This blogpost is the second of a three-part series to help you create health. When I first heard the idea that we can “create health”, I thought – yes! We need to create our own health. But how?
There are three-main ways that you can create health:
- Maximize your nutrition
- Optimize your lifestyle
- Reinforce your immune health
Today’s Post is about Optimizing Your Lifestyle
If you google how to create a healthier lifestyle, you will get information on how to create healthy habits, rules on no smoking, alcohol, what to eat and lots of trendy exercises. These are great, and of course I’m big on the no smoking and alcohol in moderation. It just doesn’t end there. When talking about health, of course as a Registered Dietitian, I focus on a balanced diet, but creating health involves optimizing your lifestyle like nurturing relationships, committing to an exercise routine, getting quality sleep and dealing with stress.
Relationships: Social connections not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health just as much as good nutrition, exercise, equate sleep and not smoking. Over the years, dozens of studies have shown that people who have social support from family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems and live longer. In fact, centenarians in the Blue Zones share some commonalities, one being that they all put family first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home, which to no surprise has been found to lower disease and mortality rates of children too! Additionally, most centenarians commit to a life partner and invest their time in their children nourishing them with love and support.
Conversely, a lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality. We are hearing this now in the news as we enter week #4 directing us to “shelter in place” in the New York Tri-state area! One study that examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day – greater than obesity and physical inactivity combined! Connecting with others helps to relieve harmful levels of stress, which can negatively impact our cardiovascular health, digestion, stress hormones, blood sugar regulation as well as our immune fighting strength.
Developing Nurturing Relationships: Surrounding yourself with caring, loving people may be the easiest healthy lifestyle strategies I can suggest! It’s inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen and there are several ways to show you care.
- Showing you care can include offering help or advice, but it can also include receiving help or advice. In fact, there is lots of research that shows there are benefits to both the giver as well as to the receiver.
- Take time to nurture your most meaningful relationships. Choose activities that will most likely bring joy to you and the people around you that you care about. For now, this may be a simple text, phone call or Facebook message. Maybe this includes making plans to eventually meet up with the people you care about and love after our COVID-19 restrictions to “shelter in place”.
- Evaluate your relationships at work. Now that most people are working from home, this time may have given you a different perspective. Assessing your work relationships may include developing a plan going forward that promotes a healthier work environment.
Exercise: Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Exercise acts directly and immediately to promote good circulation, allowing each cell to be bathed in nutrients and important biochemicals as blood moves freely throughout the body.
Exercise can be any activity requiring you to generate force by using your muscles. The more force you exert, the more exercise you get. There are 5 aspects of exercise to promote fitness:
- Aerobic or Cardiovascular: Moving your body consistently by walking, running, cycling, rowing, swimming, vacuuming or gardening for 20 plus minutes
- Muscle Strength: Moving an object by lifting weights or using resistance
- Muscle Endurance: Holding a plank or a wall sit, repeating a specific movement several times in a row like doing push-ups, crunches or sit ups, digging in your garden or vacuuming.
- Flexibility: Stretching or holding a yoga pose
- Balance: Standing on one leg, BOSU exercises , walking on a straight line or holding a yoga pose
While exercise shouldn’t be effortless, it shouldn’t bring you to the brink of collapse either. The type, frequency and intensity of exercise is actually very individual. Fortunately, your body offers some clues. When we are talking about aerobic exercise, the most commonly suggested measure is whether or not you can carry on a conversation while you are walking, biking or running. If you can’t, you’re probably exercising too strenuously to keep going for 30 minutes and should slow down. On the other hand, if you can sing, you probably need to step up your pace. If we are talking about lifting, the guidelines are to start with a weight that you can lift at least 10 times. If you can lift a weight more than 15 repetitions in a row, then it is time to add more weight.
As with aerobic exercise, listen to your body when performing muscle endurance, flexibility/ stretching and balance exercises. For example, you may only be able to hold a 10-second plank or perform a certain yoga pose with the aid of the blocks. It is always best to start low and go slow and listen to your body.
How Much Exercise? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 150-minutes of exercise per week to maintain health and 300-minutes per week to lose weight. If you are performing very intense exercise, the ACSM recommends 75-minutes per week to maintain health and 150-minutes per week for weight loss. More is also not necessarily better. For my marathon runners, triathlete and ultra-endurance athletes, I encourage them to monitor their resting heart rate. Our resting heart rate is a great tool to determine how well the body is recovering from exercise and an important tool to avoid added stress which could result in injury and a lowered immunity.
