Three of the Most Underappreciated Keys to Health

Yesterday my sister had a baby boy? Congrats! It got me thinking about the fresh start we have when we enter this world. The human body is truly astounding. We are inherently born with amazing capabilities that allow us to grow and thrive in spite of the constant insults we hurl at it in the forms of stress, poor eating and sleep habits, lack of movement, not enough time with nature, insufficient meaningful human contact, and the increasing abundance of toxins and pollution in our environment (inside as well as outside).

Unfortunately, the rate at which we are abusing our bodies is catching up with us. There are more chronic diseases now than ever before, and sadly that rate is increasing. We are producing generations now that have a lower life expectancy than we have and our grandparents had. This is not acceptable.

This is by no means is this a news flash, but is worth being said over and over again until people take heart and the message sinks in. LIFESTYLE MATTERS. I?ll say it again, LIFESTYLE MATTERS. Perhaps more than anything else. ?No supplement, diet, or workout alone will do this.

Being healthy doesn?t involve drinking warm lemon water every morning or doing a 2 week detox or even running 3 times per week. While those can be healthy actions, what really matters is HOW you choose to live your daily life- the habits that become part of the fabric of what makes you, YOU. This is what will bring out the best you because it will improve your epigenetics, or how your genes are expressed. Wouldn?t you rather have genes ?bathed? in clean air, water, and nutrients in a body not ravaged by stress or illness? Yes, please!

Actually doing this does take time and effort. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy and health exists on a continuum. The key is shifting the balance in favor of health, so that when an unforeseen stressor or illness arises, you have the capacity to rebound quickly and return to your healthy place.

By now everyone knows they should consume clean food and water, and get proper sleep and adequate daily movement, but I know countless unhealthy people that do all of that on a daily basis. These are definitely important pieces of the puzzle, but to experience true health you need some other fundamental components: true stress reduction and mitigation, a clean environment, and connections with nature and people.

Real Stress Reduction. Stress is a common buzz word, so much so that I believe it has lost its impact and we?ve become desensitized to it. The majority of patients and people I encounter believe to some extent they are managing it well, which is almost never the case. The truth is that real, measurable stress reduction is hard. Stress is inevitable, but how you deal with it is essential. The first step involves honest introspection to identify your stressors, be it relationships, work, finances, losses, past traumas, etc., and finding ways that work for you specifically to overcome them. This could be counseling, talking to a confidant, joining a support group, enlisting a coach, or self-education. For others, physical activity plays a big role in their management of stress.

The second step is having a daily ritual that involves taking ?timeouts? to unplug and do some deep breathing, meditation, or even sitting in silence to clear your head. Helpful tip: if you can?t get away from people, go to the bathroom? it always works because no one questions you.

Clean Environment (in and outside your body). This is a broad topic that is often overlooked, but it can have a significant impact on your health since the indoor environment is often more polluted than outdoors. Thankfully you can fairly easily clean up your home and work environment. Here are some helpful strategies:

– Clean air ducts and replace filters regularly

– Ensure proper ventilation in dwellings

– Invest in house plants or air purification systems that clean the air

– Do proper mitigation if you have mold, radon, lead paint or pipes, etc.

– Use natural options for personal care products and household cleaners

– Don?t get your clothes dry-cleaned

– Reduce exposure to EMF (electromagnetic frequencies) by reducing cell phone use, unplugging all unnecessary appliances and electronics when not in use (especially in the bedroom while sleeping at night), limit Wi-Fi use and turn off when not using it, avoid using a microwave, and choose incandescent bulbs over compact fluorescent ones.

Connection with nature and people. Exposure to sunlight, as well as seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of nature are part of what makes us human. Most people are calmed by the sounds of a rushing river or crashing waves, invigorated when the cool breeze hits their face, or moved at the majesty of mountains or a beautiful forest. There are biological reasons for this. Our ancestors had a strong connection to the natural world and used it as means to survive. It guided them to set up dwellings near water and green space as resources were more abundant there. This environment likely also allowed them to recover from the stresses of living life at this time as well.

