People like myself, in the field of bettering health, are constantly reading up on the latest findings in areas of diet, exercise and mental wellness and trying to implement them. Once in a while, we have clients who are already on a good path to health and wellness but they want to refine what they are doing to get it better. For them we can fine tune what they are doing and move to a higher level of healthy habits. However, most of the people need a lot of educating and need good techniques for implementation. If there is one thing I have learned in all my years, it’s that it doesn’t take massive changes to start seeing good results. Even when people have a lot of weight to lose or have multiple risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and terrible inactivity, small changes one by one improve a person’s health and quality of life enormously. That was the case with my client Levy.
Levy fell into this precise category and was ready to give up on himself. He was on multiple medications and just never felt well. He felt sluggish all the time and lacked energy even for regular daily tasks. When I met him and we discussed his long term goals, he was clearly overwhelmed. I asked him to have patience and that every small bit of progress was a cause for celebration. Every kilo of weight lost will be a kilo of health gained. Even if it takes years to reach his weight loss goal, all of his other problems would begin to improve and his quality of life would be enhanced long before he gets there. Just like everyone, we began working on the essentials, one by one. Even if you aren’t in as bad shape as Levy was, here are the areas in which to seek improvement in order to better your health and quality of life—but don’t bite off more than you can chew—take it one or two changes at a time. When those feel like something you can keep doing, take on the next one.
1. Get more sleep. Surprise! This is my top choice. Without the proper amount of sleep, most everything else won’t be able to happen like it is supposed to. In today’s world of one big global economy, more and more people are working jobs that require second and third shifts; they are working out of their time zone. Many are communicating electronically with relatives and friends till the wee hours of the night. Worries and daily problems keep us from sleeping enough hours or from sleeping soundly. Lack of sleep will disrupt your metabolism and cause you to secrete more of the hormone cortisol. This increases your appetite and causes you to crave fatty foods, prolongs reaction time and slows cognitive function. It also may make you irritable.
2. Be active. Before we get to formal exercise, there is so much you can do to enhance your basic levels of fitness and health within the routine of your average day. Just a few changes in activity can also help you lose up to 5-6 kilo a year. Park the car a few blocks away from your destination. Get off the bus or train a stop or two early. Use stairs instead of elevators. Try to walk instead of driving wherever possible. A recent study in Japan showed a marked decrease in blood pressures of those who walked back and forth to work (as little as 10 minutes each way) as opposed to those who drove. It will help you control weight, improve your mood and contributes to your cardio-respiratory health.
3. Eat small meals more often. By scheduling 3 meals with 2 or 3 snacks, and keeping your portions under control, you are less likely to overeat. Just as important, this will regulate the way insulin is released in your body and keep you from becoming a type 2 diabetic. And every time you eat, your metabolism elevates, and all of us want our metabolism to be faster and not slower. Make sure you include enough healthy fats also!
4. Water. Water is one of the 6 classes of nutrients that we must ingest on a daily basis. 60 to 70 percent of our body is composed of water. Without it, chemical reactions that occur all the time in the body cannot take place. Drinking is essential, as we cannot conserve or store water in our body. Yet, most of us are probably only getting about a third of the valuable hydration benefits we need. And just like with eating regularly, it keeps your metabolism on the high side.
5. Exercise! Lack of cardio-respiratory fitness (your ability to walk fast, climb the hills and get up those stairs) is the leading risk factor of all-cause mortality. So make sure to do aerobic exercise regularly and include muscle building as well. It is essential for day to day functioning such as holding your children, your grandchildren and picking up your own suitcase without asking for help. Try to schedule that 35 minutes of walking 5 days a week and 2 days a week of muscle building exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym everyday for an hour-long heavy work out to get benefit. See a trainer to help you get a good routine started.
6. Limit the processed foods and junk. If it is processed (most of what you buy ready-to-eat off the supermarket shelves), try to stay away. In 2010, a Harvard study showed a pronounced difference in eating unprocessed versus processed meats. Eating processed meats, such as deli, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. We now know for certain that processed meat cause cancer! Most of those pop-in-the-toaster items are also highly processed, full of sodium and devoid of nutritional value—no matter what the front of the package says. Eating whole foods gives you your daily nutrition and fills you up to keep you from being hungry. Keep your sugar to minimal amounts. Sugar includes the white processed stuff, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, glucose and stay away from artificial sweeteners too. All processed and canned foods are very high in salt/sodium.
7. Reduce and manage your stress. It is difficult for me to convey just how damaging stress is to your health. Chronic stressors are thought to be the real villains associated with many health and disease problems. Chronic anxiety and depression, an overabundance of life changing-events, and a repressed feeling of loss, bereavement, emotional distress, and hostility have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, cancer, infection, suppressed immunity, asthma attacks, back pain, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal disease, headaches, and insomnia. A well-rounded exercise program, cognitive behavioral therapy or coaching, and some good problem solving techniques can go a long way in solving stress issues.
8. Stop eating by 8:00-8:30 in the evening. When you eat earlier, you use the calories through daily activity, when you eat late, you just go to sleep soon after and the calories don’t get used up. You will also sleep better when you eat earlier. In a study with two control groups, one group ate their daily allotted calories in the early afternoon and the other in the evening. Group one lost weight and group two gained weight even though they ate identical calories each day. Best not to eat at all from 2.5 hours before bedtime. So, set yourself a curfew.
These 8 areas are exactly what Levy, myself, and my dieticians worked on together. After three months of work, his doctor was even able to reduce one medication for high blood pressure, lower his dosage of cholesterol medicine and he avoided having to taking insulin for his diabetes. He is losing weight and on track, so we expect even better results and even less medication over the next 3 months. Pick one or two of the 8 and get started. Try to add one every week. You don’t have to wait, today is a perfect day to start to better your quality of life. Working on these 8 areas will bring you to good health and “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”