Wellness 101 – A Basic Guide to Living Healthier in 2014
The health craze here in the U.S. is rampantly sweeping the nation, however obesity, disease, and physical pain still remain as the most prominent states that most Americans find themselves in. Navigating the vast realms of touted health supplements, diets, and regimens now takes tremendous time, knowledge, and research as companies flood the markets with varying products and programs. How do you know what really works and what is a scam? Where do you begin? Here I provide my top 10 ways on how to maximize your body’s potential and live a healthier life in 2014 and beyond. Some of these may seem like common sense to you, others might be surprisingly new information, combining all of them yields a human body functioning at optimum peak health
1.) Get Good Grub in your Gut
Why is diet always mentioned in anything written about health? Because we truly are what we eat whether you accept it or not. If you find that you’re always getting sick, chronically tired, and/or are overweight, odds are a million to one that you have a poor diet. What you put in your stomach will directly influence you from head to toe, it’s that simple. Fill your body with junk and that is how you will feel on a daily basis. Instead, radically change your diet this year. Make it a point to consume lots of fruits and vegetables every day, limit your carbohydrate intake to whole grains such as wheat bread and brown rice, STAY AWAY FROM SODA, drink lots of water, snack on nuts like almonds, walnuts, and pine nuts, and try your best to stick to white meat such as fish and chicken. I guarantee you that a healthy change to your diet will be the remedy to most of your health problems, no drugs required.
2.) Act like Arnold
In the gym that is! Arnold Schwarzenegger, back in his bodybuilding days, was known for his excitement and enjoyment during his marathon workout sessions. Watch documentaries, read his autobiography and you’ll see how truly happy he was working out. Approach your gym sessions the same way Arnold did, look forward to working out and enjoy it! The more you love exercising, the more it becomes a necessary part of your weekly routine and the seemingly insurmountable amount of discipline it takes to stick to a workout schedule will vanish. You already know of the vast benefits of exercising regularly and the deleterious effects of not working out at all. It is imperative that you incorporate both weightlifting and cardiovascular exercises in your workout regimen. Exercising with weights forces your bones and muscles to grow bigger and stronger and your maximum cardiovascular capacity (VO2 max) at maximum training is directly correlated to how long you will live. Let’s not forget the positive influence exercise has psychologically, boosting levels of the natural “feel good” hormones and relieving stress. The benefits of exercising are endless. In an age where technology abounds, finding out what to do at the gym for every muscle group is only a click/YouTube video away, all that’s keeping you from your dream body is yourself…
3.) Quench the Fire Within
TIME magazine once wrote a notable article on inflammation where they dubbed it “The Silent Killer”…a well given moniker. Inflammation spreads from conditions of simple joint pain all the way to heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. But what is inflammation? Inflammation is a natural biological response where your body attempts to remove harmful pathogens, cells, and irritants and to quell any stimulus that leads to physical injury. In short, it’s your body’s way of controlling damage on the inside. When you break a bone or tear a muscle, part of that pain, swelling, and burning is inflammation striving to tell you to stop what you’re doing in an effort to mitigate further tissue destruction. Joint pain is due to inflammation, your body’s way of saying you’re putting too much stress on your ligaments and tendons. So is inflammation good or bad? The answer is both. Inflammation is necessary for survival and often times your body does a great job of regulating it. Chronic inflammation, which occurs from ignoring bodily responses and consuming an unhealthy diet, is what causes chronic disease and pain in the majority of Americans today.
An unhealthy diet has been shown to cause massive inflammation throughout the body. Fried foods, chemical additives/preservatives, and lots of sugar all cause damage at a cellular level causing the body to react with inflammation. Large areas of tissue and vessel inflammation for prolonged periods of time cause damage to arteries and organs and creates a breeding ground for cancer and other diseases. Stick to foods with a high anti-inflammatory index such as almonds, avocados, fresh fish, peppers, garlic, spinach, chard, kale, pine nuts, dark leafy green vegetables, and drink lots of water throughout the day.
4.) Sweet Dreams
Much of sleep still remains a mystery to scientists today. Why do the vast majority of organisms need sleep to heal and rejuvenate? Why can’t we function without it? Why do some need more than others? For those uneducated in the process of sleep, sleep occurs in cycles: N1, N2, N3, and REM. N1-N3 sees your body entering sleep mode and relaxing, all leading to the deepest sleep stage, N3. In N3, your body slows down tremendously and energy is dissipated from core systems in an effort to heal other physical areas. Following N3 is the REM stage. This is where dreaming occurs and brain activity heightens.
