Is September the Real New Year?Sep 01, 2023
Can you believe it’s September?
Now that mornings are cooler and the days are getting shorter, we can tell that fall will be here soon.
And even though I’m not heading back to the classroom after Labour Day (yay!), this time of year always feels like the New Year.
Not that I’m suggesting New Year’s Resolutions (most people find it hard to follow them for any length of time), however it is a great time to assess our health and lifestyle choices.
I thought this week would be a good time to talk about these choices in general terms, and give each of you a chance to consider where you are in each of the different aspects.
And not from the point of view of judging ourselves, but to decide where we might want to put more of our energy, as we continue to focus on health and longevity.
As I’ve discussed before, I’ve identified Six Pillars of Health and Longevity:
- Just Eat Real Food
- Move your Body
- Manage your Stress
- Sleep, Rest and Restore
- Detox your Environment
- Connect with your Community
I’ve written about each of these in previous blogs, and will give you some of main points plus suggested Action Steps below.
Studies show that people age faster, with unhealthier minds and bodies, when they are subject to any of the following:
- Deficiencies in the required nutrients that are the building blocks (protein, fat, carbohydrates, plus micronutrients) of all the tissues in the body: cells, organs, chemical messengers (hormones, neurotransmitters), and other processes that carry out the roles of the various organs and the body as a whole, that keep us alive!
- Too many toxins, harmful substances (found in processed food, food additives, environmental toxins, EMFs, etc.) and they are seemingly everywhere these days.
- A sedentary lifestyle – as the body’s systems are not doing what they were designed to do, which is to be active (moving, lifting, etc.) for long hours, every day.
- Chronic sleep deprivation
- Loneliness and isolation
- Overload of Stress - caused by all of the above plus the emotional stress of 21st century life -- even more so in the past few years.
Of course it would be too much to change everything all at once! Studies in Habit Formation recommend starting small, and making it so easy that you won’t want to skip it! Pick something new but manageable.
Here are just a few thoughts on each of the 6 pillars, and as you read these over take some time for each of them, and just sit and assess where you are. You can use a scale of 1 to 5 where five is great, and 1 is "needs work," or just leave yourself with a sense of which one or two you might like to prioritize.
And once you have your focus for the next little while, take a look at the recommended action steps, and choose which ones to put into place.
It turns out that following just one of these Health Principles to start with will help you learn how to defy your age, tap into great energy, improve your memory, get better sleep and create an active lifestyle!
1. Just Eat Real Food!
Eat whole, high quality (ideally organic), fresh, local and nutrient-dense Real Food that will increase your energy, sharpen your memory, improve your sleep, and have you feeling younger. Eat fat, fibre and protein at every meal and snack, as this will balance blood sugar and help reduce cravings. Let a rainbow of vegetables and other plants be the main attraction on your plate, with everything else taking the role of “condiments.”
Minimize or avoid “pseudo” foods (such as processed grains, pasteurized dairy, refined sugar, oils, alcohol, etc.), which can drain your energy, unbalance various body systems and stagnate your digestion.
What you drink counts too—try to avoid calorie and sugar-laden drinks. Choose water and other calorie-free beverages instead! And know that too much alcohol can lead to depression, confusion, disrupted sleep and memory loss.
- Plan and prepare a day of “from scratch” meals made only from nutrient-dense whole foods and see how you feel.
- Track some habits like # of Veggies or Water Intake for Awareness (not judgment!) so you know your starting point.
2. Manage your Stress through Meditation and Self Care
Stress is a natural, human response to problems and concerns in your life. In Prehistoric times, a dangerous situation (think lions and tigers) required our ancestors to ramp up their hormones and bodies to allow them to engage in either “Fight or Flight.” That was a survival mechanism! Fast-forward to the 21st Century and our Paleolithic bodies still respond in the same way, this time to our frenetic, over-scheduled, and highly-stimulating lives.
Now some stress is actually a good thing. It can be a motivator. It can be essential to survival. The “Fight-or-Flight” mechanism can tell us when and how to respond to danger. However, if this mechanism is triggered too easily, or when there are too many on-going stressors at one time, it can undermine a person's mental and physical health and become harmful.
What are some powerful Stress Reduction Habits?
- Meditation is a powerful tool that will help you reduce stress, sleep better, refocus your mind and change your habits!
- Move your body, as much as you are able. This likely means turn those screens off more often!
- Self Care – take time for yourself to relax, treat yourself and pursue your own interests.
- Develop a Daily Meditation practice: If you are used to meditation and make it a regular habit, keep that up. If this is new, make a commitment to sit in meditation every day this week for 5 minutes.
- Book a Self-Care treat of your choice: Treat yourself to a massage; book a mani-pedi; take a cleansing bath; gift yourself some downtime; take a restorative yoga class!
