Some people make resolutions to improve their health on New Year’s Day. We all know that by January 3, most of those pledges go out the window. In my opinion, the dark, colder days of winter are not very inspiring. I encourage you to take advantage of the energy of summer to put some new habits into place; the longer days, warmer weather, and increased social interaction just make it easier.
Here are my top seven suggestions for the most important behaviors that can lead to a healthier, happier you:
1. Increase your pure water intake. A lot of people complain they don’t like water, or they don’t feel thirsty. Your desire for water will increase once you increase your water intake. That means it’s hard at first, but will get easier. And please don’t drink ice water! Room temperature or warm water is easier on your digestion. Ice water and cold water will eventually weaken your digestion. Every system in your body needs a lot of water. If you’re not drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, please increase your water intake. And, yes, you’ll be using the bathroom more often. But the benefits are worth it (benefits of drinking water).
2. Manage your stress. Life is not perfect and will never be perfect. So the best thing to do is be prepared to deal with stressful situations. Because they happen. There are many practices that can help to ease our stress response. Chocolate, Facebook, and wine are some go-tos, but in the long run they make things worse. Better choices? First, giving yourself permission to take care of yourself. I think this is one of the biggest obstacles. It’s almost as though because the world is so full of suffering, and we all can be so hard on ourselves, we think something is wrong if we’re not suffering all the time, too. It’s the oxygen mask on the airplane thing – you’re no good to anyone else unless you’ve taken care of yourself first.
So, pick something that you feel good about doing. Don’t be afraid to try something new. In the Bay Area we have a lot of great options— classes for yoga, meditation, tai chi, qi gong; places to go swimming; good weather to walk, run, and bike in. Many beaches and parks–nature is a great healer. And of course we have the internet with a lot of how-to videos that can help with any of these things. But please don’t get lost in your computer. If you’re curious about meditation, but it sounds scary, here is a good guide to demystify it and make it more approachable by explaining the different types: meditation types.
3. Eat more vegetables. Preferably vegetables that are in season (it’s the Chinese Medicine way, and makes sense no matter how you look at it), and organic (who needs pesticides? not me.). Like cold water, raw vegetables are harder to digest. Some raw vegetables are fine, especially in the summertime, but the majority of your vegetables should be at least slightly cooked so your body doesn’t have to work so hard. The vegetables with the most benefit are greens. Rule of thumb: half your dinner plate is vegetable matter, and you eat a variety of colors – green, red, orange, yellow. The contents of your dinner plate can be beautiful. I don’t recommend juicing – it removes all of the fiber and leaves you with a whole lot of sugar.
4. Move your body more. In Chinese Medicine there is a tenet that stagnation equals pain. So, your body needs to move to keep its tissues, tendons, muscles, and bones healthy. At the very least, rotate your joints. Shoulder rolls, hip circles—slowly go through the range of motion for each of your joints. And walk. How about dancing? A sedentary lifestyle causes a host of problems. That said, I don’t recommend extreme sports. And I’m not talking about being Iron Man. I’m talking about taking the stairs, walking the dog, and not sitting at the computer for a full hour without getting up. If you’re allergic to exercise, sign up for a class at your level that might make it fun. Or find a friend who wants to exercise with you. And watch this video. It’s the most important health video I have ever found:
5. Make sleep a priority. If you’re sleeping less than six or seven hours per night, get more sleep. If possible, go to bed earlier or wake up later. The recommendation in Chinese Medicine is to be asleep by 11 pm so your body can restore itself. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, there are things you can do. First, practice good sleep hygiene. (Here are a few recommendations for good sleep hygiene: sleep hygiene.) Second, herbs and acupuncture will probably help. Third, good dietary habits, exercise, and stress management will help too!
6. Remember to laugh. Funny movies, funny friends, puppies, children….remember the things that make you smile and laugh and seek them out. Forcing yourself to smile actually helps sometimes too. When my husband and I were dealing with a particularly stressful situation a few years ago, I heard that forcing yourself to smile can actually work. So I made him force smile with me. It’s such a ridiculous thing to do with someone, that despite the hard situation we were in, it actually worked to get us to laugh and to ease the tension. (The force yourself to smile study is here) And by all means, remember to balance your intake of bad news with good news, music, cat videos, stand up comedy, and simple silence.
7. Tell Frances this list is way too long and then choose just one thing from it. Choose the thing that sounds the easiest, or the most fun, or maybe is the change you most need to make, and commit to it. Remember, “Better is the enemy of good.” You do not need to be perfect! Trying to be perfect can ruin everything. Doing something good is good enough!
Much love, and thanks for reading.
Raising a glass of water to your health,