Our health is our most important asset. And with our busy lives, even given the resources we have at hand, it is sometimes difficult to maintain good health. But it is even more difficult if we need to recover it, once we experience disease, or begin to accumulate toxins in our bodies as we age.
Fighting chronic illness has become a common pass time in our society. Chronic diseases accounting for at least 70% of the deaths in America, HALF of which are preventable.
Most people understand now that obesity and type 2 diabetes have become an epidemic, as is cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
But with a focus on five key areas of health, you should be in good shape to age gracefully and without illness, dependent on prescription drugs and in chronic pain.
And if you are in poor health, it takes the willingness to make some critical changes, taking small steps consistently, which will eventually result in turning your health around.
I have written about these topics in individually, but although this article is by far my longest ever, I think it may be helpful to highlight the top five areas that we should continually be focusing on.
I. Emotional Health
This is number one for a very good reason. Thousands of studies have shown for hundreds of years a profound connection between the mind and body.
As many physicians know, the brain controls the genes, the cells, the entire body.
And yourÂ mental attitude is absolutely key to your ability to maintain good health, heal, and fight disease.
Mental and emotional stress have a great deal to do with the deterioration of our physical condition.
In fact, there are definite physiological effects that have been studied and documented over the years.
For example, a joint study in March of 2009, was conducted by the University of Kansas and Gallup, and was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Chicago.
This study involved over 150,000 people in both industrialized and non-industrialized countries, and in even impoverished conditions.
It also showed that in these conditions, even given lack of sufficient food, water and shelter, the link between emotional and physical health was very apparent, indicating that emotional health was even more important to than nutrition to physical health.
To better understand the reasons behind this, it is helpful to know the two nervous systems that controls our bodily functions.
The parasympatheticnervous system controls the hormones and chemicals essential for nutrient processing, healing and restoration, and the detoxification functions of digestion.
The sympathetic nervous system prepares us for aggression and is the key to our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, increasing adrenalin output, heightening senses, and raising blood pressure, etc. so that our physical response is quick and accurate.
When we are under emotional or mental stress, or experiencing anger, depression, or rage, the sympathetic system kicks in, and most importantly, it essentially shuts down the parasympathetic system in order to operate.
Prolonged periods of stress prevents our bodies from proper hormone balance, nutrient absorption, healing and restoration. Worry, stress, depression and anger have been shown to cause a 50% increase in the risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
So you must learn to control your thoughts and emotions, most importantly, your reactions to what you perceive to be stressful situations.
If you can turn your thoughts to the positive, then you can allow the parasympathetic nervous system to stay in control and maintain health.
Many forms of relaxation and meditation are used to combat stress, in addition to exercise and stretching.
And did you know that even just smiling releases endorphins, the hormones that make you feel good? Try smiling and having a bad thought. It’s not possible! So smile, it is as contagious as laughter!
Sleep is another important factor in maintaining your emotional and physical health.
It is in my honest opinion that the second most important thing you can do to invest in your health is to ensure that you do get enough sleep.
There is significant evidence that there is a link between lack of sleep and obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes just to name a few.
Your body needs proper sleep in order to make use of the nutrients you consume. Studies show that we need at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
Sleep is responsible for cellular and nervous system repair and muscle building, increases energy level and strength, improves skin tone and even vision. It is also vital to the functioning of the digestive system.
One of the most important functions that occurs with proper sleep is hormone regulation, which occurs to facilitate restoration of cells, and homeostasis (maintenance of body temperature).
Many hormones are released during sleep, including the growth hormone which for adults is restorative and for children is necessary for growth. It also reduces inflammation and oxidative stress.
Melatonin is a sleep hormone that is released normally as darkness falls, and we produce less of this hormone as we age.
Sleep deficiency has been shown to be tied to weight gain, because of the effects on levels of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite and body fat. Leptin is produced by fat cells and signals the brain to cause the feeling of fullness.
Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and signals hunger. A Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study found that participants who slept only 5 hours a night had lower leptin and higher ghrelin levels.
Other studies have found increased hunger for sweet, fatty, and high carbohydrate foods after less sleep, which are also related to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, shown to be linked to cardiovascular disease.
Things that interfere with proper sleep are drugs (this includes pharmaceutical, even sleep aids), alcohol, lighting, and choice (staying up too late and cutting into the hours of sleep needed.
