BY, AP, RN, BSN
It is a new year, and it is time to get serious about the future of your health. The decision to take action for your health is one of the most important decisions you can make for yourself, if not the most important, since without your health, nothing else really matters. Begin this year by taking action as your healthiest year ever, whether your health plan includes eating healthier for weight management or general wellness, beginning or resuming an exercise regime, reducing your stress, sleeping better, addressing your medical concerns or desiring to reduce or release certain prescription medications. Setting an achievable goal will keep you committed to your long-term health and well-being. Michael Phelps, the all-star swimming Olympian, once stated, “I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.”
To get you started on your health and wellness journey, use this reference guide, which includes five simple tips on how to achieve your ultimate health in 2022 and beyond!
Tip #1: Proper Hydration. This is my number one tip because it is the most vital and most fundamental, yet many people do not practice proper hydration—replenishing a lack of water in the body. Do you experience muscle aches and pain, headaches, excessive hunger, low energy/overall fatigue, digestive issues, low mental alertness/concentration or a bad mood? It could simply be mild dehydration. The simple act of drinking more water will hydrate your internal organs, muscles and bones for improved daily functionality. A good rule of thumb is to drink one-half of your body weight in ounces; i.e., if you weigh 100 pounds, then drink 50 ounces of water per day, and always adjust your water intake according to your physical activity, medical conditions and environmental temperatures. A great way to start is to add an 8-ounce glass of water alongside your regular non-water fluid intake. Then gradually work your way up to your daily intake as you reduce your other fluids, such as coffee, energy drinks, sodas and sugary juices as they do not count toward your daily hydration requirement.
Tip #2: Healthy Food Intake. We have all been told or heard to watch what we eat: eat a balanced and nutritious diet, cut back or out fatty and sugary foods and so on. I know it is not as easy as it sounds. I can always see the reaction on my patients’ faces during the “diet discussion.” We all have different relationships with food depending on our culture and customs, our belief systems, our emotional states, our physical needs, just to name a few. My suggestion is to start where you are. This process of healthy eating should not add more stress or anxiety to your life. Instead, make it fun and enjoyable by first adding and starting with just ONE healthy food such as a fruit, vegetable, bean, nut, seed or grain. You will notice that the more live foods you eat, the more your body will feel alive, the better you will feel and the more motivation you will have to continue on your healthy food intake journey. Then you can begin releasing those foods that don’t make you feel good. Just take it one food at a time.
Tip #3: Regular Exercise. Physical activity on a consistent basis maintains healthy functionality of your internal organs and your body systems. Cardio, weight training and stretching (such as yoga) comprise an all-inclusive exercise program. The benefits of physical exercise are bountiful, including weight management, promotion of strength and flexibility, mood and brain health enhancement, improved sleep, increased energy levels, reduced risk of chronic disease and healthy skin. One outstanding benefit is how regular exercise can help relieve chronic pain, resulting in the reduction of pain medication and improved quality of life. This is achieved since physical activity can raise pain tolerance and decrease pain perception by the release of our natural painkiller—endorphins. Whether you are just starting out with exercise or are a consistent exercise practitioner, simply perform a physical activity that you enjoy and have fun!
Tip #4: Get Your Sleep. Sleep is a vital indicator of health and well-being. It’s during sleep that the body processes ultimate healing time. In fact, it is just as important as eating a balanced, nutritious diet and exercising. Sleep deprivation can put your health and safety at risk, which is why it’s essential that you prioritize and protect your sleep on a daily basis. Though sleep needs vary from person to person, most adults require between 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night to assist in improved weight management, mental concentration, cardiovascular health, mood and immune system.
Tip #5: Reduce Your Stress. The concept of stress is so encompassing in our lives along with the immense effect it has on our health. Did you know that stress accounts for over 80% of doctor visits due to its damaging effects on the body? Some of the most common medical complaints that people present with to their doctor are muscular aches and pains, excessive fatigue, trouble sleeping, headaches, cardiovascular and digestive issues, intimacy problems, anxiety and panic attacks and depressive moods. Stress has become so prominent in our lives that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. The first four tips will help to reduce and manage your stress levels in addition to the following practices listed:
- Listen to your favorite music, as it appears to stimulate the release of dopamine in your brain and can also cause cortisol levels to drop. Nothing beats your favorite songs because your brain is already wired to enjoy certain types of music. Classical music, jazz and generally upbeat songs have the most uplifting effect. And if you are musically inclined, creating music can also have a positive effect on your brain and mood.
- Deep breathing techniques can be incredibly powerful for clearing your mind and lifting your spirits. Diaphragmatic breathing (taking deep breaths into your belly) and slow breathing techniques (taking fewer, deeper breaths each minute) can significantly lower cortisol levels and emotional exhaustion. The best part of practicing breathwork is you can do it anywhere, anytime, and you will feel immensely better afterward. Just 5-10 minutes of diaphragmatic or slow breathing is all it takes.
- Get your body moving and stretching. A quick workout or even a short walk is often enough. Aerobic exercise is the best choice when it comes to reducing stress levels. Stretching, such as yoga, can be just as effective at improving your state of well-being. Working through a series of stretches for about 10 minutes (holding each stretch for about 15-30 seconds) regularly has been shown to improve flexibility, range of motion and blood flow—all are important because how you feel physically affects how you feel mentally.
- For all you pet parents, you know how joyful and calm you feel when you play with, pet and hug your furry companion. Interacting with animals reduce scortisol levels and boosts your mood, placing a big smile on your face, even during your worst days.
- Get a burst of sunlight. The sun triggers serotonin and vitamin D production, which improves mood and overall mental health. A fun fact is that the blue light present in sunshine naturally improves your alertness, making your brain feel more energized and focused.
- Spending time in nature and listening to recorded sounds from nature (running water, soothing wind or chirping birds, etc.) can have a calming effect on the mind. Just playing these sounds in the background can quickly relieve any stress you might be feeling.
- Try a quick 10-minute neck and shoulder massage to promote feelings of relaxation. You can easily do a self-massage or purchase a small neck massager.
- Engage in pleasant scents, since our sense of smell is directly connected with the emotional center of our brains. The use of essential oils like lavender, bergamot and clary sage is something incredibly simple and quick that you can do practically anywhere and any time. Citrus fragrances such as fresh oranges, lemons and limes are also great to use.
- Taking a quick timeout to do something creative gets your brain out of negative thought patterns and releases a lot of stress in the process. Drawing, expressive writing/journaling and painting are all effective in boosting your emotional well-being.
- Stay positive and practice gratitude, acknowledging the good parts of your day or life. With that said, accept that you can’t control everything. Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change.
- When possible, just say “no” to additional responsibilities when you are stressed. Self-evaluation of where you are physically, emotionally and mentally in the present moment is your natural gauge of when you need to take a break. No feelings of guilt here!
- Stay connected with people who keep you calm, make you happy and provide emotional support. A friend, family member or colleague can become a good listener or share responsibilities so that stress doesn’t become overwhelming.
My passion is to always assist those who want a health breakthrough. Make your decision for your health and well-being. You have the potential to accomplish your desired health goal. Begin with one tip, one action step and you will see how you are going to achieve record-breaking levels in your health. Begin this year healthier than ever, stronger than ever.
I BELIEVE IN YOU!