In our crazy world with juice detoxes, fad diets and ancient holistic supplements that someone just discovered, it can be confusing to figure out what to do to actually be healthy. The information overload is crowding out true wisdom.
Some of our health is determined by luck and genetics, the latter is really a function of the former. We don’t like admitting this in our self-empowerment, ‘don’t be a victim’ culture. By there ARE things you can do.
But we also have to be human. We all have lives. We’d kill ourselves trying to be healthy 24/7. So what are the biggest bang for buck items? Read on below:
- Sleep – I can’t over estimate how essential sleep is to our health. Poor, insufficient or irregular sleep is increasingly linked to a whole host of medical and psychological ailments. So get your sleep ! Period! How to sleep? Minimize light and noise pollution. Keep your room cool as well. Don’t eat too close to bedtime. Give yourself 7-9 hours at consistent intervals every night. Use a white noise machine, herbal teas, baths, self massage, meditation, eye masks as potential aids. Don’t rely overlying on supplements and avoid prescription sleep medications when possible. If you have still persistent problems, see a sleep doctor.
- Accidents – Accidents do happen, happen commonly, and can seriously hurt or kill people. Many of us tend to ignore this epidemic. In young cohorts, accidental injury is a leading cause of mortality. Accidental injury with firearms, texting while driving, pedestrian injuries, drownings with pool areas that are not monitored are just some examples. Pay attention when you drive, learn to swim and teach your family, get CPR trained, and safety check your home and surroundings. If you have guns, please please keep them locked at all times and do not have bullets in the same location. And don’t play with matches.
- Stress – Stress takes many forms and as we have discussed, it can significantly influence your gut (read here). Stress can be acute (immediate survival is threatened) or chronic (the daily commute). It is the latter that we most worry about because it is the form that are bodies are not designed to handle. In other words, stress can be seen a function of the fact that modern life is, in many ways, at odds with our biology. Left unchecked, the stress will absolutely crater your health. So incorporate a daily stress relief practice. In fact you will likely need many, including some on the list. So try yoga, meditation, acupuncture, massages, music, chanting, prayer/religion, walks, anything that puts you in a better state. Then do it consistently.
- Nutrition – Oh this is a big one and a source of intense, religious like debate and fervor. I won’t go into the details of which diet is better than others (is there a so called “best” diet? I doubt this). What are basic principles of good nutrition? It is sustainable (any diet that you can’t stick to longer is not effective) and with relatively unprocessed foods closed to their natural form. In practice this means the following: protein, fiber and water. It also means eating to 80% full (the Japanese practice of hari hachi bu) to minimize overconsumption.
- Movement – Life is movement. In its parts and as a whole, the body is designed to move. You need to find a movement practice that you love and can incorporate into your life. Walking, running, dancing, anything. Ideally, it should incorporate both cardiovascular and strength training components. There is joy in movement. Find it.
- Trauma – We all have trauma (well most of us). It is hard to move through this world without it. Often we hide trauma from ourselves and it bleeds out into our lives in a variety of ways. Whether you need therapy or not is a deeply intimate and personal choice – one that I cannot comment on here. But I do know that there is a place of healing (not necessarily resolution) for much of life’s pains and it is your opportunity to reach out and explore those options for growth. I hope you do.
- Social Support – From taking medications to remaining happily married and even living longer, there are few things more valuable than a close group of friends and family. It is the secret to sticking to a diet and climbing your proverbial or literal mountains. Social network analysis has demonstrated the people we most spend time strongly influence whether or not we become obese, use tobacco and more. Social support is a lot of the value of religion, in fact. Loved ones can get us through difficult times and help us celebrate the good times. Especially in an era of decaying social situations (see the work of Robert Putnam), finding a tribe is even more essential. And this is one tip you’ll rarely here from a doctor.
- Altruism – Your health is not distinct from the health of the community around you. No person is an island despite our increasing self-imposed technological isolation. Volunteer. Help your neighbor. Find a cause bigger than yourself that not only gives your life purpose but also puts your own life into context. You’ll realize that some of your worst problems may answered prayers to another person less fortunate than you.
For me, I consider the day a win if I’ve done a majority of these things in a given day. Try these out and see how it works for you.
Ultimately, these suggestions are not distinct from each but interrelated. Small improvements in one area will have what economists call positive externalities elsewhere in your life.
So forget the headlines on the newspaper or whatever Goop is selling you. Start with these big ticket items first. I think you’ll be surprised and how healthier you’ll feel.