Want to improve your health but you're at a loss of where to start? It can be overwhelming to hop onto the internet or social media and try to figure out what should I be doing? What should I be taking? If you search: "what supplements should I be taking" - there hundreds of options - all of which may be great for one person but terrible for another. So where do you start? Before starting any supplements you should be consulting with your healthcare provider to make sure that it is safe for you personally. And what's even more important - before you are reaching for a supplement you should know that you can't out-supplement poor diet and lifestyle. Without making changes to your everyday life, adding in a supplement may make some small changes but will not completely solve your problems. Below are ten small habits and changes that you can start incorporating consistently to improve your health.
1) Build a Sleep Routine
Aim for the same sleep and waking time each night. There is of course some variation on work vs non-work days but generally you should be getting about the same amount of sleep each night.
If your school or work schedule allows it, our bodies prefer to be naturally synchronized with the rising and falling of the sun. Watching the sunrise and sunset stimulates the body's circadian rhythm, allowing for the proper ebb and flow of melatonin and cortisol that make sleeping and rising happen.
Avoid bright lights and screens before bedtime - the light will disrupt your melatonin production, making it more difficult to get tired and fall asleep. Opt for reading or another quiet activity near bedtime. If the screens and lights are unavoidable for you, consider wearing blue light glasses (you can get these online for less than 20$). Closer to bedtime switch over to lower, red lighting such as a Himalayan salt lamps.
2) Drink More Water
This is a big one that I see missing with clients. If you don't like to drink water, you can add things to make it easier. Add lemon, lime, mint, cucumbers, watermelon, berries, herbal teas.
Opt for clean, filtered water that is preferably not from a plastic container.
Aim for 60-100 ounces daily depending on your weight and activity level.
If you are drinking any alcohol or caffeine, if you are out in the sun or heat, or if you are sweating - you need to be drinking more water.
3) Get Moving
It is important to be getting regular, intentional exercise. I don't mean taking a bunch of steps while you're running around like crazy at work but actual time set aside to mindfully move your body.
Aim for 150+ minutes per week. This can be broken up however it fits into your schedule (ie. 30 minutes 5 days a week) as long as you are consistent.
A mix of cardiovascular and resistance training is best. Opt for a variety of movements and muscle groups.
4) Walk it Out
Going for walks combines three other items from this list. It is a great way to reach exercise goals while also getting out in to the fresh air and sunshine. Additionally, it is a wonderful way to clear the mind. A brisk walk first thing in the morning can help to wake up and invigorate the body to start the day. A light walk after meals is a great way to aid in digestion.
5) Get More Sunshine
So many people are Vitamin D deficient due to our location, lack of time outside and use of sunscreen or clothing to cover up skin. Keep in mind that those living in colder climates and those with darker skin will require more sunlight to achieve optimal vitamin D levels.
General sun exposure guidelines:
Light skin = 15-20 minutes daily
Medium Skin = 25-30 minutes daily
Dark Skin = 40-45 minutes daily
6) Eat More Whole Foods
No I don't mean the grocery store.
Prioritize taking in foods that either grew from the ground or responsibly raised animal sources. Keep in mind that if your daily budget for calories is around 2000, you are going to get much more bang for your buck if you are eating carrots, peppers, broccoli, whole grains, roasted chicken and fish than if you are eating pizza, pasta, bacon cheeseburgers and cookies. I'm absolutely not saying never eat pizza or sweets by the way - just be mindful of how the majority of your calories are spent.
Prioritize protein in your meals - an essential macronutrient for energy, recovery and repair. In addition, it helps you to stay satiated/fuller longer, reducing the risk of binging on snacks in between meals.
Minimize the intake of artificially sweetened and flavored foods. Avoid highly refined grains, sugars and oils. Reduce intake of chips and sweets. For sweets cravings opt for fruits, veggies, honey (frozen raspberries and mangos is my go to).