The human body cycles through these four stages repeatedly during any standard sleep session. The most restful sleep happens when you allow your body to go through these sleep cycles several times over the course of the night. Some studies have even shown that our most rejuvenating sleep occurs between 2 A.M. and 6 A.M. where our core body temperature drops and cellular repair is at a maximum. A good night’s sleep reduces inflammation, restores neurological transmitters, and rebuilds tissues and organs among other things. Therefore it is imperative that you establish a regular slumber time and wake time, and try to stick to it as best as possible; look to get anywhere from 7.5-9 hrs on a nightly basis. You may not be able to stick to your fixed sleep/wake every day of the week, but strive to follow it on most days, your body and mind will thank you for it.
I know, I know, the body is made up of 60%+ water, so you should drink at least 12 cups a day, blah, blah, blah. You’ve heard this before, nothing new. So do you follow it? The importance of water in our lives cannot be understated as its effects are far reaching. Healthy water intake is vital in achieving proper physical alkalinity. In today’s world of friend foods, refined carbs, and carbonated sugary drinks, many people walk around with acidic bodies. In the long run, this wreaks havoc on your health. Water helps keep the blood pH stable by balancing blood concentration and aids in filtration facilitated by your kidneys. A direct correlation has been found between hydration level and muscle strength/performance so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you plan on exercising. Water aids in digestion, making fecal matter and digested food pass through easier. Water also lubricates the body’s joints and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Let’s not forget the benefits of water on the skin: our cells maintain a sensitive inner fluid balance, allowing them to function properly. This allows skin cells to retain moisture and proper shape, contributing to youthful, healthy skin whilst allowing the body to excrete toxins through sweat. The benefits are endless so drink up!
6.) 90° of Death
In the past recent years, extensive research has been done correlating serious health hazards with prolonged periods of sitting. The data provides many reasons for such a grim association. To begin with, many people sit with their elbows, hips, and knees forming roughly 90° angles. This has been shown to place a tremendous amount of stress on the elbows, lower back, and knees, especially if held for a long time, thus leading to joint injuries and inflammation. To make matters worse, many people slouch forward to alleviate the stress of sitting, leading to improper posture. Sitting in general inhibits efficient circulation, thus forcing the cardiovascular system to work harder than need be. Studies have shown an exponential relationship between sitting for hours and the likelihood of dying. A sedentary lifestyle also keeps your metabolism low and contributes to high resting blood sugar levels. So get up and move around whenever you can, especially if your job requires you to sit for a long time. Walk around while you talk on the phone, stretch your legs, move your arms, be active as much as you can, you’ll live a longer life because of it.
7.) Embrace your Inner Buddha
A healthy body isn’t possible unless you have a healthy mind. This is by far the most difficult thing to accomplish on this list as mastering your mind is a lifelong endeavor. But small habits yield big results over time and starting one small daily habit to improve your thinking will pay off in the long run. Meditation has been increasing in popularity in the past several years and for good reasons. Meditation isn’t a fad, its benefits are immeasurable and many people swear by it. The catch? It’s not easy, it takes practice. Starting slow is key, take a few minutes every day to sit and slow down your breathing; take long inhales and long exhales and try to focus all your attention on your breathing. If done correctly, you’ll get up realizing you’re a little calmer and a little more centered. The more you do this, the longer you will be able to meditate and take yourself out of a stressful day. Meditation has also been shown to lower blood pressure, lower blood cortical levels, improves focus, mental sharpness, and sleep and lowers depression.
Another ancient practice with psychological and physiological benefits is yoga. Yoga isn’t a matter of just stretching and contorting you body in seemingly ridiculous poses. The strength, focus, and flexibility required to execute yoga poses is an excellent way to clear the mind and zone in on the present moment. People who practice yoga seem to enjoy both mental and physical health and combined with meditation will tell you it will change your life.