3. Move your Body as much as you are able
Moderate physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain, which will deliver nutrients and remove toxins. This may help keep your memory sharp and it will keep your muscles supple and your joints flexible. Include variety: moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking; strength training (see a previous blog here “Why We Should All Be Lifting Weights!”); flexibility/mobility training such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi; sports and social activities such as hiking, golf, skiing, snowshoeing, etc.
Start where you are right now:
- As you go about your day, try to move every hour—recent research now suggests we should take at least 250 steps every hour all day. Try and sit as little as possible (other than for meditation)!
- Schedule exercise into your day and Just Do It! Studies show that for many people, planning to exercise in the morning before the rest of the day interferes, is easier to stick with than something later in the day.
- In addition, several times each week get some additional exercise of your choice. Make these activities fun, join in with friends to add social connection—you are more likely to stick with your commitment!
- If you are used to exercise and make it a regular habit, keep that up!
- If you’ve been “off” exercise for awhile, make a commitment to incorporate walking every day. Start with 20 minutes–this could be a loop around your neighbourhood or park, or 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back. Offer to take your neighbour’s dog for a walk!
- Invite some friends and family to join you in a day of fun, active sports or games (safely, of course)
4. Sleep, Rest and Restore
Deep sleep is essential for rest and repair. Too little sleep increases the stress hormone cortisol, which can wreak havoc on many of the body’s functions, including your memory. Make getting enough sleep a priority:
- Before the invention of the electric light, people slept when it was dark and got up with the sun – different amounts in summer vs. winter but an average of 9 to 10 hours a night—now we are lucky to get 7 hours!
- There are many tips to help you get a better night’s sleep—here are the most important ones:
- Keep the bedroom dark and quiet, cool temperature, wear comfortable clothing
- Take time to “wind down” before bedtime – don’t eat or exercise too close, avoid alcohol and caffeine (which decreases melatonin) for at least 3 hours before bed, avoid anything disturbing or exciting on TV (most shows!); get your TV out of the bedroom!
- Deal with any underlying stress
- For the next week, set your bedtime to 1/2 hour earlier than you are used to and make it consistent!
- Try shutting down all screens at least 1/2 hour before bedtime, to minimize light disruption of your sleep hormones.
5. Detox your Environment
Not only should your food choices be as free of toxins as possible (think organic, hormone and antibiotic-free) but it’s also important to think about the rest of your environment:
- Drink filtered water. Filtering will remove chlorine, fluoride and other contaminants that are not healthy for your body.
- Personal Care Products, everything from body wash, to toothpaste and makeup. Choose natural products and avoid toxic chemicals such as fluoride, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, carrageenan and propylene glycol. What you put on your skin will be absorbed into your body!
- Household Cleaning Products. Clean with water and lemon or apple cider vinegar instead!
- Read labels on all products you purchase, not just foods! Avoid any toxins. Purchase and store your food and beverages in glass containers rather than plastic.
- Check out this article on Toxic Household Cleaning Products for many additional ways to clean up your environment.
6. Connect with your Community
Socialize regularly and stay mentally active. Social interaction helps ward off depression and stress, both of which can contribute to memory loss and lack of energy. Look for opportunities, either online or safely in-person, to get together with family, friends, loved ones and others — especially if you live alone.
Just as physical activity helps keep your body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep your brain in shape — and these can be more fun done in groups. Join a book club. Learn to play bridge. Attend cultural or educational events. Volunteer at a local community organization.
- Make a plan to reach out to friends and family this week. Plan at least one get together.
- Ask your friends what community groups they are in and get ideas for how you can be more involved—but not too many as that can actually increase your stress!
- If you’re already in a community organization, see if you can be more involved in the running of that organization.
The bottom line? Just because our family, friends and doctors try to normalize health declines as we age, doesn't mean we should give up and give in.
You can turn back the clock by adopting healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits that will reduce stress and reduce the toxic load of our 21st Century world.
Take one step at a time, one day at a time, and begin to notice the difference healthy habits can make!
Find Your Focus
How? Find a quiet space and sit in a comfortable position. Take a moment, close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and get in touch with your body. Then ask yourself how happy and healthy you feel in each of the areas - and see how your body responds. Check in with your gut, your heart, your body. Not so much your mind as it tends to tell us what it thinks we want to hear!
How do you score? Give yourself a number between 1 and 5, where 5 is "Great!" and 1 is "very unhealthy/needs immediate focus!" (click HERE to download a printable PDF)
Based on this assessment, decide where to focus first and which ACTION STEPS (see above suggestions) you will take TODAY!
For more info on this and other natural health topics:
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