7 Steps to Vibrant Health
Vibrant health is the secret to true quality of life, yet never before have we seen so much chronic disease. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and autoimmune disorders are ubiquitous today. Just 100 years ago, we didn’t have such things as Attention Deficit Disorder and Chronic Fatigue. What happened? We can’t blame genes, as these have not changed. It’s our environment that has changed, and so have our lifestyles. But we have choices—and these choices give us the power to take charge of our health and dramatically improve our lives. Research shows that 75% of diseases are due to poor lifestyle choices. That’s right: They’re preventable. Every day, we make an average of 200 decisions that impact our health—from what we have for breakfast, to our choice of cleaning products, to biking to work (with a helmet on!) instead of driving. If you quit smoking before age 35, you’ll add 5 years to your life; if you quit after 64, you’ll add 1 year to your life. Do you floss your teeth? You’re adding 5 to 6 years to your life. Get ready to become the CEO of your own health. Begin with these 7 steps – and start living your best life.
1 – Let food be thy medicine.
What Hippocrates once said holds true today. Healthy living begins in the kitchen. At breakfast this morning, did you reach for a bagel (a sure way to spike your blood sugar levels) or heart-healthy oatmeal? If you had coffee with NutraSweet or Equal, did you know that aspartame sweeteners turn into methanol and formaldehyde, toxic substances that cause breast and prostate cancer? Aspartame also contains phenylalanine, which affects brain chemistry and can cause anxiety, headaches, depression, and seizures. No one is immune to the impact of bad dietary choices. Our bodies are resilient, but eventually we deplete our metabolic reserves. It takes about 20 years of poor eating to ruin our metabolism and develop insulin resistance, and then diabetes. Here’s a menu for you: Try eating a rainbow diet for a week, with vegetables and fruits of every color, and see how good you feel. Include protein in every meal (legumes are a great and often overlooked choice). Eat good fats, such as avocados and olive oil. Get rid of 23 teaspoons of sugar a day (in addition to wreaking havoc on your health, sugar makes you eat more). Cut back on the salt. Instead, enjoy your food with cinnamon, turmeric, and saffron—all known for their health benefits. Watch portion sizes, not eating beyond satiety. Most important, eat mindfully and enjoy your food to best absorb its healthful benefits.
2 – Live a ‘detox lifestyle’.
Eat organic to reduce your toxic load and to minimize your exposure to chemicals. Be familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s ‘dirty dozen’ (the 12 most pesticide-laden foods, such as apples, strawberries, and grapes) and the ‘clean 15′ (the foods with the least pesticide residues, such as onions and avocados), and let these guide your shopping choices. Drink more water, ideally using a water purifier. Limit your consumption of larger fish like tuna, pike, halibut, and swordfish, as these contain the highest concentration of heavy metals. Did you know that mercury amalgams, once standard in dentistry, are the second most toxic substances on Earth? Use nontoxic cleaning agents, and purchase natural cosmetics free of phthalates and other harmful ingredients. To optimize biotransformation (the body’s ability to break down or convert a substance, such as a toxin, into a different substance), eat a variety of vegetables and fruits; pomegranates, for example, are the highest sources of ellagic acid, which contributes to healthy biotransformation.
3 – Get up from the couch. Do you exercise enough?
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise. The secret to working out is that it should not feel like work—if you enjoy it, you’ll do it more often. Walking is a simple pleasure, and just 30 minutes a day is proven to decrease C-Reactive Protein (a marker of inflammation). Walk 40 minutes a day, and you can add 4 years to your life. Exercise can also help you with tip #2 (“Live the detox life”), as it enhances the body’s natural ability to detoxify. You don’t have to engage in strenuous activity to reap all the benefits. Even choosing to stand, instead of sit, has an immediate health benefit. The next time you talk on the phone, try pacing—you’ll increase thermogenesis. When you exercise at home, use music to make it more enjoyable and create a feeling of vacation. Vigorous exercise for 75 minutes a week has been shown to prevent the shortening of telomeres—the parts of chromosomes that affect aging. Exercise can also help with our next tip: stress reduction.
4 – Lower your stress levels.
Research shows that mind and body are tightly interconnected. Having some stress is normal and healthy, but when you are chronically stressed, you’ll suffer ill effects such as increased inflammation, weight gain, and a suppressed immune system. Health risks can range from minor illnesses like frequent colds, to major traumas like heart disease. Try yoga or meditation, and learn breathing techniques that reduce stress. Regular exercise can help to buffer the effect of stress on the telomere length (see tip #3 about telomeres and exercise). Even reading in the evening, or winding down with a bath, can help make a space for calm in your day. Relaxation is undervalued in our go-go culture, but it is essential for stress reduction—which is, simply, essential to health and wellbeing.
5 – Make time for fun.
Plan activities and recreation with your family and friends—it’s good for your health. The adage is true: Families that play together, stay together. Do something outdoors, or play board games and card games together. Laughter, too, is great medicine: When you laugh, your blood pressure drops. The average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day, but the average 40-year-old laughs just 4 times a day. Download funny movies from YouTube, or read humorous books. Try to maintain a clear distinction between work time and play time, and avoid letting work intrude on your family life or home life.
6 – Get your Z’s.
Sleep is perhaps the most powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-aging medication that we have available to us. Most people are not getting enough sleep and are chronically sleep-deprived, which can lead to cognitive impairment and a host of other medical conditions. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs from 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Rather than becoming dependent on a pharmaceutical sleep aid, you can make some easy lifestyle changes to improve your sleep. Set a consistent bedtime and wake time, for example. Avoid late-day caffeine. Remove bright alarm clocks from your bedroom, as well as TVs, cell phones, and computers, and don’t even look at a computer 1 hour before bed. Make sleep a priority—it is precious to your health.
7 – Cultivate happiness and gratitude.
Did you know that people with a happy outlook are 50% less likely to die? Practice gratitude: When you are grateful, you are not anxious. Celebrate the small achievements, even tapping yourself on the back and saying ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’. In general, take responsibility for how you feel and what you think, say, and do. Anger generates negativity, while forgiveness begets love and healing, and joy is the true elixir of life.
Stay Healthy & Live with Passion!
Igor Ostrovsky, MD, PhD