It has been awhile, sorry! But I am trying to get back in the swing of things so hopefully you will see more blog posts. At least that is the promise I made to myself! Well, life has been just as crazy for you as it has been for me. And with everything going on, I felt I should write a bit about staying healthy.
It may be a little late for some who are already sick, but many of these tips will be nonetheless helpful. This article is not directly addressing the COVID-19, but rather talking about general ways we can improve our overall health and prevent us from getting sick. So let me say first and foremost, these tips are not a cure or a treatment for COVID-19. That being said they are still very helpful!
I cannot say enough about diet and I am not talking about the weight loss fads. Rather diet as in our day to day eating habits. What you eat on a regular basis kind of thing. There are all sorts of diets out there and it is quite confusing. I have read all sorts of things on what a healthy diet really is. And I am sorry to anyone expecting me to give a specific one today. There isn’t one!
Rather there are general principles. Some people may need an individualized diet depending on needs. For example, I am currently gluten and nightshade free. Gluten, I have known about for a long time as a major trigger for my migraines. Nightshades is more recent and I am just looking into it a bit. The general principle here is certain foods are inflammatory and many foods are generally inflammatory.
You may be wondering what is inflammation. Inflammation is a natural body process. Most often it is seen when you are injured, the skin gets red and swollen. This is inflammation. The body is honing in on an injury and the redness comes from increased blood flow. Essentially your body is trying to heal it. It is actually a good thing. However, too much of a good thing can be bad. Chronic inflammation is damaging leading to many health issues such as autoimmunity, heart disease, and diabetes. So we need some balance and certain foods are inflammatory. By cutting them out we decrease overall inflammation and our health improves as well as our ability to fight disease. Remember, I am giving general principles there is much more nuance here.
Another general principle is variety. You may have heard others say your dinner plate should look like a rainbow. This is true! Imagine a plate full of dark greens, carrots, red onions, yellow squash, sweet potato, and a steak. Sounds yummy right? Each of these foods contain a variety of different micronutrients (fancy word for vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and others). They are filled with things like magnesium, iron, potassium, carnitine, beta-carotene, and if you cooked some of it in butter, some vitamin K. Loads of nutrients. Eating a variety of different foods is especially helpful!. Change it up, buy something you typically don’t buy. Try something new. Maybe try some jicama, you won’t regret it!
I cannot talk about micronutrients without talking about macronutrients. It is important we get a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Each has their role in our body. This seems to be rather individualized but in general I recommend eating more fat because we have been anti-fat for far too long. Fat is good for us and needed! As long as it is coming from good sources. I love extra virgin olive oil, just look to see if their is a harvest date on the bottle. You don’t want anything harvested more than a year ago. Butter. What can I say? Butter is the best. We use grass-fed butter, it’s pricier but so worth it!
Ok, so what does this diet look like in general? I’ll quote Michael Pollan. If you don’t know who he is I recommend reading his book In Defense of Food and watching his Netflix show called Cooked. He said, “Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Another quip from him states, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple as that. No processed junk such as vegetable or canola oil. Nothing boxed. Real food. Fermented foods and organ meats are great to include. Eating this way provides all of the nutrients you need for a vibrant healthy life and bolsters your immune system.
In conjunction with diet is gardening. Yep, that pastime thing your grandma used to do. Why would this be on the list? Well gardening not only provides food, but is therapeutic. There is something beautiful about getting down in the dirt and cultivating your own fruits, vegetables, flowers, what have you. It is very therapeutic which decreases stress (talk more in a bit on this one!) and improves mood. But its benefits don’t stop there!
Having your own garden to grow organic produce is by far the best way to maximize the nutrients you get. So it goes hand-in-hand with the first tip. Did you know it can take weeks even months for the produce you buy in the grocery store to get there from where it was harvested? It is often harvested early and ripens on the way decreasing its nutrient load. Further, the longer the time between harvest and consumption the lower the nutrient value of the food. It doesn’t take very long at all!
Soil quality is a whole other issue. Most of our soil is depleted of nutrients. Years of monoculture farming has stripped our soil of vital nutrients. Further, all the pesticides and herbicides have wreaked havoc on the environment. Whereas, if you garden you can control all that and help regenerate the soil where you live. Thus giving you healthier and healthier food.
I didn’t touch on animal farming. It is very important too, but gardens are often more doable for most people due to limited space. If you have room, get some chickens and create a happy little ecosystem in your backyard. If you are in an apartment, try some potted plants. A little bit can go a long way!
