6 Ways To Get Healthier (That Have Nothing To Do With Food)
Want to live a long life and live it well? It's easy to get lost in the weeds of options and go from one "fad" to the next, especially when it comes to what you should and shouldn't eat. Keto, paleo, vegan, plant-based, lectin-free—all the diet options out there can make your head spin, and each of us is looking for the "secret sauce" that will deliver the results and make us feel happy and healthy!
Food is an undeniably important part of any wellness plan, but it doesn't end there. Some of us are guilty of focusing too much on food while allowing other areas of wellness to fall by the wayside. But don't worry, I've got you covered. Here are my top six pieces of health advice that have nothing to do with food but that will help you get your health to an optimal place:
1. Track your sleep and make sure you're getting high-quality Zs.
Yep, sleep is one of the most important (arguably, the most important) pillar of health, and most of us aren't getting enough! Most individuals need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Try using a sleep tracker to figure out how much you're actually sleeping out of the time you spend in bed; my favorite one is the Fitbit Alta because it looks nice, tracks sleep and exercise, and isn't terribly expensive.
As important as how much you sleep is when you sleep. The adrenals are meant to release low levels of cortisol at night. However, if you stay up late and rev yourself up, the body gets the signal to begin pumping out more cortisol, which can alter the quality of your sleep and give you that dreaded "second wind." If you're stressed about something, that can also prevent you from getting great sleep. Ten p.m. is typically the time to make sure you're winding things down.
2. Realize that stress is sabotaging all your other healthy efforts.
If sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health, stress is probably the worst. Stress has direct effects on the adrenals, causing them to put out more cortisol. Elevated cortisol, in turn, has a wide range of effects on your body including slowing or stopping digestion and absorption, altering your calorie needs and usage, altering how you store your food (think: increased belly fat) and altering your liver function, which in turn affects your ability to detoxify.
In other words, it's critical to decrease stress. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to do this including exercise, meditation, talk therapy, changing your thought processes to be more empowering, and removing yourself from situations that cause your stress to go up. And remember, not getting enough sleep will cause your stress levels to rise, so refer to the first foundation above.
3. Start exercising—and do more than just yoga.
Exercise provides both cardiovascular benefits and the stress reduction benefits, and yet, many of us are not getting even close to enough of it. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every week. Not sure how much you're getting? I recommend wearing a fitness tracker to understand how active you really are. While yoga is amazing for stress reduction, not all forms of yoga get the heart pumping and yield the cardiovascular benefits, so I frequently recommend adding a form of exercise that has cardiovascular benefits, such as Zumba, dancing, brisk walking, or spinning. Weights, while critical for healthy aging, are not a substitute for cardiovascular exercise but are important to support bone health in aging.
4. Work toward a purpose.
This is perhaps one of the most important factors when it comes to living a long and healthy life. Why bother doing the work to be healthy if you're not sure what your purpose on this earth actually is? Take time to reflect on what makes you happy, where you feel most at home, and where you want to see yourself in one, three, five, 10 years. Having a clear purpose and working toward a goal will give you the willpower to avoid temptation and stay healthy to pursue it.
5. Sweat regularly, and detox your body from toxins.
In our modern world, we're exposed to far too many toxic substances, which can be difficult for the body to get rid of. Sweating through exercise, sauna and steam use, or baths can be an excellent way for the body to rid itself of toxins. Dry brushing can also be helpful in this area. For true detoxification, it's important that the liver is optimally functioning; the adrenals can't be overly activated or it will impair the function of the liver and you won't be able to process toxins or hormones properly. Being female, drinking a lot of alcohol, and aging can all slow down the liver's detox abilities. Being constipated also causes the body to recycle the already processed hormones back into the system, increasing the load on the liver even more and forcing it to do double the work.
6. Lean on your community.
Loneliness is a killer, literally. So it's incredibly important to find a community that shares your values and interests, whether they be religious, philosophical, cultural, or related to one of your passions. Knitting, hiking, meditation, water painting—you name it, and there's a club for it! Make sure you join in and see the same people regularly.
You don't need to work on all of these at once, but pick two or three pillars to focus on and expand to include others when you feel ready.
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