A phrase I often find myself repeating to my clients, and myself, on a regular basis is: “It’s not easy, but it is simple”. As the photo accompanying this article suggests, to live a healthy life really is simple. It isn’t rocket science. The elements required to achieve and maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit are actually quite straightforward (despite what we are often led to believe in our world that seems to like complicating things so much!):
- Exercise, and
I would add to this one additional “doctor” and that is Healthy relationships (With Self and Others), though the details of this point will be beyond what is covered in this article… maybe next month!
Truly, if we would step away from the quest for finding labels for our issues, searching for fancy cures to what ails us, we would realize that the equation for health is really truly simple.
Health = Deposits > Withdrawals.
In order to be healthy, we need to ensure we are making more “deposits” into our “health bank account” than we are making “withdrawals” and the 6 + 1 “doctors” mentioned above are essential deposits we can make that go a long way in establishing optimal wellness.
I invite you to take a little inventory on your overall level of satisfaction with your health and vitality right now. Consider your physical (energy, stamina, skin, weight, fitness level, digestion, sleep, etc.), emotional (mood), psychological (stress, thinking), and spiritual (inner peace) states of being. Without any self-judgment, guilt, shame, or blame, get a sense of where your needle sits on this “satisfaction meter” with your health.
Now take a little inventory on how much time, energy and resources you invest in relationship to each of the above 6 ‘doctors’.
Sunshine. Yes, it is winter in Saskatchewan and the weather can be a wee bit of a factor as to how much time we spend outside, and, no, we don’t have any control over how much sun or cloud the skies decide to gift us with on a daily basis, however do you do your best to ensure you are getting out into the sun as often as you can? Do you bundle up and take walks on sunny days? In the summer, do you make sure your skin is exposed to the sunlight, at least in the early morning and later afternoon hours, in order to activate sufficient levels of vitamin D?
If not, and if you are particularly sensitive to the sun, or lack thereof, do you take Vitamin D supplements, or high quality Cod Liver Oil on a daily basis? We want to ensure we are getting at least 2500 to 5000 IU of Vitamin D every day in our winter months in our temperate climate.
There are also wonderful hacks for sunshine, such as the light therapy devices manufactured by companies such as Verilux. These are easy to use on a daily basis, first thing in the morning: simply turn it on, angle it away from your direct line of vision, and sit, sip your tea, eat your breakfast, write in your journal, read the paper – whatever is part of you morning routine, while the full spectrum light of the lamp simulates the natural light of the outdoors and will help balance brain chemistry, making you feel more awake, alert, and focussed. Studies show they also improve mood and sense of well-being.
Of course it is always preferrable to get outside and take advantage of God’s natural sunlamp! And taking just 15-20 minutes as soon as possible in the morning after sunrise is a great, and healthy way to start the day.
Water. What about water? what is your relationship like with water? how much do you drink? Studies show that drinking half your body weight, in ounces, is the ideal minimum amount of water to ingest on a daily basis. This can include water from herbal teas, water added to make smoothies, or soups, just so long as you aren’t counting your caffeinated water, or water that contains sugar or artificial sweeteners (like juices, sports drinks, pop, etc.).
Beyond hydration, how about water exposure? Showers and baths are cleansing and relaxing, particularly if you up their therapeutic value by adding epsom salts or essential oils to baths, or use contrast (alternating hot and cold) water therapy in the shower. Swimming, plunging in cold pools, walking barefoot in the snow, or in the water along the shore at the beach in the summer, all have therapeutic benefits, including decreasing stress hormone exposure, increasing circulation, and building immune function.
Rest. Critical to our overall health, and few of us get enough of it. This is high quality sleep, 7 to 9 hours per night, as well as ‘down time’ during the day to sit down, nap, read a book, take a break. How often do we keep going until we drop? for most of us, all too often. And it isn’t sustainable. Just because we used to be able to function off of 5-6 hours of sleep per night in our youth, doesn’t mean it was healthy back then. Essentially we likely just depleted our “sleep bank accounts” leaving us even more worn out and in need of good quality rest today. Setting up a sleep schedule and staying accountable to it is essential for proper repair of the body. Our bodies love rhythm and routine, and honouring their circadian rhythms, so going to bed at roughly the same time every night, and waking around the same time every morning is ideal. Because of the time the organs need to repair overnight, it has been said that the hours of sleep you get before midnight are worth two hours of sleep after midnight. So an ideal sleep schedule might see you getting ready for bed around 9 or 9:30 pm, unwinding with a bath, some meditation or prayer, reading a book that is soul-filling, and not too stimulating, cuddling with a loved one, and aiming for a 10 pm shut eye. Then waking somewhere between 6 and 7 am the next morning. This is simple, however not always easy, as the demands of life can make this challenging. It is important to prioritize self-care, particularly rest, as without it, it becomes very difficult to meet the demands of life.
