January, almost universally, is a time for resolutions and starting fresh. Hopefully, two weeks into the new year, most of us already have a few ideas on how to get better this year. Whether official resolutions or a few simple strategies for self improvement, there is no time quite like January to strive to make positive change.
Personally, I don’t see the new year as a stimulant to create a new you, I see it as a stimulus to creating a better you. Changing your identity, becoming someone different or trying to change too much too quickly may work in the short term but fades or backfires in the long run. The goal shouldn’t be to become a new person, it should be to improve the one you already are. Take yourself, as you are, honor what you like/dislike, where you’ve been/are going and simply try to enhance it. As I’ve discussed before, striving for progress, not perfection, is what leads to long term success for most people. Allowing your body, brain and psyche to slowly adapt to evolving behaviors over time allows you to adjust, comprehend, make sense and create balance in your life.
Before getting into some specific ideas on how to make some positive changes in 2014, keep this in mind: These health tips aren’t things you have to do ALL of the time to be healthy, they are things that give benefit the more often you do them. Nothing here is 100% or bust. In fact, literally every one of these health tips are better if done most of the time but not all of the time. The more you do these things the better you’ll feel but if you strive for perfection you will end up worse (in a number of ways) than simply striving for progress.
Health Tips for 2014
What can you do to get healthier? Here’s a couple things you can do from each of the big areas that will leave you happier, healthier and more vital in 2014…
Eat Old, Whole Foods
Start moving toward a real food themed diet. Everything doesn’t have to be home grown or from the farmers’ market but choose whole over processed food whenever you can. Look for foods with fewer ingredients and things you could make at home. The simpler the better. More specifically:
– Limit/Eliminate the Industrial Vegetable Seed Oils (click here for more). One of the best things you can do for your health is to look for food products without them and get back to basic, old fashioned fats when cooking and baking. As a general rule, these fats signify a food product when you see them in something.
– Limit your wheat and grain intake, particularly the processed and refined versions. Go gluten-free if you want but that’s not the goal. The goal is to cut down on the amount of wheat and grains that you eat. I’ve yet to meet anyone who isn’t healthier as a result of cutting down on the wheat they eat and replacing it with vegetables, fruit and/or meat.
– Limit your sugar and sweeteners. Going on a sugar detox or living sugar-free works for some but simply trending in the right direction here goes a long way. Less exposure to sweet stuff helps your body deal with it appropriately when you do eat it and helps your palate appreciate the simple and naturally occurring sweetness of real food.
– Limit your artificial flavorings, sweeteners, colorings and preservatives. Things that fool your body make it difficult to self regulate appetite, weight and mental awareness. I’ve yet to come across an argument that makes me believe there’s anything good about these artificial additives.
Move Your Body
The biggest concept here is to simply move your body in any way, shape or form that you are capable of and enjoy (or don’t mind). The more activity you can incorporate the better.
– Walk. That’s it. Humans are made to walk.
– Challenge your muscles and bones. Endure some strain, challenge yourself to flex, bear some load/weight. Whether it’s lifting some weights at the gym, picking up heavy things around the house or some body weight exercises, give your brain and muscular system the signal to stay strong and vital.
– Incorporate both short and intense and easier, longer duration activities. Relying only upon one form results in an unbalanced body. Keep some variety in what you do and explore anything that gets you moving, controlling and utilizing your body.
Respect Your Sleep
This is a simple one: the better you sleep and rest the better you will feel.
– Turn the lights down at night. Keep the brightness, especially overhead, during the middle of the day when the sun is up. Electronics and overhead lights at night make it more difficult for the brain to transition into a deep and restful state.
– Sleep more during these winter months when the nights are longer. There will be time for staying up late in the summer so get your rest when you can and give your body the opportunity to recover that it so richly desires and deserves. On a side note, we burn our highest percentage of fat during sleep and being well rested helps control stress response, hunger and mental clarity.
– Create a routine that helps transition you into the sleeping mode. Anything that works for you is good, but make sure you don’t fall into the trap of using medication or alcohol to do it. They may help you fall asleep but don’t allow for restful and restorative sleep.
– See as many sunrises, sunsets and high noons as you can. The more sun your eyes and body gets the better. We are connected to the sun and it gives us life. Resetting your health starts with reconnecting to the sun.
– Go barefoot. Whenever and whenever you can, let your feet connect to the earth. Whether it’s around the house, in the yard or simply taking your shoes off when you go to the park or beach, plug back into the earth. We are so often plugged into technology that our bodies are almost screaming to plug into nature for relief.
– Get weather wise. Experience the elements out there. Cold, rain, wind or heat, let yourself feel the weather. Hiding from it may be comfortable but disconnects us from our physiological human roots and doesn’t allow many of our innate senses to acclimate properly.
– Laugh. Whenever and however you can. The more the merrier and the deeper the better. I listen to comedy radio sometimes to get a chuckle after a long day and it has the amazing ability to lighten my mood very quickly. Find what makes you laugh and have a blast.
– Do fun things. Life is full of stress, challenge and responsibilities so, whenever you can, find fun things to do. Playing shouldn’t be reserved for kids and should be encouraged for adults. If anyone needs the freedom and stress relief of play and fun, it’s us responsibility laden and preoccupied grown ups.
– Find your purpose. I strongly believe we all are put on this Earth for a reason and finding your purpose will make every day better and every other decision you make in your life easier. You won’t find this overnight but the journey toward finding it is often as rewarding as the end result.
If you’re successful with any of these think about enhancing the progress. In other words, if you’ve seen some nice benefit from doing these things somewhat often then, and only then, should you start to think about doing them more permanently and/or more regularly. As an example, if cutting down on wheat and grains offers you some great benefits then it would be more appropriate to try a wheat/grain free approach for a while. You don’t have to start off at the finish line to finish the race, you just need to start somewhere and you’ll get there eventually.
Thanks for reading, have a great 2014!
P.S. Another way to look at the big picture of health improvement is from a sensory perspective, which is even more basic than detailed above. The one thing that might best characterize modern humans is the lack of natural sensory stimulus experienced on a daily and long term basis. The more natural stimulus you can expose yourself to the closer you can get to your true potential…
Stimulate Your Senses
Taste – let your taste buds get back to basics and reconnect with simple, real, whole and fresh foods. Man made foods overstimulate our taste buds, disconnect us from the wonderful tastes that occur in nature and contribute to our inability to control appetite and weight.
Touch – feel the earth and other people. There’s nothing quite like the physical connection and the brain/body/psychological benefits you get from feeling the natural world around us. Our skin needs to feel the ground, air and environment and needs human contact to be healthy.
Smell – get outside, smell the earth, real food and one another. A nose that is bombarded with perfumed versions of everything or misses out on smelling due to the aroma free trend disconnects from good function and feedback.
Hear – listen to the symphony that exists when you step outside, particularly in the morning when the world comes to life. Animals, voices, trees and the sounds of nature help anchor us to our place in the world.
See – look upon natural scenery whenever you can. The visual stimulus that exists in nature is unparalleled by anything we can build in a city. Watch animals move, the wind blow in the trees and marvel at the shapes, lines and beauty in the horizon. Last but not least, look people in the eye and appreciate our other human citizens.
Intuit – honor your “sixth sense” and give it practice. Allow yourself to use it and trust it to guide you in the right way. The more you develop your other senses the more reliable and powerful this one will be.