Almost always we hear the phrase, “diet and exercise.” Well, because it is important, but I want to liken exercise to supplements. I didn’t mention supplements earlier because I was going to address it here. Supplements can be great, but they are not a substitute for a healthy diet. If anyone is familiar with supplements, take a look on the ingredient list and see RDA value. Often times the recommended dose is 10 times more than what is needed. Why? Because you will not absorb it all. Your body can’t. We are designed to get our nutrients from food. Sorry to all those who think they can eat a bad diet and make up for it with a multivitamin. Not possible. Supplements have their purpose and most of the time it is short-term.
Exercise has its purpose too, but we use it similar to supplementation. We exercise maybe 30 minutes to 1 hour, 3-5 days out of the week, which is good. I do not discount that, but what do we do with the rest of the time? We sit. We do nothing. Just like our diet we try to supplement our movement. It doesn’t work.
We have to increase our movement. Our ancestors moved so much more than us, 10 times more than us. They walked for miles each day, lifted, carried, squatted (not to be confused with the exercise), hunted, gathered, etc. Now we get irritated when we cannot find the remote. So this needs to change.
Our body relies on movement. Lymph and certain blood vessels rely on muscle activity. In other words, cardio health is all about movement, not running per se, but consistent physical activity. The Hadza in Tanzania do not run, ever. But their chronic disease rates are drastically lower than ours. Movement is life.
So what can you do? Start with walking. Just go for a walk. Walk around the block. Start with 10 minutes, then 20, then 30. Observe how your body moves and listen to it. Go for a walk barefoot (transition to this, listen to your body, it’s healthy but it takes getting used to). Sit on the floor rather than the couch. You will find you need to change positions often because it gets uncomfortable. This is a good thing. We have cushioned our environment so we don’t get uncomfortable. Discomfort tells us when we need to change. Try it out!
Nature. It’s wonderful. Did you know walking in the forest can improve your immune system? Yep! Just being in nature is supporting your ability to fight off disease. I love hiking. Of course, living in Arkansas makes it easy to love hiking. The only thing that beats it is the beach for me.
Outdoor living goes hand-in-hand with movement. We were not made to be inside all day in an ambient controlled environment. People think I am crazy when I walk to work on extremely hot or cold days, but it’s good for us. Our body needs to feel the differing temperatures. There is movement involved here too, not just blood rushing to the surface to cool us off. Each hair on your arm has a muscle attached to it that raises it causing goose bumps which I am sure you all have experienced. Pretty cool!
Hiking involves a lot of different movement but one in particular is going up hill. We don’t get enough of this. We live in fairly flat world. So our feet and ankles get used to it. Further, we often wear shoes with heels on them causing all sorts of issues. It is as if we are always walking downhill or are about to fall forward. Just like our diet, our movement needs variation!
Sunlight. We are sunlight deprived. If we go outside we immediately put on sunscreen. It’s habitual. I had a patient that was surprised when I told them I didn’t put on sunscreen for when I walk to work. Well first of all it is only a 10 minute walk, but also we need sunlight. It is good for us. This doesn’t mean I don’t ever protect myself, I do until my body has gotten used to it. But we need sunlight for vitamin D production. Vitamin D is created from cholesterol and is made when we get sunlight. Vitamin D is used all over the body but an important aspect is immune regulation! We need it and we often block the production of it with too much sunscreen.
So next time you get a chance, step outside and enjoy the great outdoors!
Herbs, I love herbs! You would think I would put this with diet, but it deserves its own section. Some herbs are common plants we eat such as rosemary or holy basil. Others are used only as remedies. But our diet is pretty lacking in herbs. Salt and pepper is all I need, we may say! Sometimes we may get a little ginger or cloves, especially at Christmas time, yum…ginger snaps! But overall we don’t generally use them in America. However, they are a vital part of any lifestyle especially in prevention.
Anyone who has come to us has probably been given an herb. There are thousands of different herbs and we use quite a few. The benefits of them are wide and varied. Many are anti-inflammatory, I think you can see why its important here. Others are anti-microbial, meaning they kill bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Also, quite useful. Others improve mood and offer liver and heart protection. The benefits are as broad as the variety.
Some of my favorites are chrysanthemum and noni fruit. They have helped me overcome many of my struggles. Both are broad spectrum anti-microbials. Sorry, no research that I know of against COVID-19. But they sure do help the body and support the immune system. Herbs should not be taken willy-nilly, though some are harmless others are not. Seek out a competent practitioner to learn more and find out what is right for you.
