Sometimes life gets in the way of your health. You get lazy or busy or distracted. One day you wake up and realize you have no energy, are sporting way too many extra pounds, and feel like crap. You know you have to get it together and think about revamping your diet or starting that new, incredible exercise regimen, but it all feels just so…overwhelming.
Isn’t there something easy that you can do? The good news is that there is, and research has documented that small changes actually do make a difference in the state of your health. So here are some simple tweaks that you can do for a big impact:
1) Get more sleep. Your body repairs and rejuvenates itself while you’re sleeping. If you’re not getting a good 7 to 8 hours a night, you are likely operating at a sleep deficit. Go to bed a little earlier, turn off all your screens and devices at least an hour before turning in, and sleep in a cool dark room.
2) Go outdoors. Spending some time outside in wooded or natural settings can actually affect your health in positive ways. Research has documented that spending time in the woods can lower blood pressure, decrease stress and the stress hormone cortisol, and boost immunity. In a nutshell, walking in the woods is calming and good for your health.
3) Acknowledge your stress. Unrelenting stress can be a silent killer, because it negatively impacts almost every system in your body—from sleep to digestion to immunity. I see many patients who are experiencing incredible levels of stress, mostly because they are in situations in which they perceive to have no control. The reality is that in most cases they do have some control or choices—whether it is to make some big changes or to choose to look at the circumstances from another perspective. Whatever it takes, dealing with your stress is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
4) Take a walk. If there ever were such a thing as the fountain of youth, physical activity might just be it. In Chinese medicine, you need enough energy to power your body’s systems, and that energy has to flow. Moving your body moves your energy, clears your mind, strengthens your heart and lungs, lubricates your joints, boosts your immunity, and helps maintain your memory.
5) Take some time for yourself. So many of the people I see are overwhelmed by their jobs and/or doing for others without a break, that months can go by without them having done anything that they really enjoy. Carve out some time to do the things that feed your soul. Whether it’s reading a good book, a creative project, or spending time with someone you really enjoy—taking time for yourself isn’t selfish. Think of it as recharging your batteries.
6) Pay attention to your digestion. In Chinese medicine you get your energy from the food you eat. However, if your digestion is funky, your energy will suffer. If you have symptoms such as heartburn, stomachaches, gas, bloating, constipation, or loose stools, your digestion needs help. My advice is to get some help from a practitioner of Chinese medicine, as they can use acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and dietary therapy to put things right.
7) Choosing the right foods to eat can feel formidable in light of all the theories that swarm the media about what you should eat. Here’s a simple guideline: eat more plant-based foods, and according to Chinese medicine, eat them cooked. It takes a lot of energy to digest raw vegetables and fruits, so when you can, cook them in soups, stews, stir fried dishes, and compotes—they’re much easier to digest and will give you more energy.
8) Here’s one more on choosing what to eat: Would your grandma have recognizes it as food? If not, leave it at the grocery store or drive up window. If Granny would have cooked with it, you’re probably good to go. (Thank you, Michael Pollen, author of Food Rules for this one.) Simply put, we’re not meant to eat stuff that isn’t really food, or foods that have been altered to last years on the shelf.
9) Sit up straight. Our collective posture has changed over the past few decades with most of us being hunched over computers, cell phones, and other devices. In the years that I have practiced Chinese medicine, I have seen the number of patients suffering with neck and shoulder pain increase dramatically. In many cases, the culprit is shortened pectoral muscles in front of the shoulder and overwhelmed rotator cuff muscles from spending too much time in a hunched position. If your day is spent in front of a screen, a simple stretch to open up your chest and relax your shoulders is to lie on the floor and move your arms like you were making a snow angel.
10) Learn to let go. Being overwhelmed with too many things to do and not enough time to get them done is very stressful, demanding, and demoralizing. Acknowledge that you will never get everything done, figure out what tasks are low priority, and just let them go.
11) Spend more time with people you love. This one is simple, easy, and feels good. Social connections are good for your health and can actually improve longevity.
12) Play more. In Chinese medicine overworking is considered to be a major cause of illness. Long hours with your nose to the grindstone may make you a stellar person, but can destroy your health. Make some time for the fun stuff and file it under the heading of “Improving Your Health”.