Posts for category: Longevity
4 Simple Ways to Regain Control of Your Health
Do you sometimes feel like you have no control over your health? Like you are in some downward spiral and nothing seems to work or help the problems you are going through? You are definitely not alone! There are so many people who are going through the same thing and have the same feelings. I often get asked about what someone can do to help regain control of the of their health. So, I decided to put together a simple jump start list to help you get started!
While there are a lot of moving parts to achieving optimal wellness, there are a few core principles that should always be at the forefront of your mind. Here they are!
- Sleep. Sleep is very important to our health, more than we give it credit for. Poor sleep can affect your memory, appetite, metabolism, mood, and behavior. Chronic sleep problems can result in changes in the gut microbiome which may be an underlying factor that sits at the core of chronic disease in general (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27739530). Yes, not sleeping the right amount can make you overweight! The Journal of the American Heart Association published a study stating that inadequate sleep (either too much or too little) can give you an increased risk of death from any cause and cardiovascular events; they suggested we all aim for a target of 7 hours of sleep per night (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28889101).
- Nutrition. This probably goes without saying. We all know that nutrition is key to optimal wellness. Did you know, though, that what you eat can influence the composition of the gut microbiome and how the various bacteria that live in our gut actually works? (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303825/). This is a key concept because if we want to try to reverse chronic disease, one of the most important things to think about is what kind of fuel we are feeding our engines. Are you giving Diesel fuel to a body that needs Premium? By Diesel fuel I mean sugar, processed foods and meats, excessive alcohol, vegetable oils, trans-fats, fast foods, sodas, candies, and anything that is not “real food.” By “real food” and “Premium” I mean lots of plants and especially leafy greens, berries, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, cruciferous vegetables, and sources of Omega 3s. No matter what sort of diet you follow, these should be a key component of your nutritional plan. Try to keep things organic and non-GMO and don’t be afraid to try new things! It’s the variety of foods that is also important, not just the foods themselves. You can eat a broccoli diet everyday but just because we all know that broccoli is healthy for you does not mean that your diet is actually healthy.
- Stress Reduction. This may be one of the single most important elements of health and wellness. We are all busy, tired, and overworked. However, if we can find some time in the day to be still and enjoy the silence we will be doing our bodies a ton of good. I’m not talking about sitting and meditating for an hour a day. If you have the time to do that, then that is great. But if you start by giving yourself 5 minutes a few times a day you will start to see that it is highly beneficial. It would be nice to work up to 20 minutes twice a day but you have to start somewhere. Stress reduction techniques don’t have to be complicated. I’m not asking you to find a quiet spot in your office during lunch time so that you can do some downward dog poses. Start by just breathing and appreciating that you are here, you are alive, and life is good. While you do your breathing exercises, think about a few things that you are thankful for, whether it be the cup of coffee you had this morning or the fact that someone held the elevator for you when you got to work. Then think about how you give some of that good energy back to the world. We are, after all, connected to each other. Meditation can improve cell health, regulation of stress response, your immune system, and how your genes work. It can also reduce cortisol levels, inflammation levels, heart rate, triglycerides, and a number of other things (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28863392). Can you think of a better drug that can do all these things?
- Have fun. You have to enjoy life. If we don’t enjoy life now, while we are living it, it will be over before we know it. Human beings are social creatures. We need that social connection. We thrive on our relationships. Having fun and doing things you enjoy with your friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers can have significant health benefit as well. Dan Beuttner wrote a fantastic book called “The Blue Zones of Happiness” and he outlines that one of the key concepts to attaining happiness is cultivating social interconnectedness and spending your money more on experiences rather than material objects (Buettner D. The Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the world's happiest people. 2017). Go out and have some fun! You don’t have to do it with friends or anyone else, but it is always nice when you can share a great experience with someone. Your genes and your gut microbes will thank you for the dose of fun and excitement!
