1. Prioritize sleep
In our busy, fast-paced, stress-filled world, it’s tough to allow ourselves time to rejuvenate. A huge part of rejuvenating is sleep. If you spend your days being constantly busy with work, errands, family, etc, when it’s time to lay down to sleep, you may have some trouble. This might not seem like an issue while your stress hormones are still running high and giving you energy. But, once your body starts to get depleted and has a difficult time making more of those stress hormones, problems show up. Our bodies need quality sleep to regenerate and heal tissues, store memories, replenish brain activity, hormone balancing, and more. A persistent lack of sleep contributes to multiple chronic diseases, so it’s best to make a solid 7-9 hours of sleep per night a priority and balance your stress hormones.
2. Drink pure water
Water is the most important substance in our bodies! Literally every cell and most chemical reactions within those cells need water to work properly. Without enough water, our cell functions slow progressively, allowing cellular waste products and toxins to build up in the system. When we have a back-up of toxins, chronic disease develops.
I know this is such a simple concept, but it’s often the most difficult for people to accomplish. It’s best to drink water throughout the day and it can be quite a chore to get it in among all of our other responsibilities. The easiest way I’ve found to keep up with water intake is to get in the habit of carrying a water bottle everywhere you go and keeping in mind how many times you need to fill it up in a day. You can calculate your water intake goal as half of your bodyweight in ounces of water (140lb = 70oz water). Also – when I say water, I mean just that! Other beverages like juice, tea, coffee, flavored sparking water, and things of that nature don’t count in your water intake! Your body sees those beverages differently. You can check out a previous blog post on water for more information.
3. Eat real food
What I mean by “real food” is the foods that come from fresh ingredients and can be made at home. Another term often used is “whole foods” which means vegetables, fruits, meats, and some whole grains. It’s best to avoid processed and packaged foods that have preservatives and added synthetic ingredients for flavor and texture. When we eat nutrient-dense whole foods, we get the vitamins, minerals, cofactors, and macronutrients necessary to keep our cells working and prevent build-up of toxins and waste products. If we eat processed foods with added chemicals and fillers, our bodies have to constantly work to get rid of the junk and they’re not even getting the right nutrients in to help the process! So, to prevent our bodies from building up toxins, we NEED to eat real, fresh food.
4. Minimize sugar Eating sugar actually slows down your immune system. Our white blood cells (immune cells) get really sluggish when there’s extra sugar in their environment. Normally, our white blood cells zip around cleaning up cell debris and fighting off foreign invaders – which is vital to maintain the whole body. Sugar also feeds bacteria, fungi, and inflammation! When we eat sugar that our bodies don’t need for immediate energy, it gets stored as fat both in the blood and on the body. Studies show that after ingesting sugar, inflammatory markers spike and in some cases remain high for long periods. Unfortunately, inflammation is just how our physiology responds to sugar. We now know that all chronic diseases start with inflammation and sugar is a big player, so start with fundamental prevention and avoid sugar as much as possible!
Our bodies need movement to maintain our tissues. Muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves, the brain, and skin all need blood flow to get the nutrients and oxygen they need to survive and repair themselves. When we’re sedentary, we get minimal blood flow around the body and our tissues begin to suffer and weaken. By getting regular movement in, our muscles strengthen and pull on our bones/joints so they also get stronger. Our cells use up more energy so metabolism kicks into gear and effects hormones throughout the body. Plus, with regular exercise we sweat more often, which is one of the main ways our bodies detox! The benefits are HUGE throughout the body – from maintaining mobility to detoxification and hormone balance. And this isn’t even half of the positive effects of exercise, but I don’t have the space here to go into more detail. Basically, you need to get movement in regularly however you can. I don’t care what kind of movement it is but everyone needs some kind of routine.
6. Stress management
Stress is unfortunately a consistent part of life in modern society. While temporary stress is normal and our bodies should be able to handle it, chronic stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. Our adrenal glands are our main stress-handling organs. They make cortisol, which is the hormone that makes you feel stressed AND it’s amazingly anti-inflammatory. It might sound like an added benefit to being stressed all the time, but actually when we’re chronically stressed our adrenals get tired and eventually can’t pump out enough cortisol to give you energy and keep inflammation at bay. And we know inflammation à disease, so this is bad news. Figuring out how to manage your stress is another fundamental method for preventing disease. Here are some ways to do that:
· Practice deep breathing from your belly
· Hot epsom salt baths
· Gratitude journaling (write 3-5 things you’re grateful for daily)
· Meditation (still or yoga, tai chi, etc)
· Drink tea with calming herbs
· Do something you enjoy
· Go for a walk, quiet your mind and notice the things around you
· Schedule in self-care time weekly to keep yourself healthy!
7. Avoid toxic chemicals
Like I stated before, our bodies have to constantly work to remove toxins and chemicals. At a certain point, the liver slows down as toxins build up and it struggles to get them out of the body. Toxins sticking around in the body cause inflammation, which again, causes disease. The best way for us to prevent the build-up of toxins is to avoid taking them in. In short, avoid tobacco products, non-stick cookware (yes, that material scrapes off easily and gets into your food), and chemicals in beauty products or household cleaners such as phthalates, parabens, dyes, SLS, and aluminum (found in antiperspirants). Whenever possible, eat organic foods!! Pesticides used on produce are designed to kill bugs by attacking their nervous systems. Do you think our nervous systems are much different?? No, it just takes a larger dose to kill a human (we are bigger, clearly) and that’s what you’re getting over time – especially if your liver is stressed! The same goes for meats since animals accumulate chemicals in their bodies just like we do. Again, there are many more details I could go into with this topic but I don’t have the space here.
8. Get outside
Going out and getting fresh air, sunshine, and just being in the presence of plants can do wonders for your health. There are even studies coming out now showing that spending time in nature can lower blood pressure and improve mental health, how awesome is that?? Who wouldn’t want to be prescribed a routine walk in the woods over a medication with uncomfortable side effects? I think we can assume this relates to decreasing stress…there’s a theme here.
9. Do something you enjoy
This goes back to self-care and stress management. A huge component of health is mental health and you honestly cannot maintain your mental health without making time for things you enjoy. The “all work, no play” mentality is contributing to the climb in disease rates, so don’t be that person! Know that every time you do something that makes you happy, you’re boosting your health.
10. Make sure you’re getting the right nutrients
In most cases it’s difficult to get all the nutrients our bodies need through diet alone. The concentration and bioavailability of nutrients in our food varies by region and in many places is not reliable due to importing foods. Even worse, agricultural soil is becoming more and more deplete of nutrients as time goes on. Studies have shown that the vitamin and mineral content of common fruits and vegetables have decreased by about 40% over the last 70 years. That’s obviously concerning because it’s hard enough for anyone to get enough servings of fruits and veggies in their diet!
Soil depletion combined with generally poor dietary habits in this country allow LOTS of room for nutrient deficiencies. Once you’re deficient in a nutrient (or a few), it’s even more difficult to make up for it by eating more food. In this case you will usually need high quality supplements that can bring you back up to sufficient levels of that nutrient while you increase the right foods into your diet. Of course, once you have boosted your nutrient status sufficiently, it’s likely that you won’t need to keep supplementing long-term (as long as your diet is well-rounded). It’s difficult to figure out what nutrients you might be deficient in, so it’s important to work with a holistic healthcare provider like a naturopath or nutritionist to identify holes in your diet and to recommend the right supplementation when necessary.