Health. It’s never too late to get in on it—and it’s something all of us should be aiming for every day in order to feel, look and be as well as we can be. While some days we may do better than others, the goal is to incorporate as many good, health-supporting habits as possible. a couple of years ago, I published my third book, The New Health Rules, to offer everyone a simple road map to better health. Here’s a sampling of just a few health changes you can make to help get you where you want to go:
1) Press the Delete Button on Sugar
Simply put, sugar is poison—one that raises your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. If I can inspire you to make only one change in your life, it’s to make a drastic reduction in the amount of sugar you eat. The challenge is, it’s a key ingredient in just about every processed food imaginable, not just in cakes and cookies but in cereal, bread, jarred sauces, salty snacks, and yogurt, just to name a few. Raw and brown sugar have a better public image but are just as problematic as the white stuff. Don’t be fooled —just cut it all out.
To help you wean yourself off the sweet stuff and take the edge off cravings, try taking a supplement called glutamine, 1,000 mg. every four to six hours as needed. It’s a benign amino acid that tricks your body into thinking it’s getting sugar, aka glucose, and it’s remarkably effective at taming the sugar dragon. If you must sweeten, choose stevia, a natural option available in organic, powdered, or liquid form that doesn’t spike blood sugar.
2) Eat Food That’s Real, Clean, and Colorful
Real foods are whole foods, as in the kind of stuff that grows in the ground, goes bad if not refrigerated, or has a limited shelf life—so fill your kitchen with it. Leave no space for unhealthy items. Instead of worrying about food labels and all the mysterious, unpronounceable ingredients on them, get into the habit of buying few, if any, packaged foods.
Clear your pantry of anything containing high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, sucralose, Equal, NutraSweet, Splenda, Sweet ’N Low. Leave boxes and bags behind, and load up on fresh, whole, organic leafy greens and colorful veggies—“eat the rainbow” to feed your body a wide variety of the nutrients it needs to thrive.
3) Like the Rolling Stones Once Said, “You’ve Gotta Move.”
We all know we gotta move, but modern life and office jobs don’t make it all that easy, so you do have to put in a little effort. However, if you’re not currently exercising at all, tiptoe—don’t bolt—out of inertia. In fact, if you’re a beginner, don’t hit the gym, hit the great outdoors and start by walking at lunchtime or after dinner, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking to the commuter station instead of driving. Get your body used to movement over the course of a few weeks, then introduce more physically challenging activity. At the office, commit to moving five minutes out of every hour, be it a lap around the office, a few yoga stretches, or even a few jumping jacks in a quiet corner. Anything you can do to shake your body out of the inertia zone will help. Every body break you can muster will give your mind a restart and give you an energy boost, so maybe you’ll be able to skip that afternoon coffee to boot. (And don’t forget to petition your boss for a standing desk!)
4) Learn How to Chill Out
One of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood is with meditation. The rhythmic, conscious breathing of air in and tension out triggers a relaxation cycle in the body, changing the way you react to stress, downshifting the ol’ fight-or-flight response. When you meditate regularly, small irritations and big challenges don’t hit you as hard as they used to. You’re a little calmer, less likely to fly off the handle, and quite possibly a little nicer.
On a practical level, meditation gives you a great way to calm your overactive mind when you’re replaying events or are feeling anxious about what’s to come. It’s a fantastic tool to have in your back pocket, accessible anytime, anywhere, to help you rest, relax, and restart. If you’re just learning to meditate and you’re struggling with the silence, relaxing with your favorite mellow music is an easy and accessible alternative. Soothing music slows down our internal rhythms and stimulates the parasympathetic system, your body’s built-in calming mechanism.
5) Have a Tall Glass of Nonalcoholic Attitude Adjustment
Many of us are conditioned to worry and complain, and our bodies play along, converting all that stress into pain, both mental and physical. Though the mantra of “think positive” may sound a little facile, the health benefits of looking on the bright side are massive. Next time you find yourself indulging in the breakable habit of negative thinking (I hate this traffic! I’ll never get out of this job! Why can’t I meet someone already?), reframe your thinking. Find a silver lining, see the glass as half full, or focus on something you’re grateful for.
When you switch the lens and look for the good, you help free your mind of negativity, which in turn helps heal your body’s aches, pains, and overall fatigue. As you train yourself to see the good, also learn to let go. It’s natural to replay situations in your head, especially when things have gone wrong, but after a round or two of replay, there’s no more learning to be done, just a stress vortex that enables you to beat yourself up indefinitely. Next time you find yourself over ruminating, jot down the thoughts to get them out of your head, and connect with the kids, call a good buddy, or curl up with a book. And while you’re at it, give a little thanks.
6) Put Yourself to Sleep
Many of us it seems have virtually forgotten how to sleep well—and that’s bad news for your health. Well, it’s time to relearn this skill. Granted, it’s hard to imagine going to bed and getting up at the same time every day with weekdays so demanding and weekends used for refueling, but if you reinforce a rhythm, say, 11:30 p.m. bedtime and 6:30 wake-up, your body will help you out. It will learn to start producing melatonin at around 11 p.m. to make you sleepy, and at around 6 a.m. it will start pumping serotonin and cortisol, the wake-up hormones—making falling asleep and waking up less of an effort.
Another way to get into the sleepy-time groove is to get ready for bed an hour earlier. Maybe this means sacrificing some evening TV or computer time, but give it a go. Turn the lights down low, take a hot bath, do a relaxing yoga pose, or climb into bed with a good (non-electronic) book, any of which will downshift your body and brain from an action-packed day and help prepare it for sleep. If you’re not feeling especially sleepy and need a healthy assist rather than a pharmaceutical one, try some magnesium and a tablespoon of MCT oil before bed to help you drift off.
For more sleep-inducing ideas, check out my step-by-step, hour-by-hour sleep well program.