Over the years, I’ve helped thousands of people make better choices for their life and their health. People from all backgrounds say they feel sick, tired, and depressed. What’s truly scary is that people begin to accept that feeling as normal.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to, nor should you, resign yourself to feeling perpetually run-down and exhausted. Some of the most effective ways to improve your health are simple and accessible to almost everyone. You don’t need a lot of money; you just need the drive to cultivate healthy habits. When people ask me what the best medicine is, do you know what I tell them? The best medicine is a prevention-based lifestyle.
6 Tips for a Healthy Lifestyle
The six simplest things you can incorporate in your life are sunshine, clean air, fresh water, sleep, exercise, and most of all— a clean, healthy diet. That’s it. Improving these six things can improve anyone’s health. They require no fancy equipment, no special training, no 16-disc instructional DVD set, no payment plan. You can start improving your life yourself, today, right now.
1. Get Some Sunshine
Soaking up the sun has received a lot of bad press in recent years, and everyone now associates the sun’s UV rays with wrinkles and skin cancer. While it’s true that you shouldn’t spend all day in the sun, we’ve swung too far in the other direction, and people are quick to reach for chemically-suspect sunscreens or avoid the sun entirely. In reality, UV rays account for only about one-tenth of 1% of the total global burden of disease. You’re far more likely to get sick from too little sunlight.
Moderate exposure to direct sunshine boosts the health of both your mind and body. In addition to enhancing your mental state, exposure to sunlight directly affects the body’s production of melatonin and can promote more restful sleep. Sunlight is also vital to the body’s ability to produce vitamin D, an incredibly important nutrient that supports cardiovascular health, bone health, and the immune system. In fact, sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, as the nutrient is relatively uncommon in food.
That’s not to say you should ignore the risk of UV-related cancer. As in all things health-related, you must find the right balance. Be smart about your level of sunshine exposure. Try to get at least 15-30 minutes of direct sunlight every day. Avoid sunscreens. At best, they prevent vitamin D production. Worse, many sunscreens contain harsh chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin and cause dozens of health problems. If you are out in the glaring sun all day, make use of shade and wear sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing to avoid sunburn. If you must use sunscreen, only buy organic, mineral and plant-based varieties.
2. Breathe Clean Air
As the old saying goes, you can survive weeks without food, days without water, but only a few minutes without air. Given its extreme importance, it almost goes without saying that the best air is fresh and clean.
Clean air helps prevent respiratory ailments like asthma or allergies and supplies your body with the oxygen that all living cells need. Breathing dirty air can cause big problems.
A lot of people associate poor air quality with smog or industrial pollution. You may be surprised to learn that, according to the EPA, indoor air quality is usually 2-5x worse than that outside. That may be a best-case scenario; in the worst cases, indoor air can be up to 100x more toxic.
Oddly, efficient construction may be to blame. It’s energy efficient for a building to be sealed up tight, but it also allows for the accumulation and concentration of air pollutants. These pollutants include the VOCs and chemical fumes that off-gas from furniture, paint, flooring materials, and other indoor building materials.
Don’t think an air freshener is going to “clean” the air. Most air fresheners just release an equally toxic chemical fragrance to mask odors. Instead, get an air purification device for your home, preferably one that uses both HEPA and UV filters. You can also open the windows and get a few houseplants; they’re excellent, natural air filters that release clean oxygen. Better yet, go outside in nature and enjoy the fresh air first hand.
3. Stay Hydrated
By some estimates, 75% of people suffer from chronic mild dehydration. This affects your health in more ways than just feeling a bit thirsty. At a minimum, chronic dehydration causes a severe drop in your energy levels. Worse, since 70% of your body is water, dehydration can negatively affect every process in your body, including bone and tissue regeneration, natural detoxification abilities, immune function—all of it. Even blinking your eyes and the beating of your heart require water.
Madison Avenue marketing wizards spend millions of dollars trying to convince us that water is plain and boring. Instead, they say, we should quench our thirst with overpriced, carbonated liquid candy like soda and energy drinks. Don’t listen. You need fresh water to function; there is no substitute. Coffee, sodas, and energy drinks are not good sources of hydration. In fact, the caffeine and sugar are diuretics that cause your body to lose water. Avoid.