Our rapid evolution in the last several millennia has dramatically reduced our contact with nature and we are suffering the consequences. Technology has replaced our relationship with nature? and with other humans.

Connection with other humans is another factor that has ensured our survival throughout time. We are communal animals by nature. We now share more face time with our computers, tv?s, cell phones, and tablet devices than other humans which is hurting us. Studies show that a sense of community and having solid relationships with others is important to health and longevity. ?Make an effort to build and maintain your relationships with others and respect people while they are with you by not having your phone in your face. Also, be kind to your fellow humans as well… there isn?t enough of that anymore.

Again, take time to unplug daily. Get outside- even in the winter months. Grab your family or friends and take a walk through the woods and leave your phone at home. Have a ?no devices present? rule at meals. There are countless ways to take back your connections.

Here?s to living a cleaner and less technologically driven life while being more present and connected to what really matters!

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Steps to Make Your Resolution Stick (or Just Don?t Make One at All)

We can thank the ancient Babylonians for the practice of making resolutions as we enter each new year. ?The flooding of the Nile river (which was actually in March) symbolized the beginning of a new harvest season and they vowed to the gods to repay debts and return borrowed items in hopes of having a fertile and prosperous year. Eventually the Romans changed the calendar and January 1st became the start of the new year. Though the date has changed, for over 4,000 years humans across the globe have been making resolutions with the promise of a clean slate and new beginnings. There?s a problem with this process though- most people fail to meet their goal, making them a joke to some people and a purely negative experience for others.

Here are 7 easy steps to help you successfully achieve your New Year?s Resolution:

  1. Pick a goal you know is manageable and you?ll have success achieving. Weight loss is a very common resolution, but how you go about achieving it will set you up for failure or success. If you know you won?t be able to lose 20 pounds in 3 months, don?t choose it. Instead, make your goal to lose 10 pounds in 3 months. If you lose more, that?s a bonus (and hopefully you will have established some new, healthy habits along the way too).
  2. Clearly define your goal and make it measurable. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds in 3 months, aim for losing one pound per week. This will set you up for success and give you something to track weekly.
  3. Set action steps and track your progress. Weight loss is 90% about diet so plan out how you?re going to change your diet and plan out your meals each week. Eliminating anything processed and eating whole foods is a good place to start. Increasing your lean proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables, while reducing sugars (even from fruit) works well for most people. Incorporating exercise, stress reduction, and good sleep habits will further ensure success, so these can be steps in you process too.
  4. Tell others about your goal to keep yourself accountable. Post it on social media or tell your friends and family. You can post updates and pictures to track progress and let them cheer you on.
  5. Enlist the help of others that have been successful before you or those that will support you on your journey. If you have a family member or friend that has a similar goal, you can help each other through the process since we are typically more successful when we have a buddy. Alternatively, use a coach or a trained professional to help you reach your goal. They will have a plan and built in metrics to track your progress, as well as invaluable information when you encounter plateaus and obstacles on your journey.
  6. Give yourself small rewards as you reach milestones. If you want to lose one pound per week for 3 months, give yourself a small reward at the end of each of the 3 months.
  7. Celebrate once you achieve your goal! Be proud when you’ve kept your resolution and keep up the good work. At this point your lifestyle changes should?ve become habit. Contrary to the commonly held belief that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, research now suggests it is more like 66 days. The truth is that it?s different for all people and it is probably somewhere between 21-66 days.

If you habitually start a resolution and give up, maybe you shouldn?t make one. This way you?re not setting yourself up for failure and you won?t feel defeated. It?s perfectly fine not to have one. In fact, not setting a resolution might be liberating for you. When you decide to make a change or want to reach a goal, you can do it when you are ready. There?s no rule that says it has to be on January 1st or even at the beginning of the year. Have a wonderful new year whether you chose to have a resolution or not!

 

 

 

 

 

Boost Adrenal and Mood Health with Light

Winter has arrived in most parts of the country which means less exposure to one of the components essential to life- sunlight. Before there was electricity and countless devices to awaken us (or prevent us from sleeping), humans relied on the sun to regulate body rhythms. Our brains are hard wired to know the time of year based on exposure to morning light. Total sunlight exposure is a key factor in regulation of many hormones including cortisol, serotonin, and melatonin. Too much or too little can throw the entire system out of balance.