However, one that I can recommend is camu camu. It is a fruit from South America and is super high in vitamin C and other nutrients. Not all camu is created equal though. There are a lot of crummy camu products on the market. I recommend Camu Supreme from Supreme Nutrition. They test everything to make sure it is safe and effective and they never put fillers in their products. So what you are getting is the pure product.
6. Clean-Up Your Environment
We live in a toxic world. It can be a bit overwhelming once you realize how many harmful chemicals you are surrounded with. But it is important to address these for optimal health. I highly advise picking your battles wisely. Some things are rather difficult and may be out of your control.
I live in an apartment for the time being, so certain exposure to toxins is given. However, there are certain things in my control. Changing household cleaners is one. There are many harmful chemicals in our cleaners that can make us sick or at least lower our immune system. We use Force of Nature. It’s a pretty neat product and will kill pretty much anything you need it to kill.
Shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, and deodorant I would also recommend changing out. You can check out EWG Skin Deep for help. It gives product ratings on how harmful or safe they are. I use castile soap for body and hand wash. For deodorant, we use a DIY recipe. There are many out there, but generally it is coconut oil, baking soda, and an essential oil for smell. Of course, you can always buy one from your natural foods store. They usually have a few. There are others here, but in general the less chemicals that you don’t recognize the better. And remember to use Skin Deep.
Organic food. I didn’t put this with diet, but I thought should at least give a nice tool here for you to use. EWG also has the Dirty Dozen list. It is a helpful list telling you the foods with the worst amount of pesticides and herbicides on them. There is also an app for it too. These chemicals are quite damaging to us.
Lastly, water. We need high quality water. This can be difficult to get since most municipal water is not very good. It is often filled with toxins. I highly recommend getting a Berkey or a reverse osmosis filtration system. We have a Berkey and we love it. Filters all sorts of things out including viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, fluoride, and chlorine. The least you can do is get some purified water from the store. Natural Grocers has reverse osmosis water you can buy there. It is like 25 cents per gallon. We used to get this all the time until we bought a Berkey.
We need sleep. We tend to set it aside for more “important” things to do. And then we drink caffeine to give us energy. It becomes a vicious cycle. Running from one thing to the next and maybe grabbing a couple of hours of sleep. The world seems to demand it.
Sacrificing sleep is detrimental to our body and well-being. It is increases inflammation and lowers our ability to fight off disease. We need it to rejuvenate. During sleep our brain is able to remove the waste products it has accumulated during the day. Pretty fascinating process. Without sleep this doesn’t happen. And if we never fall into a deep sleep it happens poorly.
Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep, this will vary depending on the person. Make sure your room is dark and it helps to have the air temperature cooler. Essentially make your bedroom a cave. If you have trouble getting to sleep, turn off the screens a couple hours before bed. Dim the lights. And if you can choose an appropriate time to go to bed too. Going to sleep earlier for you night-owls is helpful. This will give you ample time in the morning for breakfast and maybe some de-stressing exercises (coming attraction!).
Easier said than done! But we need it, more than ever! The constant barrage of fear, violence, and hatred from the media is damaging. Not that it isn’t there for a reason. But it takes its toll. Financial instability is another huge issue right now. These are all legitimate things to stress about. The fear of contracting the virus or spreading it to others is another. It could be that we are stressed in general because of our job. We work long hours and it takes its toll. Maybe there is a crisis at home. Whatever it is we need to learn to de-stress.
Much of the other tips help in this regard especially going outside. Maybe you need to de-stress right now. Here are some helpful suggestions.
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take 10 deep, slow breaths.
- Go on a scenic walk.
- Stop looking at the screen and look far away at least 100 feet. Find a bird and watch it. See how the trees blow in the distance.
- Call your mom, dad, or loved one.
- Listen to some calming music. My go to is Baroque or Hawaiian.
- Gratitude journal. Write 10 things you are thankful for today.
- Smile at the next person you see. Compliment them.
- Meditate. There are many forms of meditation. It may be a prayer. It may be silence, listening to your breath. Whatever it is, it will help.
I hope these suggestions help. Many of them I do myself on a daily basis. I don’t even notice that I do them anymore, but they are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Remember we are all about prevention!
