Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter.
I hope 2012 is off to a great start and that you’re inspired to spend time this year on those things that matter to you. Ask yourself, “What matters to me?” and DO THAT. Ask yourself, “What do I hope to build this year (either personally or professionally)?” and work on THAT.
One thing that matters to me is to continue through these monthly JIM letters to bring you inspiring, educational, and fun information that you can use to keep your health and fitness in tip top shape.
Last year I kicked off the year with a list of the 11 most important things you can do for optimal health, and improving your longevity and quality of life. I’ve reordered the list and added a few, so let’s review them.
I don’t think any of them are too hard to do. Besides my own personal experience, there’s also scientific evidence for my choices.
I encourage you to take your time integrating the 11 items on this year’s list. Implementing these ideas will change your life for the better. Try one a month, or one a week. Whatever works for you.
1. Sleep. Sleep still remains number 1. More often that not when I talk with clients, students or just people I meet, they feel sleep deprived. Not just in the hours of sleep they’re getting, but in the quality of sleep too. Try to sleep at least eight hours a day (include naps in the total).
Poor sleep is linked to heart disease, obesity, colds, and even cancer. Without enough sleep, the immune system doesn’t work right. With good quality sleep, you’ll feel like a new person.
Most people who struggle with sleep fail to focus on good “sleep hygiene.” I’ve written many times about paying attention to your pillow, your sheets, your bed, and if any of these need replacing, do it! January is the traditional month for “white sales”, so treat yourself to new bedding!
Darken the room as much as you can. I would never sleep in a room with TV, radios, electronics, or cell phones. Take a look around and see what electronic gear you have in your bedroom and see what you can do without. Electromagnetic radiation disturbs sleep cycles.
Turn the temperature down in your bedroom. When your legs and arms are cooling down, it triggers chemicals in your brain which signal sleep. From what I’ve read, 60 degrees is the ideal sleeping temperature.
Also, maintain a set time of day to either wake up or go to bed. When you are fully rested you’ll generally wake up seven to eight hours later.
One other suggestion. Create a pre-bedtime routine. I take some time each night before bed to use my foam roller and do some gentle stretching. It relieves the tension that has been stored in my body all day. It’s also relaxing. Give it a try.
2. Movement. Movement has moved to the number two spot this year. I may be preaching to the choir on this one, but it’s critical to move at least 20 minutes a day. You’d be surprised at how little many people move during the course of their days. Moving is a sign that you’re alive. It triggers the body to produce chemicals and hormones that improve mood and increase bone density. Weight-bearing exercises, even simple ones like walking, increase your bone density and even improve your immune system.
But if you’re feeling lazy or it’s cold outside, the cheapest and easiest movement to do is stretching. And you don’t need any other equipment, not even shoes.
I can’t stress enough how much moving improves your mood. Practices like tai chi and yoga have been shown to effectively reduce depression.
Even when traveling, getting out for 15 minutes in the neighborhood is a great way to learn more about the area and the people you’re visiting.
So move and move often!
3. Meditate. Meditation is the act of sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, a sound, or a word. It is the physiologic equivalent of a good workout. Scientists have studied the meditation state, and it’s probably as good as the best aerobic workout for short and long-term health benefits.
Meditation lowers blood pressure, lessens heart disease, and increases VO2max, which is a fancy physiologic measurement of fitness using your body’s ability to consume oxygen.
You might already know this but meditation and long sessions of prayer have very similar effects on the body. I know meditation isn’t easy for most of us, but it is well worth exploring. And it doesn’t have to be anything fancy.
Sit quietly in a chair or your bed for 15-20 minutes. Concentrate on a word, noise, or sound and your breathing. Let your mind go where it wants, but slowly try to bring it back to your original point of focus. Many people find it’s easiest to meditate in the morning.
After five or six times, I think you’ll begin to appreciate the feeling of relaxation and peace.
4. Sun. Getting regular doses of sunlight is critical in the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a key component for proper immune system functioning (and fighting everything from cancer to colds). Vitamin D also regulates sleep and even mood.
One challenge is to avoid getting burned. So avoid going out during prime burning times of 11 a.m. through 2 p.m.
During the winter, it’s harder to get enough sun at northern latitudes. Many researchers and clinicians are starting to recommend supplementation with pills. Have your vitamin D levels checked and then consult with your health practitioners about this.
5. Massage. Massage gets rid of aches and pains and is very good for balancing out the immune system. That means less inflammation. Swedish-style massage is a good choice because it moves toxins out of the muscles and body tissues, while assisting immune system function.
I know massage and bodywork can be expensive and massage is one of the more expensive health tips on my list, but I believe it’s well worth it. Instead of spending money on other things, try a couple of massages this year and enjoy the benefits.
You can always get a free massage by exchanging them with a partner. You can practice using lotion or massage oils. Exchanging foot rubs is a great idea!
6. Clean Air. Clean air moved up quite a few spots from my previous list. Research keeps showing us how important clean air is to health and longevity. Research even suggests the increase in heart attacks on Christmas day (the number 1 day for heart attacks) is due to smoke from fireplaces and grilling. I also read a study recently that said that YES, second hand smoke is a serious threat and to be avoided!
Whatever you can do to breathe clean air will help your health. Dirt, dust, and smoke in the air lead to acute and chronic inflammation in the body.
Many studies suggest keeping air clean with an air filter, particularly in your bedroom. We spend one-third of our life in bed, so it makes sense to keep the air there clean. Also, change your other air filters regularly.
One great secret is to remove your shoes when you enter your house. I’m totally a nut about this and have been for years. I won’t even wear my shoes in other people’s homes.