When cooking with fats opt for a dark glass bottle of organic olive oil in dressings, sautés and marinade. Substitute avocado oil in the place of baking (1:1 replacement to veg oil) or higher heat cooking. Choose grass fed butter or ghee over margarine.
7) Stress Management
Another big one that we all tend to try to avoid but mental health and physical health are so deeply intertwined. I truly believe that most humans on earth can benefit from some form of therapy. If nothing else - just to learn about your own behavioral patterns and coping methods. It will lead to a happier life both personally and professionally if you can better communicate and manage your emotions.
Some tips for on the fly stress management:
Take a walk - get away from the situation that you are stressing about. Exercise in general has very real effects on your neurotransmitters and hormones that impact stress.
Meditation - there are countless free youtube videos which will guide you through meditation. There are also plenty of books that you can read about meditation and mindfulness to help you incorporate this into your daily life.
Set intentions and goals - write down what you would like to accomplish and how you will do so. Keep track of these over time.
Journaling - if you don't want to talk to a therapist you could at least talk to yourself. This is a great way to articulate your feelings, reflect on the days behind and ahead and express yourself.
Spend time with your loved ones. When life can be stressful and overwhelming, there is no medicine quite like laughter. Take a night off and spend time with people that love, support and energize you.
8) Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol Intake
An unfortunate truth is that if you are suffering from any kind of hormonal or metabolic imbalance - alcohol at any consumption level is not helping your situation. Depending on your level of consumption, alcohol can be a very big barrier to health for people. At the very least, try to limit frequency of consumption and don't make the larger volume intakes a regular occurrence every weekend.
Like alcohol, caffeine is another addictive substance that may help you in the moment but you pay for later. We rely so heavily on caffeine for starting the day or getting through it that eventually your body will build up a tolerance and you require more and more caffeine for less and less energy. Reducing your caffeine intake makes it so you can actually use it occasionally and your body will respond. Try sticking to one cup of coffee a day.
Rely on good sleep, exercise, food and sunlight to get you through the day, not coffee. If you still want something to sip on in the mornings or afternoons, opt for MudWater or DandyBlend - two adaptogenic beverages that help with your body's energy responses without relying on a ton of caffeine.
9) Add Fresh Herbs to your Diet
This is a great way to add flavorful seasoning to your foods without using seasoning blends that may have loads of ingredients. Additionally, many herbs including; thyme, basil, cilantro and rosemary are packed with phytonutrients like vitamins, minerals and polyphenols that have a ton of health benefits. While this is not the end-all, be-all solution of fixing your nutrition it is a great simple place to start. A simple homemade salad dressing with olive oil and vinegar, seasoning for meat and vegetables, soups and stews can really be brought to the next level by adding some freshly chopped herbs.
Side note: to help your cilantro last longer remove from packaging when you get home, wash and store in a glass of filtered water in the refrigerator.
10) Support your Elimination and Detoxification
See: Drink More Water
Your body has the incredible ability to detoxify and eliminate all on it's own - but why not give it a bit of help every now and then.
You should be having bowel movements daily. This is one of the body's greatest sources for detoxification. If you are regularly constipated or having diarrhea - this can be impacting detoxification and nutrient absorption.
Sweat often. Sweat is another great way for your body to get rid of things. If you are not sweating regularly try heat therapy as well. (see previous blog post about heat therapy). Sitting in a sauna or even a hot bath can stimulate your body's sweat response.
Avoid stagnation - keep your blood and lymph moving. Exercise regularly, stretch daily. Get up and walk around at least once an hour if you are working a day job that ties you to a desk for most of the day. Utilize dry skin brushing before you shower daily to encourage lymphatic flow all around the body.
Reduce the toxic burden that is on your body. Reduce or eliminate alcohol and other substances that frankly are not doing your liver any favors. Use an air purifier, vacuum often and allow fresh air to circulate through your home. Avoid the use of fragrances, plastics and dyes in detergents, cleaning and skin care products. Use glass containers for food and drinks rather than plastic.