Sleep aids such as chamomile tea, magnesium supplements before bed, lavender essential oil, are all useful places to start in order to relax the nervous system, and make your rest time more restorative.
Air. This goes hand in hand with Sunshine, and relates to true Nature Cure. Getting outside in nature, breathing fresh air, communing with the birds, trees, plants, even snow!, are all valuable ways to restore health and vitality. It really is that simple! Think about how little time you might spend outdoors during your “regular life”. Perhaps “too busy” going from bed, to car, to office, to activities, to home, to clean, to bed. No wonder we feel disconnected, tired, worn out, achy, and depressed. Contrast this to heading out on vacation: sipping your morning coffee or tea on a deck, hiking, swimming, biking, lying on a beach, strolling through the trees. How amazing do you feel being immersed in the natural world? How often do you make a point to get at least 30-60 minutes of fresh air every day when in your usual routine?
Have you contemplated how much better you might feel if you took the time to get outside? park further from your destination in order to get more outdoor steps in. Better yet, plan to walk (yes, even in the winter!), or bike as transportation. Spend your lunch breaks outside. Walk around the block with your family after dinner. Every effort we make to get out adds deposits to that health bank account.
The other element of air is breathwork itself. Breathing. The book Breath by James Nestor is an enlightening read that talks of all the incredible benefits of breathing. We take breathing for granted as something we do, without realizing how therapeutically beneficial proper breathing is. There are many different types and styles of breathwork, and they can be used to do anything from calm the body, promote sleep, lower blood pressure, open the sinuses, and much more. A very simple breathing exercise I love is called the Box Breath. Essentially you breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold for 4 counts… making a “box” with your breath. Repeat this 10 or more times, or set a timer for 3-5 minutes and practice this daily. Pull the exercise out at a stoplight. Notice how much more relaxed you will feel, clear headed, calm, yet energized. It really is a miracle cure for so many things, and we take it with us wherever we are.
Exercise. Do you exercise every day? if not, consider making a point of creating a regular routine of some form of exercise. Lack of exercise leads to fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, muscle atrophy, cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary (circulatory: heart, veins, arteries, lungs) weakness (= shortness of breath, difficulties with energy, temperature regulation, etc.), insomnia, and inflammation. Our bodies were designed to move, and daily endurance exercise, even simple walks is a great starting place, regular weight lifting/ body weight routines (2-3 times per week), and stretching/ yoga are instrumental for achieving optimal health. It is impossible to be healthy, strong, and have the metabolic fitness we need especially as we age, without regular daily physical activity.
Diet/ nutrition. Also key to a healthy life. And, again, not rocket science. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains like quinoa, oats, and rice, good quality proteins like organic tofu, eggs, chicken, fish, free range meat, wild game, legumes, and raw nuts, seeds and oils (walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, coconut oil, avocadoes, olives and olive oil) should be the bedrock of our diet.
Eat only these foods and you will thrive.
Where our bodies start to break down and become inflamed is when we consume dairy products (non-organic, milk, ice cream, excessive amounts of cheese, yogurt sweetened with sugars and artificial sweeteners), wheat products (breads, buns, cookies, bagels, wheat pasta), sugar, artificial sweeteners, and over indulged in caffeine, alcohol, chocolate. I had the reminder myself not all that long ago. As someone who eats very clean the vast majority of the time (yes, I like my daily coffee, and occasional wine!), a few weeks ago I got very busy and started to consume more cheese than I usually eat. Generally I don’t eat much cheese, however I really do love it and when I am busy it can feel like an easy “go-to”. I don’t have to eat much of it, I feel full and satisfied.
However I started to have a chunk here and there on an almost daily basis, and before long my knees started aching, as though I had some form of inflammatory arthritis. Which I knew I did not, as this is not a condition that develops in a short period of time.
A quick inventory of my recent food habits and I knew that cheese was the culprit. I eliminated it, and within a week, my knees were back to normal and I was limber as always, lunging and squatting at the gym without difficulty again.
All of these little indiscretions add up, and before we know it, we can be feeling less than our optimally well, vital selves. So before looking for any miracle cures, in the form of supplements, medications, or any other fancy solutions – commit yourself to one month of focussing on supporting yourself in the aforementioned simple, yet very effective six categories:
Simple, right? the difficulty lies in the execution, and we might find we need to lighten our loads, take obligations off of our plates, say some “nos” to others, in order to say some “yeses” to ourselves. The thing is, if we don’t.. we don’t have the energy or vitality for ANYONE, so it is worth it to invest in ourselves first and foremost in these essential, foundational, long term ways.
We can’t shortcut around these foundations. There really is no way to get away without supporting these fundamental aspects to what we need to live a healthy life. As we get older, our bodies hold us to a higher and higher standard of ensuring that these key principles are enacted in our lives, and when they aren’t our bodies let us know.
So turn towards your body today, gift it with a beautiful combination of this nurturance, and you will be amazed at how much better you feel.