The hardest part of exercise is finding the time to do it. I recommend attaching exercise to an already existing habit, like as soon as you awake in the morning or right after work. You may consider alternating between aerobic and strength training, squeeze in a brisk walk to the gym, train station, across a parking lot, during a lunch break or trade 30-minutes of television for 30-minutes of exercise. I also recommend planning exercise as you would an important doctor’s appointment – schedule it into your day and make that appointment!
Sleep: A healthy immune system can fight off infection. A sleep-deprived immune system doesn’t work as well. In one study, researchers found 164 men and women willing to be exposed to the cold virus. Not everyone got sick. Participants who regularly slept less than six hours a night were found 4.2 times more likely to become sick with the virus compared with those who got more than seven hours of sleep. The risk to becoming sick with the virus was even higher in participants who slept less than five hours every night.
Research has shown that sleep needs vary greatly by individual. Age, genetics, lifestyle and environment all play a role. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recently updated its sleep recommendations based on age. The NSF shows sleeping less than seven hours per night, from age 18-years and older, is associated with a range of health problems including obesity, heart disease, depression and impaired immune function. People (age 18-years and older) who sleep at least seven hours per night are healthier and live longer.
How to Get Better Sleep: Not sleeping enough is a big problem in the USA. In fact, over the last 40 years, Americans on average, sleep 2 hours less per night. But it’s not just about quantity. Our quality of sleep is also suffering. Here are several recommendations I often suggest to help my clients get better sleep:
- Stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule. It is important to not hit the snooze alarm. Research shows getting up at the same time each morning is even more important than going to bed the same time every night.
- Get natural sunlight. Aim for at least 20 minutes of sunshine every day, preferably early in the day, which triggers your brain to release chemicals that regulate sleep cycles.
- Avoid computers, smart phones, tablets and television one or two hours before bed. Don’t watch television in bed. Studies show the artificial and bright light can disrupt brain activity and alter sleep hormones like melatonin. Use your bed for sleep or romance.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal 3-hours before bedtime. Likewise, avoid eating too little calories throughout the day. Our body naturally goes into foraging mode and will look for food before bed and in the middle of the night!
- Avoid caffeine. Did you know that caffeine can have a 7-hour half-life in those who are sensitive to caffeine?
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol might help you to fall asleep, but it will likely give you an awful night’s sleep.
- Use herbal therapies. I recommend Healthy Cell Pro, a medical grade multivitamin. The PM-Formula contains valerian, chamomile, lemon balm extract, along with 5-HTP (precursor to tryptophan) to help you fall asleep and 0.75mg melatonin to help you stay asleep. Feel free click HERE to receive a monthly $20 discount.
- Other natural sleep supplements include magnesium. Depending on digestive issues, contact me to determine what form of magnesium is right for you.
- Write down your worries, plans for tomorrow or the future. Journaling can free up your mind so you can peacefully fall off to sleep.
- Keep the room cool. Not freezing, not sweltering – just cool.
You can tell you are not getting enough sleep if you wake up tired, often feel tired at work, long for a nap or fall asleep on your morning or evening commute. If you are getting seven or eight hours of sleep per night but still feeling tired and sleep-deprived, you may be suffering from interrupted sleep or a sleep disorder and may need to talk to a doctor and undergo a sleep study. Sleep is not something that should be overlooked. Maximizing your sleep is a great way to optimize your lifestyle to support your immune system and create health.
Dealing with Stress. Stress can be viewed as something that can wreak havoc on your body or as something that motivates and gives you the strength and energy to overcome adversity. Everyone’s perspective, and thus tolerance of stress is very individual. Work, money and family – even what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, when to exercise and how to fit in sleep – can all create daily stress. On top of that, we have global stressors like the Coronavirus, politics, the stock, job and housing market, as well as terrorism. Unfortunately, stress is unavoidable.
It is well known that your body does a better job fighting off illness and healing wounds when it’s not under stress. In fact, one study showed how 28,000 people perceived stress in their lives and focussed on death rates in the study group over a nine year period. This study found that having a lot of stress in your life was not linked with premature death. But having a lot of stress in your life and believing it was taking a toll on your health increased risk of premature death by 43 percent!
Developing ways to deal with stress can reduce its harm and empower you! Implementing strategies like meditation, prayer, exercise, controlled breathing or talking to a therapist are ways that can help you deal with stress, which in turn supports a healthy immune system and creates health! Here are some of my favorite strategies to deal with stress.
Strategy #1: Perception is a Product of Perspective. Depending on your view of a situation, it could be doom and gloom or centering.
