Recently I had the privilege of seeing eighty- and ninety-year-old patients seeking Integrative Medicine advice to support their healthy lifestyles. These role models all had several things in common: an active lifestyle, consistent sleep habits, adequate hydration and a supportive social life. They also ate healthfully and maintained a healthy weight. Clearly they are retired from working a full-time job and have more time to focus on health maintenance, but when seeking to improve health and well-being, we can all learn from their example.
Improving your overall wellbeing doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or time-consuming. And each of these three steps will make you feel better, improve your mood, decrease your risk of disease, strengthen your immunity, and help you function at a more optimal level.
Here are three simple steps you can take today to improve your health:
1) Get adequate sleep
Current recommendations for adults indicate most people need 7-9 hours per night.
Benefits of adequate sleep:
- Wake feeling refreshed with more energy, supporting a more positive outlook.
- Improve brain function, memory and facilitate problem solving.
- Reduce stress: decrease the stress hormone cortisol so you have less fatigue and improved overall health.
- Decrease the risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, breast and colon cancer.
- Strengthen the immune system so you are less likely to suffer frequent illness, such as the common cold.
- Enhance weight control: increase leptin levels, a hormone that makes you feel full.
If you are sleeping 5-6 hours or less and like to stay up until 12-1 am, begin by going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier every few nights until you get the improved sleep time your body needs.
If you have trouble falling asleep, or you frequently wake during the night, try Box Breathing or Four Square Breathing: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. Repeat 4 times. This is also very helpful when you are stressed.
A good guideline is to remember 8 x 8: drink eight 8-oz. glasses of water, for a total of 64 ounces daily. This supports the body’s makeup of 60% water.
Benefits of being well hydrated:
- Improved energy, less fatigue.
- Better digestion, helps transport nutrients and prevents constipation.
- Improved circulation and brain function.
- Helps weight control.
A general guideline is to begin drinking water in small amounts. Where you have restroom availability, drink 2-4 oz. at a time and drink water throughout the day. Work your way up to 64 oz. a day (an easy rule is 1 oz. per inch of height). You may need less depending on medical conditions such as heart failure or kidney disease; please check with your physician. If you are tall or an avid exerciser, you may need more than 64 oz. of water a day. Eat water-rich foods: fruits, vegetables and broth-based soups. Another easy way to increase water intake is to drink 6-8 oz. upon waking, 1 glass with each meal, and 1 glass between meals before 7pm to reduce waking at night.
Investing 30 minutes a day, five days per week, of moderate aerobic exercise can do wonders to improve your health.
Benefits of exercise:
- Improved energy, brain function and mental alertness.
- Better balance, mobility, joint and bone health.
- Improved quality of sleep, which increases energy.
- Improved mood, which decreases depression and risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon and breast cancer.
- Increased weight loss, and healthy weight maintenance.
- Boosted immune system, which helps maintain independence with aging.
Start at your current activity level and increase incrementally. Any movement is improvement. If you are mostly sedentary or have a recent injury, don’t try to exercise for 30 minutes. Start slowly walking for 5-10 minutes as tolerated and increase by 2-3 minutes every three days or when it is easy to walk for 10 minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be walking for 30 minutes and seeing the benefits of consistent exercise.
While the numbers and guidelines suggested above are the current recommendations, each individual’s needs determine where to start. What is most important is simply to begin taking these steps to improve your health. Try one at a time for a week; such as modifying your sleep habits, then adding more water. As you begin to have more energy from sleep and hydration, start exercising as tolerated. You’ll begin to see the improvement in your health and overall well-being as each of these steps supports the others.
This holiday season, give yourself the gift of self-care through incremental steps that support your health and improve your wellbeing, so you can function optimally. Above all, enjoy your life!
Take a moment to reflect: when do you feel your best?