Yes, you need to exercise. And yes, you need to avoid toxins. There are a lot of things that need to be done to optimize your health. However, you can’t do it all at once so don’t worry about being perfect straight out of the gate. Take your time. Lifestyle changes can take a while to get down pat. You have to start somewhere. These 4 points include some elements of lifestyle that are often overlooked and under- appreciated. Starting to work on some of these things will help you push forward and allow you the opportunity to work on some of the other things. There is no race to the finish line here. You’ll get there. You just need to start!
Cheers to your (gut) health!
Rebalance your health, mind, and family with this one simple concept
Do you ever find yourself exhausted at the end of the week? Sometimes the exhaustion starts in the middle of the week or even sooner. By the time the weekend comes, you just want to do nothing. Before you know it, it’s Monday again and you are going back to work tired, as if the weekend never even happened.
There are a lot of things that go into fatigue and stress. We all need to make sure we eat the right foods, avoid toxins, exercise, sleep enough, and meditate on a regular basis. However, one of the most important and forgotten things we need to do is work on our social connections. You may say, “what are you talking about? I have family. I have friends.” I know. You do. However, what are you doing with them? Are you just going through the mechanics of a relationship or are you truly and genuinely trying to connect with each other? Human being are social creatures. We thrive on our social connections. In fact, there is evidence that our social relationships can increase happiness (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25641486). Having more social connections has also been associated with decreased odds of suicide or attempt (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29349115). It’s not about how many relationships you have either. It is the quality of relationships. You could have one friend and be better off than someone with 100 friends if the quality of that relationship is solid.
What we often do is take these relationships for granted. We think we have them and we enjoy that we have them but at the end of the day, are we cultivating that meaningful relationship on an ongoing basis? One simple concept that my family discovered a few years ago has really helped us reconnect and rebalance: Hygge (pronounced “Hoo-Ga”).
Hygge is a Norwegian and Danish word which refers to a mood of coziness. To me, the word means warmth and love. The origins of the word hygge may even come from the word hug, which further supports the concept of coziness and comfort. Ok, so what does this mean anyway. Well, it can mean whatever you want it to mean for you and your circumstances. That’s my viewpoint. The concept is to create an environment of warmth and coziness for you, your friends, and your family. The weekends are a great time to do this because it can be hard to execute in the hustle and bustle of the work week. Vacations are also a great time to do this, but I definitely would not wait for a vacation to start. There are a few ground rules when it comes to hygge (The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking). I’ve outlined them for you below:
- Create a good atmosphere. Dimming the lights helps.
- Have presence. Turn off the phones.
- Have pleasure. Favorite foods are always helpful.
- Treat everyone with equality. It’s more about we rather than me.
- Have gratitude. Soak in all the warmth and give thanks for the opportunity to be with your loved ones.
- Be harmonious. No need to compete when playing games; everyone is there to have fun.
- Make sure you are comfortable. Wear sweatpants, warm fuzzy socks, whatever you feel the coziest in.
- No drama. Leave the arguments and debates behind.
- Be together. Reminisce on things you have in common or adventures you have been on together.
- Be in a safe place like someone’s home. The people you are with are your tribe. Hygge is a place of peace and security.
It’s really not complicated. Hygge can be whatever you want it to be (https://www.visitdenmark.co.uk/en-gb/denmark-hygge). Pick one day out of the week that works for you and your family. Make this your family hygge time. My family likes Friday nights or Saturdays. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole day affair. The whole point is to just be present in the moment together and enjoy the company. If you have out of town friends coming over for a visit, have fun with them….have a picnic, go for a bike ride, sit around a campfire and tell stories. Yes, you can still go to Disney World if that is what they are there for, but don’t let the “good stuff” go so easily. Make sure you connect, truly connect. It’s the memories you make when this happen that are the ones that truly stay with you and keep you warm inside. That’s what hygge is! Having a friend and being a friend are two different things. Even having one friend earlier in life, as a child, can offer a reduced risk of psychological problems later in life, as an adult https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25316094).
Here is what we do on our hygge weekends:
- No electronics or phones (outside of music). Unplug the TVs. Put away the Iphones and tablets.