Sleep deficiency causes memory and cognitive impairment, decreased performance and alertness, and a weakened immune system. It disturbs every physiological function in the body. The effects of sleep deficiency even accumulates over time.
Chronic sleep disorders can result in endocrine dysfunction, which we know is tied to our emotional state, causing anxiety, and depression. These effects of course cause the sympathetic nervous system to remain active, suppressing the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for nutrient absorption and a healthy immune system.
Sleep deprivation causes gastrointestinal ailments, also severely impacting the immune system. It even causes chronic sleep disorders, disrupting our normal sleep patterns and becoming cyclic.
So get better sleep – turn down lights and noise an hour before bedtime, do not do high energy workouts a few hours prior to retiring, and get proper nutrition. Calcium (with vitamin D and magnesium in the required proportions) and B vitamins have a sedative effect but there are still more implications of nutrition on sleep and emotional health.
Try to avoid sleep aids and get off of them as soon as you can, because they do not provide the type of sleep that your body needs most.
III. Staying Hydrated
Water comprises two thirds of the body’s mass. It is the most necessary element for survival next to air.
Water is required for the elimination of toxins and waste through the digestive system, lymph system, liver, kidneys, and sweat glands.
It also promotes metabolism, provides oxygen to cells, and fills spaces inside/between cells for healthy skin & toned muscle.
So, in fact it was a struggle not to put this one as #1 in rank of importance, and probably should be!
Deficiencies in water can result in excess body fat, poor muscle tone, digestive diseases, muscle pain, and water-retention.
The amount of water that your body eliminates each day is between 1 and 3 liters, the equivalent of four to thirteen 8 oz. glasses of water per day.
The US FDA recommends that women drink 11 glasses and men drink 16 glasses of water each day to stay hydrated. The general recommendation is that you should consume 1/2 ounce per pound of body weight (30ml/kg) per day (that’s ten eight-ounce glasses for a 160 pound person), unless you are athletically active, in which case you should drink 2/3 ounces per pound (13 to 14 glasses a day at 160 lbs of body weight).
Part of your daily water consumption may also be from foods and juices. A bowl of oatmeal, or a cup of soup, provides 8 oz. of water. A serving of broccoli or spinach, or a cup of rice, provides 5 oz. of water. Many fresh vegetables and fruits contain 3-5 oz. of water. For example, an apple or a pear contain 5 oz.
Fruit juices are ok, but one should keep in mind the amount of fructose concentrated in a glass of juice. The body has a lot of work to do to process the sugar that is concentrated in a glass of juice.
A single glass of juice may contain the fructose of up to six pieces of fruit, the liver becomes taxed and turns most of that fructose into fat. The juice is devoid of the fiber contained in whole fruit, which allows the liver has time to process the fructose into energy.
Some people argue that tea, soft drinks and coffee do not count, but this is in itself arguable. Although these contain caffeine, a known diuretic, which cause the body to expel a small amount of moisture, they do still provide additional fluids.
So staying hydrated is not as difficult as one might think. An extra glass or two over what you normally consume in food and fluids may be enough.
Indications of Dehydration
Thirst is a good indicator of the early stages of dehydration, and you should drink if you are thirsty.
Two indicators of advancing dehydration are headaches, and dark colored urine.
Some suggestions have been made that by the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated, but your body creates the sensation of thirst when your body is still within normal hydration limits.
However if you are actively exercising you should make it a point to stay ahead of the thirst so that the dehydration does not get ahead of you as you are sweating.
But over hydration can cause hyponatremia, a shortage of sodium and other essential minerals in then bloodstream. This is particularly dangerous during exercise, because these minerals are excreted through the sweat glands.
Distilled, purified or reverse-osmosis water is still water. It is the H2O we’re talking about here as a requirement. However, reverse-osmosis water in particular is devoid of essential minerals that we commonly get from water as one primary source. In this case these minerals must be supplemented.
In selection of your source of water, filtered water is best, to remove chlorine and associated chloroform, and fluoride.Â This brings us to our next key to wellness, eliminating toxic load, oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.
IV. Reducing your Toxic Load, Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
This is a huge topic because the impact of your compounded toxicity without the level of nutrition that we truly need is what is at the root of disease due to the oxidative stress and resulting chronic inflammation at the cellular level.
Your toxic load, coupled with prolonged periods of stress, lack of sleep, hydration and exercise (our last key), the risk of disease is more than double what it would be if all of these keys were utilized.