Sunlight stimulates the production of cortisol and serotonin, while dimness and darkness promote melatonin production. As with all hormone function, cortisol, serotonin, and melatonin work in concert with each other to regulate circadian rhythms. Exposure to early morning light triggers cortisol and serotonin to increase. Cortisol wakes you up and gets you moving, while serotonin helps you regain consciousness. Cortisol decreases throughout the morning and early afternoon, then jumps up a little again in mid afternoon before declining again in preparation for sleep. Serotonin remains elevated after cortisol?s initial dip earlier in the day and declines in the afternoon as exposure to light decreases. At this point the brain begins to convert serotonin into melatonin in preparation for rest and sleep.

It seems easy enough to expose yourself to light and darkness at the right time, but modern technology and habits, coupled with the seasonal changes can wreak havoc on your mood, sleep, and immune function. If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, lack of energy, sleep problems, or seasonal mood changes, then getting proper exposure to light and darkness is key in rebalancing the hormone symphony.

Here are 5 steps to achieve this:

1. Let your body awaken to sunlight rather than an alarm. Even when your eyes are shut, light penetrates the eyelid and stimulates the brain beginning the awakening process. If you can?t do this because it?s winter or your room just doesn?t get much light, consider getting a sunrise alarm clock. These use light to gradually wake you up and many models include sound too.

2. Expose yourself to sunlight within 30 minutes of waking. After waking up, try to get outside for 20-30 minutes to reinforce the cortisol awakening response (CAR). It?s thought that the CAR occurs to get you prepared for the stresses of the day and it?s superimposed on the sleep-wake cycle hormone patterns.

3. If you can?t get outside, consider getting a light therapy lamp. These are portable devices allowing you to bring it in bathroom as you get ready for work or eat breakfast. Be sure to get a model that emits 10,000 lux (equivalent to full daylight) that?s on a stand so the light is coming into your eyes from above as the sun would be.

4. Avoid electronics in the evening and at night. The blue light emitted from phones, tablets, computer, televisions, and other electronics interferes with the natural hormone rhythms. It suppresses melatonin production and can increase cortisol which both prevent you from sleeping. If you must use your gadgets, there are a couple of options to filter the blue light. You can use apps like Twilight or Flux which acts as filters on the screen of your devices or you can pick up a pair of glasses with orange or amber lens for less than $10.

5. Keep the lights in your home dim at night. Try keeping most of your lights off or if you have dimmer switches, use those to keep the light at a lower level to support melatonin production.

Why We Must Overcome the Chronic Disease Epidemic for our Children and Simple Solutions to Get Started

The evidence that we are in an epidemic of chronic disease is overwhelming. According to a 2014 NIH study, life expectancy for the average American could decrease by as much as 5 years if the epidemic of obesity and chronic conditions aren?t addressed. As of 2012, the CDC reported that 50% of American adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 25% have 2 or more. Obesity rates for children ages 2-19 are about 20% and over 33%, or 78 million, for adults.

Sadly, even with this knowledge the rates of chronic inflammatory diseases such allergies, asthma, autoimmunity, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, and cancer continues to increase. This is not good news for us or our children.

Here are 4 important reasons we need to make changes:

  1. Decreased life span. Parents don?t expect to outlive their children, but with the current rates of inflammatory based chronic disease this is happening, and will only get worse if we don?t do something to reverse this trend.
  2. Decreased quality of life. The constant inflammation that drives the chronic disease process causes the majority of symptoms that affect quality of life. Joint and muscle pain, headaches, asthma, allergies, rashes, acne, fatigue, depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and blood sugar and hormone imbalances are some of the many symptoms that affect for millions of people daily and are now seen in children.
  3. Increased health care costs. Rising rates of chronic health conditions directly increases the cost of health care. The CDC reports in 2010, 86% of all health care spending was on chronic disease care. The cost of treating cardiovascular diseases was $315.4 billion and cancer care was $157 billion. The treatment of diabetes was estimated at $245 billion. If we don?t get healthier, healthcare will become increasingly unaffordable, especially for our children.
  4. Continually passing on disease prone genetics. Our thoughts and choices directly impact gene expression (epigenetics), which is passed on to our children and future generations. Stress levels, nutrition, movement, sleep, thoughts, and the quality of our environment are factors we have control over, and if we don?t change, we will only compound the effects of what previous generations have given us.