- Example: All these rules around wearing a face mask, touching my face and washing my hands is increasing my anxiety and stress!
- Alternative View: Calm begets calm. Worrying about wearing a face mask, not touching my face and washing my hands is not going to change my exposure to the coronavirus. I am very capable of taking these precautionary activities and in doing them, I am being a good role model to my children, my family and community.
Strategy #2: Spirituality. I believe that spirituality is individual and is a way people can find meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace. Some people find spirituality by practicing their religion, while others find it through music, art, or a connection with nature. Still others find it in by upholding certain values and principles.
Research shows there is a common connection between your beliefs and your sense of well-being. Positive beliefs, comfort, and strength gained from religion, meditation and prayer can contribute to one’s overall mental, emotional and physical health. One’s spirituality may even promote healing. This is likely due to the fact that the body, mind, and spirit are all connected.
To improve your spiritual health, I recommend doing what is most comfortable for you. Some suggestions include:
- Identify the things in your life that give you a sense of inner peace, comfort, strength, love and connection.
- Set aside time every day to do the things that help you spiritually. This may be community service or volunteer work, praying, meditating, singing devotional songs, reading inspirational books, taking a walk in the park (when they re-open), setting aside quiet time for thinking, journaling, exercising or attending religious services.
- Let go of blame and negative feelings after a hurtful incident. Most research shows tremendous health benefits in forgiveness.
Having a strong spiritual outlook will likely help you find meaning in life’s difficult circumstances. Practicing your individual spirituality can help support a stronger immune function, longer lifespan, lowered blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, and fewer feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, anger or hurt.
Strategy #3: Meditation. Meditation has been proven to increase focus, reduce stress, anxiety and depression; improve memory, emotional awareness and overall happiness. Unlike exercise, the benefits from meditation are not seen right away. However, the longer meditation is practiced, the better your approach to stress becomes. The good news is, there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Here are a few tips to start:
- Get comfortable by sitting or lying down. Use extra pillows under your knees or anywhere else to make yourself comfortable.
- Set a digital timer. Start with five minutes and work your way up to 10, then 15, and eventually 20-minutes. It could take weeks or months to lengthen the time you practice. Try not to criticize yourself. Whatever your pace, it’s fine.
- Breathe normally through your nose, with your mouth closed. Your eyes can be open or closed. Focus on the breath moving in and out of your nostrils, or on the rise and fall of your belly.
- When you notice your mind wandering, bring it gently back to the breath. Be careful not to drift off; this will be tempting. Shutting off your mind is not the goal of meditation, but then neither is judging. So, no matter what feelings or thoughts you have, simply bring your focus back to the breath again. And again.
When starting a new meditation practice don’t worry if at first you have trouble calming your brain. This is a natural and common complaint. Try counting your breaths, repeating a word or phrase such as “peace” or “calm” or concentrate on your breathing. If this remains an issue, you might find guided meditation to help. Sometimes I use Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique to become centered when I first start to meditate. Also, in the beginning, you might not feel anything special. Avoid unrealistic expectations that something amazing is going to happen. Be patient with your yourself and realize your experience of meditation is very personal.
Meditation has been shown to help regulate your thoughts, increase stem cell production, change hormones, reduce inflammation and support your immune function. For this reason, meditation is a great way to deal with stress to optimize your lifestyle and to create health!
What You Can Do Now: I started B3yond Nutrition five years ago as a way to help people manage their weight, better manage medical diagnosis and/or perform better athletically. I called my company B3yond Nutrition because managing your weight, health, wellness and physical performance goes beyond nutrition.
Beyond Cryotherapy opened about 18-months ago. Whole body and local cryotherapy has helped me reach my competitive, amateur athletic goals by helping reduce inflammation as an older runner and as someone who has struggled with Crohn’s Disease as a runner. I was so impressed how cryotherapy helped reduce inflammation that I created Beyond Cryotherapy as a spa to promote health, wellness and beauty – a place to help you feel good about yourself, both inside and out!
Creating health means optimizing your lifestyle and that includes nurturing your relationships, committing to an exercise routine, getting quality sleep and dealing with stress. It also includes Reinforcing Your Immune Health, which I will address in blogpost #3.
Your approach to optimizing your lifestyle is very individual and will likely change as you go through life. Please feel free to join me on Healthie, a HIPAA Compliant, Telehealth Counseling Platform I use for Nutrition Counseling that goes B3yond Nutrition. Discover what works best for you and maximize your nutrition, optimize your lifestyle and reinforce your immune health. Call me, Beth Candela, today at 973-852-3335.