- Nice meals planned out (home cooked is the best, especially where everyone can contribute to the preparation)
- Board games with the kids
- Outdoor games with the kids (shoes off is even better so you can get some earthing in!)
- Funny stories, lots of jokes, and tons of hugs (of course!)
- Aromatherapy diffuser (rose and orange citrus are a few of our favorites)
- No drama
We know, and have seen, in the published literature that there are implications for gene expression and gut microbiome diversity in relation to our social interconnectedness. This means, that just by having fun and enjoying your social connections and relationships, you could be giving yourself a dose of one of the cheapest and most powerful medicines: love. Our human physiology responds to this. Oxytocin probably plays a large role in this process. Oxytocin is a chemical that has many different functions but is often-times referred to as the “love hormone.” Some of the effects it has includes parental behavior, social bonding, falling in love, friendship, and cooperation. The gut microbiome likely plays a role in how oxytocin is released because it appears that Lactobacillus reuteri, one of the bacteria that is found in the gut, can increase blood levels of oxytocin (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27793228). I bet you would never have guessed that happiness could come from the gut!
The Danish are some of the happiest people in the world. They figured this out a long time ago. We can all learn from their example and bring hygge into our lives! The warmth and coziness of hygge will trickle down into the core of your being and deliver a dose of the best medicine to you, your genes, and your microbiome!
How earthing can heal your gut
What’s all the hype about earthing and grounding? Believe it or not, there is science behind it! So, what is it? Well, grounding and earthing refers to direct skin contact with the surface of the Earth, whether it be with your bare hands or feet. Another concept that is along the same lines as this is called forest bathing. Forest bathing was developed in Japan and is called Shinrin-yoku or “taking in the forest atmosphere.” These techniques are a way to reduce stress and calm the mind. They allow us the opportunity to enjoy the great Earth we all live on together.
Guess what? Earthing actually effects our human physiology and health! Grounding can influence changes in levels of our white blood cells, inflammatory markers, and immune response. It has also been demonstrated to reduce pain and change the number of immune cells floating around in your bloodstream which can then influence the downstream factors related to inflammation (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378297/). One very interesting study showed that grounding caused a reduction in a muscle enzyme called creatinine kinase (CK) after a series of muscle contractions (the people in the study did 200 half-knee bends). This means that grounding helped reduce muscle damage or irritation after these muscular contractions were performed (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26443876).
One theory is that earthing can influence the electrical and chemical capabilities of the nervous system. This may help the nervous system to better adapt to the demands of the body and immediate surroundings. It may also help us restore our natural electrical status. These changes can even be seen on tests such as an EEG (electroencephalography) which measures brain wave activity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21856083). Fascinating, isn’t it?
Forest bathing has been shown to produce changes in our human physiology as well. One study showed that pulse rate, blood pressure, and heart rate variability were better in the forest than in the city when people were asked to walk for 15 minutes and then sit in chairs viewing the areas they walked in for 15 minutes (http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/uploads/8/1/4/4/8144400/_physiologiceffectsurbanforest.pdf). Another interesting study showed that brain activity and cortisol (a key stress hormone) levels were significantly lower in those that spent time in a forest walking around and enjoying the scenery compared to when this was done in the city (http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/uploads/8/1/4/4/8144400/_physiological_effects_of_shinrin-yokucortisol-2007.pdf). What is exciting is that these changes are noted in a very short period of time. You don’t have to do it for months before you can see the benefit.
We know that the brain and the gut are directly connected to each other and that the digestive tract has its own nervous system. There are more nerves in the digestive tract than in the spinal cord! It is also well established that the brain can influence activity in the digestive tract and can influence the gut microbiome. Additionally, the opposite is also true. The gut microbiome can also influence brain activity, emotions, feelings, anxiety, and depression. Earthing and forest bathing seem like a genius way to naturally reset and rebalance our human bodies and physiology. Not only can it help us reduce stress, it can influence brain activity, blood pressure, heart rate, and immune activity. Almost certainly, the gut microbiome probably plays a role in this process as well. A happy brain makes for a happy gut. It actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Dr. Daniel Siegel defines the “mind” as being within us and between us; our mind is within our body but also between our body and the environment. Therefore, in order to heal our mind and body we must also connect with and respect our environment and everything and everyone in it (http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/mind/).