What happens with toxicity is the same thing that happens with oxidation, which occurs naturally as we burn energy.
Our cells release their waste by-product which is more concentrated with a higher sugar and fat content in our foods.
Between the oxidative stress and other toxic buildup, a rampant domino affect of free radical damage occurs. Free radicals are molecules that because they are missing an electron, steal it from nearby cells which damages all of the cells’ components, the proteins, lipids and DNA.
When our bodies fight injury, inflammation is the natural mechanism which kicks our healing capabilities into action.
However, because the body sees oxidative stress and free radical damage as injury, the inflammatory response occurs at the cellular level.
Then, because of the unchecked oxidative stress and excessive free radical production in the body, chronic inflammation can take hold without a constant supply of anti-oxidants and the proper balance of fatty acids (which should be one-to-one omega 6 and 3’s in our diet).
And chronic inflammation is known to be at the root of many categories of preventable diseases.
A broad category of inflammation related disease is autoimmunity. These diseases include Type I Diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, eczema, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and even cancer.
There is also mounting evidence that inflammation plays a key role in the development of hypertension. Metabolic syndrome, marked by increased levels of C-reactive protein, is associated the inflammatory response, and a known precursor to high blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Inflammation is often a result of the type of our choice of carbohydrates and fats in our diet. Fats from animal sources (not fish) are obviously a contributor, as are simple carbohydrates (simple sugars, white breads and pastas for example).
Oxidation is the caramelization of sugars which occurs as we process the foods that we consume into energy.
Of course this oxidation is going to be more pronounced in someone eating simple carbohydrates and processed foods.
People with high sugar levels in their blood, including those who suffer with diabetics, are prone to more accelerated effects of aging.
Evolution has provided anti-oxidants in the plant life that we consume. Anti-oxidants are the protective mechanism that stops the production of free radicals in the body, and prevents the resulting chronic inflammation.
A balance of essential minerals, electrolytes, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids also facilitate a proper balance of hormones that regulate the inflammatory response.
And fiber, the most important cleansing agent aside from water, helps our bodies to process the nutrients, absorb the anti-oxidants and is the one most important aspect to your colon health. And our health is, as it is often said, begins in the colon!
So to reduce our toxic load, aside from limiting toxic exposures (household chemicals, food packaging and preservatives, pesticides, herbicides, smoke and air pollution), we really need to ramp up our intake of anti-oxidants, natural anti-inflammatory compounds, get our required fiber intake, and balance our essential fatty acids.
The obvious choice to make is to eat more whole, fresh fruit and vegetables. Eat a variety of color so that you get as many of the tens of thousands of phytonutrients available.
Secondly, eat more complex carbohydrates and less meat protein and saturated fats. And finally, supplement your diet with good quality anti-oxidants and phytonutrients.
V. Exercise, Stretching and Breathing
The last and not least important investment that you can make in your living a healthy life is getting enough exercise.
This includes cardiovascular, strength training (resistance or weight training), stretching and breathing.
Cardiovascular exercise is known to be necessary for good heart health and circulation, preventing hypertension and other circulatory conditions. Just 20 minutes a day of walking, yard work or house work combined can suffice.
An increase of heart rate is desired for at least 10 minutes at a time, but not advisable for more than 20 minutes at a time without the supervision of a physician, coach or physical trainer.
Strength training builds muscle and bone mass, enhancing strength and balance and aiding in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Weight training should be done beginning with small weights and gradually increasing, and under the guidance of a coach or health practitioner.
Pilates is also a good method of strength training, particularly in the core region. At least a day of rest in between sessions is needed for your muscles to properly regenerate.
Stretching, such as with yoga, is critical for circulation and balance. It keeps the joints flexible, improves circulation, and decreases stress.
Deep, slow breathing is also a great stress reducer, and also improves circulation.
Many ancient practices are based on breath, which is as a matter of fact the closest link between the mind and body. Specific exercises are practiced for targeting various parts of the body.
Which brings us back to the mental and physical connection. With exercise, stretching and breathing comes a better feeling, endorphin release, and mind-body connection.
All of these areas require attention, and changes can be affected a little at a time.
The key is persistence and belief that the results will come, albeit sometimes not as quickly as we’d like. But you should immediately notice a difference if you change a bit of something in each of these areas.
Be in the best of health to enjoy the best of life!