Whether you believe in making them or you don’t, the goal for everyone in 2018 should be to incorporate as many good, health-supporting habits as possible. Being proactive about our health is something we should all be aiming for every day in order to feel, look and be as well as we can be. Read on for my simple road map to health changes you can make in the New Year to help get you where you want to go:
1 – Cut out the sugar – Not only is sugar highly addictive but it causes major blood sugar imbalances and impairs our brains, affects our mood, memory, concentration and energy levels. Too much sugar raises our risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. One simple way to reduce sugar intake is by cutting out processed foods because sugar is a key ingredient in just about every processed food out there. Avoid simple carbohydrates like bagels, donuts, crackers an anything made with white flour and hidden sugar. Hidden sugar is lurking in all of the usual suspects like ice cream, cookies, soda etc. but you might not realize it’s added to a lot of other foods like peanut butter, salad dressings, canned vegetables, bread, fat-free-foods, juices and ketchup. A whopping 80% of all packaged foods contain added sugar. The average adult should consume 25 grams of sugar or less per day. My rule of thumb is to pick foods that have 5 grams of sugar or less per serving. This is a great way to get your kids involved and aware by having them look at the labels when you’re shopping together. The best place to get your sugar is from whole food sources like fruit and sweet vegetables.
2 - Eat real food and eat the rainbow - Real food is just what it sounds like, food in it’s most natural state so your body can easily assimilate all the nutrients available to it without being required to work so hard. In fact, did you know that food high in sugar and the wrong types of fats leave you feeling fatigued since they require more energy to digest? To stay alert all day we need to start by making smart choices about what we are using to fuel our bodies. Another reason for giving your body whole, nutrient rich foods is that you need to give your Mitochondria, which is the power inside your cells that turns food and oxygen into energy, the essentials they need to power you through your day. The more you boost your Mitochondrial quality, the better you’ll feel. A few easy guidelines for eating real food: Don’t eat products containing ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Stop poisoning your brain with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, food additives and preservatives – all of which disrupts your biochemistry. Eat mostly plants, particularly lots of greens. 75% of your plate should be filled with colorful plant foods that are loaded with brain-boosting stuff like Phytonutrients. While I always recommend eating organic fruits and vegetables, they may be too expensive for those on tight budgets or simply not available. Follow the latest Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen and Clean 15" list at: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/#.Wkvv8LQ-dTY
You should try to always buy organic for items on the dirty dozen list while produce from the clean 15 list, when grown conventionally, poses the least exposure to pesticides. Keep the list handy on your phone and refer to it when shopping.
3 - Move it – You don’t have to hit the gym every day but do make time for movement and play. Yoga, resistance/weight training, tennis, bike rides, walking your dog, gardening whatever you love, just do it! When you exercise, your brain becomes more elastic and it improves memory, learning and concentration. Exercise also helps to improve your mood, boost your energy and reduce overall stress in your body and mind.
4 – Learn how to chill – 95% of all illness is caused or worsened by stress. Stress hormones damage the Hippocampus – the memory center in the brain – causing memory loss and dementia. Learn how to ACTIVELY relax. One of the best ways to do this is with meditation. The rhythmic, conscious breathing of air in and tension out triggers a relaxation cycle in the body, changing the way your react to stress, downshifting the “fight-or-flight” response and stimulating the parasympathetic system, your body’s built-in calming mechanism. Meditation is an amazing tool that you can access anytime, anywhere, to help you rest, relax and recharge. If you’re new to meditation and you’re struggling with the silence try a guided meditation from one of my favorite apps like Insight Timer or OMG I can meditate.
5 – Let go of what doesn’t serve you – Try a little attitude adjustment. When we worry and think negatively our bodies convert all that stress into pain, both mental and physical. When you find yourself in that unhealthy thinking place, try to reframe your thinking by focusing on something you’re grateful for. Journal your thoughts to get them out of your head, connect with family, call a good friend, or curl up with a good book. When you look for the good and learn to let go, you help free your mind of harmful negativity and heal your body’s pains and overall fatigue.
6 – Connect – Perhaps the most important thing you can do to keep your brain happy is to make time for your relationships. Social isolation can be deadlier than smoking. Consciously build your network of friends, family and community. They are your most powerful allies in achieving long-term health.
7 – Sleep – We all know the value of sleeping well, and we’ve all experienced the feeling of being refreshed after a good night’s sleep as well as the feeling of fatigue after a poor night’s sleep. But even though we know this, in our busy society, many of us have forgotten how to get the quality sleep needed to truly receive the health benefits like healing damaged cells, boosting immunity and recharging our hearts and cardiovascular systems for the next day. To relearn this skill, commit to reinforcing a rhythm by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Your body will start producing Melatonin at the same time to make you sleepy and in the morning it will pump Serotonin and Cortisol, the wake-up hormones- making falling asleep and waking up less of an effort. Other ways to get into sleepy time mode is to get ready for bed an hour earlier. Turn down the lights, take a hot bath, get into bed with a good book or do a relaxing yoga pose like Shavasana or legs up the wall which will calm the nervous system, quiet the mind and release tension in the body.
These are my simple strategies to keep your brains and bodies healthy for all the years to come! So whether you decide to make a New Year’s resolution or not, I hope you feel more confident in knowing how to incorporate and maintain health-supporting habits for the New Year!