What You Can Do

Every day we?re faced with hundreds of choices, and they bring us closer to health or disease. They have a cumulative impact that adds up over a lifetime and is passed on to future generations. Consider this- when you pick up fast food on the way home from a stressful day at work, then go home to sit on the couch for hours watching tv, you?re not only depleting your health and longevity, but that of your offspring as well. Those choices produce changes in your gene expression that promote disease and inflammation, and they are passed on to your kids.

Our daily life decisions are more important than ever before since we?re at a pivotal point in human history. By starting with some simple life choices, you have the power to reverse this trend.

  1. Move. Moving your body is essential to health. You don?t have to run a marathon, you just have to move every day. Walking, hiking, stretching, yoga, pilates, biking, swimming, dancing, running, lifting weights, playing with your kids, or any sport are all great options. Change it up to keep from getting bored. If you can get outside into nature and be exposed to sunlight you?ll get even more health benefit.
  2. Eat Well. The first step to eating well is eliminating processed foods. If it?s in a package with lots of ingredients, especially if you don?t know what they are, don?t eat it. Preservatives, dyes, food colorings, emulsifiers and other additives are linked to many inflammatory conditions including, ADD/ADHD, autoimmunity, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, among others. BPA and other chemicals found in plastics, linings of cans, and receipts are endocrine disruptors that are also associated with chronic diseases. The easiest way is to shop the perimeter of the store and stay out of the middle.

Choose organic and non-GMO (genetically modified) foods when financially possible. The Environmental Working Group puts out annual list called ?The Dirty Dozen? that highlights crops with the highest pesticide residues http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php . Use this and their many other resources including their ?Clean Fifteen? list as a starting place.

  1. Sleep Well. Getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep is essential to maintaining health. If you have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep, make sure you are creating an environment conducive to sleep. Make sure you?re in a quiet, dark, cool (65-68 F) room using a comfortable yet supportive bed and pillows. Before bed, keep the lights in your house dim and avoid blue light exposure from phones, tablets, television and other electronics by using screen filter apps such as Twilight or Flux, wearing amber or orange glasses, or just plain avoiding them.
  2. Stress Less. This topic could have endless recommendations, so start with the basics first. Doing a 10 minute meditation once or twice daily can have profound impacts on your physiology, especially improving inflammatory markers. Unplug in a quiet space and think of a word or mantra that has great meaning to you. Your mind may drift which is normal, just acknowledge the thought, and refocus. If this isn?t your style try 10 minutes of deep, belly breathing. Instead of focusing on a word or mantra, you may just want to let your mind quiet down. If you prefer a more active form of stress release then walking in nature or daily journaling may work for you.
  3. Detox Your Life. We are living in an extraordinarily toxic world now. We are exposed to toxins in our food, air, water, personal care products, cleaning products, clothing, toys, living and working spaces, as well as radiation through WiFi, electronics, and powerlines. All of these are associated with inflammation and chronic disease in various ways.

Your best bet is to minimize exposure starting with what you put on and in your body, then move out to your environment. Here are some easy places to begin:

Choose more natural cleaning and personal care products that don?t have preservatives, dyes, and chemicals you don?t understand. There are options available in stores, as well as homemade version that are often cheaper. The Environmental Working Group has the Skin Deep database http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ and EWG Verified products http://www.ewg.org/ewgverified/ to help you find out which products are best to use on your body.

Open your windows to detox the air in your home or work. Plants such as ivy and rubber plants help remove toxins from the air as well. If your home has old pipes or paint, or leaded glass, mold, or radon, remediation may be necessary.

Turn off your WiFi and 4G on all devices when possible. At night before you go to bed, turn off the WiFi in your home and unplug all electronics that can be, especially those in your bedroom.