decreased HA and keep our tissues moving and pliable. Even a 10-minute session of stretching twice per day is enough to keep our bodies supple and flexible. We hope you build a practice of daily stretching and feel the benefits of increased energy, suppleness and overall wellbeing……
Sleep: sleep is a major factor in our overall health. It impacts our energy levels, our mental state, mood, immune system, weight, hormone related activities and more. Keep in mind that the mental state created before we slumber is important and sets the tone of your thoughts, dreams and depth of sleep. Many of us try to do more and sleep less; this does not come without consequence. Sleep is critical to any health practice and also to any weight loss efforts. It is during sleep that your body produces a hormone known as Leptin. Leptin is considered to be the “satiety hormone ” as it suppresses hunger and regulates fat storage. Leptin balances the protein Ghrelin which is the “hunger hormone”. This means without adequate sleep, our bodies have an imbalance of leptin and ghrelin leaving us susceptible to increased hunger and overeating. Further, during sleep the body is able to repair and reconstruct, manufacture and nourish itself. A 2018 study found that C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk (and other inflammatory disorders), was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night. By denying the body proper rest (quantity and quality counts), important repair work is left undone. This all translates into overall poor health. If you are feeling fatigued much of the time, unable to lose weight and irritable it may be that you’re not getting enough rest. Taking a cup of chamomile or valerian tea at night, using herbals recommended by a qualified practitioner, getting acupuncture, exercise, meditation and taking hot baths with essential oils can help you relax and sleep better. If you have trouble sleeping don’t wait, take action.
Mindfulness and Stress Reduction: Stress causes diseases; it is a fact. So if you’re looking for a healthy body and mind you’ll want to make a commitment to letting go of stress as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean you will never “feel” stressed rather, when the feeling is noticed, an intention is set forth to release it. Stress usually affects us when we feel like we have control no over a situation. The irony is that we have little control over most things in life with the exception of our response and attitude. Reciting a mantra or prayer can be very soothing, enlightening and can get us grounded again. It is also worth noting that much of our stressful response is a learned habit. Keep in mind that our bodies BECOME ADDICTED to stress chemicals. When stress sets off the usual spinning loop communication between the hypothalamus and the pituitary, the adrenal glands begin to manufacture and release the true stress hormones—dopamine, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and especially cortisol. These chemicals are powerful and can make us feel alive (not necessarily happy) When deprived, your mind may nudge you to take offense, or poke you to feel stress to get a fix of the chemical release. NOTE: there are other ways to feel good… Meditation keeps cortisol and adrenaline in check and in turn:
Improves your mood with serotonin and oxytocin. ...
Increases your melatonin levels, helping you sleep better. ...
Improves focus and concentration by increasing dopamine.
Creativity: Creativity is good for the soul. If you have a creative passion, indulge in it regularly and if haven’t cultivated yours yet; experiment. Whether you like to paint, draw, build birdhouses, cook, dance, write, grow flowers or make soap these activities draw on your imaginative, innovative and artistic self. In ancient philosophies there is an acknowledgement of our creative spirit. In Taoist cosmology for example, it is known as the Hun or “Cloud Spirit”. This cloud spirit is what lives on eternally and is connected all things. It both drives our creativity and thrives on it. Creative expression is good for the spirit and allows tension, frustration and passion to be channeled into a positive flow. Remember that all emotions, even those less desirable ones, are all energy and can be used as fuel to be transformed and released. The by-product is artistic expression. There are many reasons why you do not want to bottle up creativity but the best reason is that it provides such wonderful satisfaction and feelings of joy and inspiration. Creativity helps you feel connected to your higher self and to the world around you. Discover yourself, get connected and begin a practice of creative expression……..see article on the neurochemistry of creativity.
How you can create a plan for healthy living: take a complete inventory of your daily habits
You’ll need to get yourself a journal book or create an electronic folder and log your daily habits for a full 5 days. This includes: diet and specific eating practices, exercise, stress levels, sleep quantity and quality and any relaxation and creative time for five days without making any adjustments. You want to have a full picture of your daily habits on a wholistic level. In order make change in life, you have to know from where you’re starting.
Set Goals for yourself that reflect your vision: perhaps you want to loose weight, improve your energy, get more physically fit / strong or reduce how much of a particular symptom you are experiencing (eg. allergies, catching colds, digestive issues, anxiety etc. These are all things that can be addressed by resetting your daily practices in the areas listed below. Keep in mind that Diet, Exercise, Mindfulness & Stress Reduction, Sleep and Creativity are the cornerstones of health and are all required (perhaps with slightly different emphasis depending on where you are) to achieve your health goals
Diet: Track your normal eating and drinking habits (includes coffee, tea, alcohol and anything else you consume). You will want to assess all habits around intake including where and how you eat and drink. Beyond the quantity of what you consume,, it’s also noteworthy to log the quality of your food, where it’s eaten (home, restaurant, in the car, at your desk while you’re working and stressed etc.) and how you eat. For instance are you eating with a sense of guilt? Are you appreciating the food? Do you feel tired and bored? For your log, be sure to include the food items, preparation method/s amount (does’t need to be weighed or measured exactly but you should submit the general amount. Samples to follow
Exercise and movement: Assess the type and amount of exercise you get daily. Different types of activities: aerobic, strength training, stretching, resistance all offer different benefits. Remember that both deliberately scheduled and incidental activities should be logged. Keep in mind that physical activity is the “yang” balance to the “yin” activity of consuming substance. In a balanced state, one cannot exist without the other.
Stress perception: You want to monitor your perceived stress levels. Note the times, places and circumstances that seem to increase or decrease your stress level. Logging this will provide useful information as you move through created a different approach to the challenges in your life. Keep in mind that stress is energy and we can learn to transform that energy into the fuel to support activities that benefit our lives.
Sleep: Log the time you lay down in bed and the time you fall asleep (this will be an estimate as you’ll be asleep and cannot log anything at that point) note the activities that precede your bedtime e.g. Do you watch TV and fall asleep on the couch then go to bed? Do you stay on the computer checking emails and reading the latest news feeds or, do you wind down with a cup of relaxing herbal tea and read a self help book or engage in journaling before bed. In addition to logging bedtime, keep track of how often you wake (and the reason) as well as time you get out of bed in the morning and how you feel when you wake.
Relaxation and Creative Expression time: keep track of these important experiences. This can be any activity in which you engage that allows you to turn off the daily thoughts and concerns of life and switch into a focused expression of something you enjoy. This could be writing, drawing, cooking, exercising, dancing, singing, listening to music, walking your dog, reading poetry, getting together with friends (to laugh and share not to complain or gossip),
Tip: Don’t take it personally. Whatever people say to you, remember that each person has their own issues and reasons for their own thoughts and behavior. Many times we get stressed over what was said or “done to us” by another person. The more you can let go of reaction, the more calm and relaxed you will become in general.
Taking stock of when your body naturally peaks in energy and when it lulls can be very useful. With this information you can plan high-energy tasks around times that correspond with your natural rhythm rather than wasting energy fighting against yourself. Try doing a task that takes focused concentration when you are mentally exhausted vs when you are energetic and note the difference in effort and time it requires
Pay attention to the signals of actual hunger versus cravings. Many times our desire to eat something is a craving that is triggered by stress, boredom or other factors and is not true hunger. By observing and acknowledging the difference, you can make different choices. Knowledge is truly power.
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Copywright 2018: Darlene Easton M.S, L.Ac, CNS Associate Professor