How much water do you need? Eight cups a day is the standard recommendation. That’s a fairly good rule of thumb, but it doesn’t account for body size or activity level. A better guideline is to drink half your bodyweight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, drink 90 ounces of water per day. Of course, people’s needs differ based on many factors. Body size, physical activity, external temperature, sweatiness, health, and dozens of other factors all affect how much water you need. Start with the half-your-weight rule as a base and add water as needed.
4. Get Enough Rest
Have you noticed that in some circles, missing several hours of sleep a night is considered a badge of honor while sleeping the full, recommended 8 hours is seen as a weakness? This thinking is completely backward.
Adequate sleep—about 7-8 hours a night for most people—is absolutely necessary for a healthy body and mind. Rest promotes normal hormone levels and neurotransmitter responses. Skipping sleep can lead to poor work performance, car accidents, relationship problems, anger, and depression.
Why are so many people walking around completely exhausted? For most people, the problem isn’t that they’re too busy, it’s that they just need to turn off the TV, put down the phone, and close their eyes. In fact, trying to fall asleep with the TV or other gadgets on will only derail your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Just put away the smartphone and go to bed. Make your sleeping space as dark as possible. If that’s not feasible, try wearing a sleep mask. It’s a great strategy for blocking out light. And, just as you’ve always heard, aim for about 8 hours of sleep every night.
5. Exercise Often
Exercise is vital to your health and mood. Unequivocally, research shows that your chances of living a long, healthy life are better if you exercise regularly. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises that regular physical activity reduces mortality rates of many chronic diseases and helps improve or prevent many illnesses and conditions.
You don’t need to have the physique of an Olympian to see health benefits. Even light to moderate exercise can offer tremendous health benefits. Although forty-five minutes to an hour is better for most people, just 30 minutes of moderate activity a few times a week can boost energy levels, help you sleep better, sharpen your mind, and strengthen your defense against illness.
To maximize the benefits, exercise outdoors. Studies have shown that exercising outside promotes endurance, enthusiasm, pleasure, and self-esteem. It also helps reduce depression and fatigue. One study found that people who exercised outside exercised longer and more frequently. Not to mention that exercising outdoors can also help you get your daily dose of sunshine.
6. Follow a Clean Diet
You may be familiar with the expression, “garbage in, garbage out.” The food you eat is a perfect example of that expression in action. Good nutrition is vital to your health. You can exercise and sleep twice as much as anyone else, but without a clean and balanced diet, you will feel down and fatigued.
There are many, many schools of thought on what type of diet is the best. Although there are a few unshakeable principles, it has to be an individual choice. Personally, I both follow and recommend a raw, vegan diet, but everyone has to decide what works for their life.
Most of the animals raised for mass production are raised in squalid conditions and treated inhumanely. Not only is this unnecessarily cruel, but it also promotes diseased animals that yield toxic animal products. A plant-based diet avoids these dangers, but if you do decide to consume meat and dairy, at least avoid the worst of it. Only consume animal products that are produced organically, in a free range environment, with ethical standards in place.
And, while it’s a contentious topic, I believe there’s more than sufficient evidence to avoid genetically modified food, AKA GMOs. Italy, France, Germany, Greece, and dozens of other countries have limited or outright banned these foods. In the United States, however, they are everywhere. Buying organic food is the easiest way to avoid GMOs. According to both U.S. and Canadian law, a product with the “100% Certified Organic” label, it cannot contain any genetically modified organisms.
Finally, get in the habit of making your own food and avoid the mass-produced food products that are usually found in the center of the grocery store—boxed, packaged, and loaded with junk, especially refined carbohydrates. A few years ago, researchers at Princeton even confirmed that sugar is more addictive than heroin. It’s no surprise Americans buy more soda than water.
Most of your grocery shopping should consist of whole, raw foods. Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. I won’t say all prepackaged food is terrible for you, but the vast majority of them contain a minefield of suspect ingredients.
There you have it. Six easy, cost-effective tips to transform your health. Have you put any of these into practice? How has it affected your life?
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
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