This lowers the amount of particulate matter by 50%-60%. Keep a pair of house slippers right there to switch into, or do what I do and go barefoot. Or walk around in socks. I notice this also results in less sweeping and vacuuming!
Finally, avoid breathing manmade chemicals around the house whenever you can. This includes spray cans of oil, paint, hairspray, disinfectants, and cleaning chemicals. A report this year from the National Academy of Science showed that detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets are full of harmful chemicals.
7. Stimulate Your Sense of Smell with Aromatherapy. I’m still working with this one myself. Natural smells can be uplifting and health-giving. Roses, lilacs, vanilla, and cinnamon all invoke memories and chemical change in our bodies. The fond memories flood the body with chemicals that keep you healthy.
Different scents have different effects. Use air fresheners of lavender for relaxation or orange for invigoration. Spray pine for cleanliness on the bathroom rug. Sprinkle bergamot or patchouli on the living room rug to lift your spirits.
Aromatherapy is easy to do. Go to your nearest health food store and ask for the essential oils.
Buy one small bottle and start sprinkling a drop or two near you on a rug or in a small dish and enjoy. Let me know if you’ve worked with essential oils and how they’ve made a difference for you.
8. Don’t Share Food or Drink. One of the fastest ways to guarantee you’ll get sick is to share cups or food with others. I know it’s easier said than done.
So next time someone says, “May I try it?” just get them a clean glass, fork, or spoon! If they look at you weirdly just tell them that Shelli said it’s not a good idea to share food or drinks!
9. Alcohol: Beer and Wine. Last year I focused on wine, but the research is pretty clear. A moderate amount of alcohol regularly puts you squarely in the healthier camp versus teetotalers.
Men should drink about two glasses a day and women about one a day to maximize the benefits. The benefits come from about 5 ounces.
I’m still working on this one too.
Wine also improves digestion and decreases the risk of diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease. I prefer red wine because it contains more of the colorful antioxidants from the dark grape skins. These are said to provide even greater benefit than just the alcohol effects.
The important thing is to drink responsibly, and that means never driving after more than two drinks of any kind.
And remember the classic German proverb, “There are more old German wine drinkers than there are old German doctors.”
10. Salt – Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium. This is new to the list this year.
When people say that salt is bad for you, the salt they’re talking about is sodium. (Chloride is the other half of the molecule and is found in many other salts.) The best research shows what’s called a U-shaped effect from sodium chloride. If you have too much or too little, you’re ripe for strokes and high blood pressure. The key is consuming the right amount.
Many medical groups are pushing for less than two grams a day. But it’s based on short-term studies with small numbers of people. On the other hand, a recent study showed that up to 6.5 grams a day of sodium isn’t any different than two grams a day. And this study was done on 49,000 people with hypertension and diabetes.
The gem to take from the study was that another salt, potassium, was protective. People consuming more potassium had lower mortality and morbidity.
Potassium is found in many foods lacking in our modern day, on-the-go diets. To get potassium, focus on eating high-potassium foods regularly: avocados, potatoes, beans, bananas, fish, raisins, apricots, dates, and cocoa powder (think chocolate). Occasionally, you can even take a little bit of potassium bicarbonate.
Also, more research is coming out about a third chemical element, magnesium. Evidence shows the modern-day diet is also low in magnesium. Magnesium helps muscles relax (counters the effects of calcium), and is critical in most enzymes in the body. I’ve seen people take magnesium supplements and within days feel like the cloud hanging over them all their life has gone away. There is good evidence magnesium helps with mood, energy, and mental stability.
It’s a powerful salt found in many healthy foods, including seeds, brans (wheat, rice, and oat), spinach, and cocoa. Any leafy greens have a high amount of magnesium because the center of the chlorophyll molecule is magnesium.
So stop worrying about sodium and concentrate on increasing your potassium and magnesium from healthy foods.
11. Fruit. Last but not least, fruit. Most of us recognize that many fruits have potassium and magnesium, so it must be kept on the list!
Fruit has many benefits. The micronutrients found in fruits, especially those with darker colors, are powerful antioxidants. The fiber from whole fruit appears to lower risks of colon cancer. And mounting evidence shows fruit blocks cancers, lowers blood pressure, and reduces joint pain.
This year, a study showed women who ate one cup of apples (roughly a fist-sized apple) per day for six monthslowered their LDL (“bad” cholesterol) 26%. They also raised their HDL “good” cholesterol and even lost weight.
Apples were also shown to reduce plaque and inflammation in the heart’s artery walls. This gives new meaning to the old saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away. The skin of the apple contains pectin facilitates healthy bowel movements. And the older we get, the more important this becomes.
I’ve written about berries for years and still recommend eating blue and blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Berries lower bad cholesterol, fight cancer, and improve your immune system because they’re packed with vitamin C. The high amounts of potassium and salicylate (an ingredient in aspirin) helps protect against high blood pressure. Blueberries lowered it by 10% in a recent study.
Strawberries are unique in that they’re thought to help relieve rheumatoid arthritis, and other forms of pain, although the mechanism isn’t clear yet.
So what’s the downside? Well, as long as you stick to whole and dried fruits, you’re probably OK. The danger is when you start taking in juices of all kinds. You may have read about the arsenic problems with apple and grape juices this past summer. It was confirmed recently by several independent researchers. Arsenic and other heavy metals, like lead, easily concentrate in juices through food processing water sources.
Also, there’s a real concern that orange juice (and maybe other juices) gets the blood sugar so high so fast that it leads to elevated triglycerides (TGLs). These fat molecules are super-inflammatory and lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
So eat the whole fruits and avoid fruit juices.
There you have it. Top 11 practices to put into place to ensure you have the best of health!
May 2012 be a year of great bounty, peace and wellness for us all.