Start Getting Healthy: 6 Things You Can Do

From Fran’s column, Holistic Outlook, in The Times Herald Record.

Everyone wants to be healthy, but where to start? Whatever you choose, stick with it. Make small changes each week, commit to them, and keep building on those changes once they are established. You might be surprised at how those little changes add up.  You can do it!

Here are some suggestions:

1. Eat real food
As Michael Pollan points out in his book “In Defense of Food,” much of what we eat is better described as “edible foodlike substances.” His advice, and mine: stick to foods your great-great-grandmother would recognize. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unpronounceable, unfamiliar or more than five in number. Eat better quality, and eat less.

2. Eat breakfast
The old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day gets more and more scientific support as time goes on. Eating a balanced meal (protein, carbs and a little healthy fat) within one hour of waking is one of the best things you can do for yourself. People who eat breakfast are less tired, more focused, eat less throughout the day and are less likely to have cravings. They are also more likely to stick with a weight-loss plan, and get better results.

3. Sleep
It’s all over the news: Lack of sleep, and poor quality sleep, are health issues for everyone from toddlers to seniors, affecting weight, memory, appetite, moods and overall health. Sleep in a dark, quiet room (no LEDs, night lights, computers, phones, etc.). Adults need eight hours; children and teens need more. It’s a myth that we need less as we age; sleeping less contributes to problems associated with aging. You might be amazed at how much better you feel, and function, with adequate, good-quality sleep. More sleep is even a surprisingly effective weight loss strategy.  Not only do stress hormones drop when we sleep, giving us more cortisol-free hours, but when we are sleep deprived, our hormones drive us to eat more fast fuel, so that our cravings for quick carbs become harder to resist.

4. Yoga
Yoga is not just for flexibility and calming. It can improve circulation, energy, memory, digestion, blood pressure, metabolism and strength, and enhance our normal detoxification processes. And you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga. In fact, not being flexible is a great reason to start.    You don’t have to turn yourself into a pretzel or stand on your head in order to attain yoga’s benefits. Even a few sun salutations, done regularly, will help. Although any yoga is bound to be beneficial, I am partial to systems that have been taught for generations, such as Ashtanga and Iyengar. They have a wisdom, integrity and coherence that can’t be duplicated.  But hey, any yoga is better than none! So shop around and find a class or studio you like. Many will offer a free class or even a free week, to new students.

5. Persevere
Our culture is so oriented to instant gratification that we have forgotten the virtue of perseverance. We need to persist toward our goals through difficulties, obstacles and impediments, because they are an inevitable part of the process. When we get discouraged, feel tired, bored or distracted, we need to renew our commitment, not abandon it. So often, we fail not because what we want is unattainable, but because we sacrifice what we want most for what we want in the moment.

6. Play, dream, love
What makes you feel exuberant, fully alive, reminds you that life is truly wonderful? Whatever it is, you need to do it. We can’t live without joy; we shouldn’t. So think now about how to bring it more fully into your life. Be creative about how you can invite your great dreams into your life, and bring them back out into the world. After all, what are we here for, if not to take the pieces of the universe we were given, burnish them with love and return them in better shape than we received them?

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