8.) Bringing Back the Bacteria
Not all bacteria is bad. On the contrary, without our intestinal bacterial flora, we wouldn’t operate nearly as efficiently as we do. Our gut is loaded with bacteria that facilitate in digestion and nutrient absorption. Our in-home bacteria also keep the bad bacteria and fungi in check. However, today’s world places much stress on our microscopic friends with the myriad of unhealthy foods, vaccinations, and drugs. Fungal infections, indigestion, and issues with bowel movements all indicate a potential problem with your level of good bacteria. Therefore it is imperative that you constantly replenish your gut with these little critters. The scientific world calls them probiotics with hundreds of them on the market. Do your research and ask your doctor before you begin to take a probiotic supplement…or you can simply take in foods that are high in beneficial bacteria, most notably yogurt and a few different kinds of cheese.
9.) Keep Your Dentist in Mind
When you reach for that soda, cookie, and candy that is! Unfortunately, the health ramifications of high sugar intake stems far beyond cavities. After sugar is consumed, it enters the bloodstream where it is free to flow throughout your body. Your pancreas recognizes the increase in blood sugar levels and secretes a protein hormone known as insulin. Insulin acts as a cellular add-on; it binds to cells allowing them to grab onto sugar particles and sequester them into nearby fat and muscle cells for later use. Your blood sugar levels then return to normal and all is well…unless you take in large amounts of sugar all at once. Copious amounts of sugar in refined forms such as sweetened drinks, candy, pastries, etc. spend little time being digested and hit your bloodstream relatively quickly. That means all 48 grams of sugar from that Pepsi is now circulating within you within the hour of drinking it. Your pancreas secretes insulin and once again the process begins but after some time, your pancreas can only regulate so much sugar and eventually you’re left with unchecked sugar in your blood. Sugar on its own binds to cells causing them damage. These damaged cells then find their way into your arteries and throughout your body causing further damage to blood vessels and tissues leading to chronic disease like arteriosclerosis and diabetes.
Be very mindful of your sugar intake. If you eat a lot of fruit, you’re taking in plenty of sugar in healthy doses so try your best to keep away from sweets. Also, many people fail to realize that carbohydrates are sugars. Rice, pasta, bread, potatoes all get broken down into simple sugars at the end of digestion so keep that in mind when you reach for that dessert. If you find yourself constantly craving sugar, odds are your diet is mostly refined carbs and sweets, creating the perfect environment for fungus in the body which feeds off sugar wanting you to take in more. High blood sugar levels also create an ideal body for cancer as cancer cells consume large amounts of sugar as they divide and spread. Lastly, diabetes is running rampant in the U.S. and sadly will get worse before things get better. Many Americans live a pro-diabetes life with a poor diet and lack of exercise however knowing this, diabetes is a very preventable disease. By keeping your sugar intake moderate from healthy sources such as fruit, you’re saving yourself from a myriad of disorders that most people are heading towards.
10.) Debunk the Cholesterol Myth
Much of what society is led to believe about cholesterol is driven by the drug associations’ needs to sell statins, cholesterol lowering drugs. However, cholesterol in and of itself isn’t bad. Our cells need cholesterol to function and cholesterol is the derivative to several vital biological hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Cholesterol is of two types: HDL and LDL. HDL cholesterol is good cholesterol and you want to keep HDL levels high. The liver produces HDL and production is actually stimulated by healthy practices such as exercising. LDL is bad cholesterol which is also produced by the liver, yet most LDL found in the body is derived from an unhealthy diet. Our bodies produce roughly 80% of the cholesterol that is flowing in your blood at any given moment. When we are taking in lots of cholesterol from food, our body decreases its production of cholesterol to accommodate the excess being taken in. This, coupled with a poor diet is what makes cholesterol dangerous. An unhealthy diet and lifestyle leads to damage in the walls of blood vessels such as arteries. Cholesterol finds its way into these damaged vessel walls and plugs up the scar; this leads to a hardening of the arterial walls and eventually causes a plaque buildup as more cholesterol piles up. This is what is called arteriosclerosis and can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Our job isn’t to check every food for cholesterol. Conversely, it’s okay to eat healthy foods high in cholesterol such as eggs and avocadoes, provided your diet is healthy and full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Get plenty of exercise and enjoy lean meats such as fish and chicken, stay away from fried, refined, and chemical-laced foods, and soon you’ll realize your cholesterol levels are at a healthy balance, no drugs required.