Regardless of the science or anyone’s opinion, there seems to be enough evidence to support earthing and forest bathing. It is a free, simple, and fun way to not only heal your mind but also heal your gut! So, next time you feel like you need a break or a breather, take off your shoes and walk barefoot in a patch of pesticide-free organic soil! Make it part of your regular routine!
There is a lot of talk about lifestyle medicine these days and people often ask me what this really means and why it is important. I thought I would take a few minutes to address this.
Lifestyle medicine simply means that you are living your life in a way to optimize overall whole health. It's not so much a "medicine" as it is a way of treating yourself to reduce inflammation and prevent chronic disease. Here are some of the main principles of lifestyle medicine:
1) Avoiding toxins (environmental toxins, excess alcohol, excess tobacco, plastics, pesticides, flame retardants, etc)
2) Eating healthy: avoiding processed foods, trans fats, fast foods, sugary beverages, artificial sweeteners and focusing on whole foods that are organic and non-GMO and include plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats (aka the anti-inflammatory diet or Mediterranean style diet)
3) Movement: exercise, be active (especially out in nature), shooting for at least 150 minutes per week
4) Sleep: often neglected but paramount to maintaining a healthy lifestyle; shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep per night
5) Stress reduction: including a meditative practice in your daily routine, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, among others is extremely important so that we can soothe the gut-brain pathways and cultivate a healthy mind-body relationship
6) Love: Cultivating meaningful relationships, enjoying life, laughing, singing, dancing!
These are all components of a healthy lifestyle. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that is continuously being added to that demonstrates the importance of these elements in order to obtain whole health and longevity. The best part is that these are things that you don't need a prescription card or a doctor's appointment to do!
Cheers to your health!
Everyone wants to know what the secret to life is. What is it that will make us live long? What is it that will keep us well?
This is a loaded question with many different perspectives. Dan Buettner worked very hard to study the areas in the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest. In his book, "The Blue Zones Solution" he outlines the the secrets of living long:
1) Move naturally: exercise and live in enviroments that push you to move
2) Purpose: essentially having purpose or a goal in life
3) Downshift: relax, take it easy, find a way to reduce stress
4) Hara Hachi bu: eating until you are 80% full
5) Plant Slant: favoring a plant based diet and one rich in beans and lentils with small amounts of meat (mostly pork, interestingly) a few times per month
6) Wine at 5: 1-2 glasses of wine daily with friends/food (assuming no alcohol problem)
7) Right tribe: having a healthy social circle
8) Community: faith based community (denomination is irrelevant)
9) Loved ones first: family first
These are wonderful principles of life and we should all strive towards living like this. All it says is that you should eat well, focusing on real whole foods while finding time to relax in the day, socialize with friends, having a sense of community, and staying active. Doesn't sound like anything too fancy does it? Really, it's not. But it is hard for most of us, in our busy lives to figure out a way to do these things or to appreciate their power and beauty. Stop for a moment and think about these 9 points. In the blue zones of the world, these are the main things that people have in common....they all do this...and they live long healthy active lives. There is no magic fountain of youth or magic pill you can take. It boils down to being present and remaining grounded, doing what you love to do, have social connectedness, and treating your body the way it should be treated.
This book, The Blue Zones Solution, isn't the only text that outlines these principles. There are studies that show how important social interactions and connectedness are and there are studies that show how little things like meditating can lengthen your telomeres, the caps at the end of DNA that keep us young.
So when you think and reflect upon your life and wonder what you can do to be healthier and what you can do to live a long happy life, just remember these above 9 principles. Start working on them one at a time and strive to do your best in these categories. I promise you will be healthier and happier, and in turn this will make your desire to optimize the other categories stronger.
Cheers to your health!
1) The Blue Zones Solution by Dr. Dan Buettner