Another thing easier said than done! We are far too busy. Maybe it is work alone. Maybe it is taking the kids everywhere and we are running ragged. Whatever it is we often have too much going on. And if you take the time to prioritize you may realize much of it is not needed. We need to spend more time in the present. Not some future day that may never be. I love to ponder on long term goals but I cannot let them overshadow what is right in front of me.
Work is not as important as family time. Please don’t misunderstand me. Do what you need to do, but if it is about getting the money for another vacation or another promotion at the sacrifice of more family time it may not be worth it. I am not here to tell you what you need to do only what I have found to be rewarding, uplifting, and strengthening to long-term happiness. This, of course, plays right into health. Working long hours or running from one event to the next is stressful and cumbersome. Most of the time is spent worrying about the next thing and our health is put on the back burner as we grab a fast food burger on the go.
When I think of simplifying I think of something we saw frequently when we visited Hawaii several years ago. All around we saw signs that said, “Drive with Aloha.” Aloha is the Hawaiian word for love, but it also means much more than that which I won’t get into here. But to drive with Aloha is to drive with love. The laid-backness of the island was wonderful. Everyone seemed courteous and no one was in a hurry. Often you would see someone wave with the shaka as a thank you. There was something beautiful about this. Normally I can get pretty annoyed when someone is going 10 miles under the speed limit. In Hawaii, I didn’t care at all. Not like driving a few miles per hour faster actually gets you to your destination any faster when driving locally.
We need to simplify. Evaluate your life and see what can go. Trust me it is worth it. And remember “drive with Aloha” or better yet, “live with Aloha.”
10. Spiritual Life
I am not here to tell you what to adhere to religiously. But there is great benefit in some sort of spiritual life. Having a higher purpose is very helpful and health promoting. I won’t say too much here because as I said it is not my intention to tell you what to believe.
Spirituality is a very important aspect to our lives. It brings purpose, joy, and peace. No matter your beliefs, it has a vital role. So in conjunction with de-stressing, take some time to evaluate your spiritual life. See what you are lacking. See what changes you can make to have a more rounded life filled with a higher purpose.
We are social beings. We hunger for relationships. Isolation is quite damaging. Loneliness is a forgotten plague that is ravaging society. For this, I recommend reaching out to your neighbor. Seeing how they are doing. Maybe you don’t know your neighbor. It is pretty likely that you don’t, so it is a perfect time to introduce yourself. Of course, be cautious and respect their wishes because of the pandemic. But let’s reach out.
I challenge you to get to know 6 of your neighbors by name. I challenge you to reach out. Maybe give them a gift or do some service for them. Maybe they need help with their trash or their lawn mowed. I challenge you to reach out. And believe me, I know this is hard. I am an introvert, I am perfectly happy at home. But we need to think outside of ourselves once in awhile.
12. Family Time
These tips are not given in a specific order of importance. If they were this would be number one for me. Family is vital. I know we do not all come from good homes. So maybe your family is your closest friends. Whatever the case may be, family time is sacred time.
I recently read Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. While, many of his recommendations he extrapolated I didn’t care for, his observations were spot on. A blue zone is where there is a high population of people who live over 100 years old. He observed in every location he went to that family life was of the utmost importance. It is tied into purpose and often spiritual life too. A simplified life was also important too.
Family was one of the motivating factor in all these areas. They often had multigenerational homes. Children took care of ailing grandparents. There was no shipping them off to nursing homes. It was out of the question. Grandparents have an active role in caring for grandchildren and teaching them. It was a reciprocal relationship. Everyone has a purpose, and it is the well-being of each other.
This type of social connection brings great health benefits which is clear when you see how many live over 100 years old. Amazing and beautiful stories. Rather recently, I started evaluating my own priorities. I cut so much out of my life that just didn’t serve a purpose. The family time is the most important to me. The benefits are not all known, but they sure are worth it.
All of these tips provide purpose. Each in their own way gives us something to get out of bed for in the morning, maybe excepting sleep. 😉 They provide us with a sense of well-being. Why we do what we do. They all in some way help us feel better physically, socially, spiritually, and emotionally.
Think of it this way. What is the number one cause of death at the age of retirement? Retirement. We lose our purpose. For the people in these remote areas who live over 100, their purpose is their family and spiritual lives. They also eat well and move well. It’s a fairly simplified life, but the benefits are enormous. Just something to think about.
Hopefully these tips help. They are general principles of an overall healthy lifestyle. They decrease inflammation and promote a robust immune system, perfect for helping us maintain good health in the current climate.
Remember, it’s as simple as this: eating well, moving well, and living well.