The secret to living a healthier, happier and longer life is no secret at all. Simple habits like eating a healthy diet and avoiding processed foods , exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep can help you avoid certain diseases, manage your stress and add years to your life.
Dr. Rosa Kincaid, Kincaid Medical Associates
Stress can lead to chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer, as well as depression. Finding healthy ways to manage your stress is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but some of the things I recommend are exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep and avoiding self-deprecating talk and thoughts.
No matter how busy your schedule is, it’s important to make time each day to exercise and do something you enjoy, like a hobby or journaling. Regular exercise, at least 20 minutes per day, six days per week, releases endorphins that act like a natural antidepressant. People who exercise regularly have more energy, are happier and are better able to deal with stress. Make an enjoyable hobby, be it golf, knitting or reading, a priority. It’s a form of expression and a great release.
Try to avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms like cigarettes, alcohol and junk food. These habits are unhealthy, and when you finish, your stress is still there.
Diane Sanford, ph.d., Midwest Mind Body Health Center
Want to feel calmer and happier? Start by simply redirecting your attention to the moment you’re in, rather than living in the future and past. This is called mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness informally by focusing your attention on the dishes you’re washing rather than thinking about a deadline at work, or formally, through yoga, meditation and breathing exercises. Research has shown mindfulness improves health and well-being and diminishes stress, depression and anxiety. The more you practice mindfulness, especially through meditation and yoga, the more calm and relaxed you’ll become.
Another great way to manage stress is to practice self compassion. We often create stress when we judge or compare ourselves to others. Try to avoid needless worry, too. You can’t change the past and can’t know what will happen in the future. By focusing on the present, you’ll usually find that things aren’t that bad.
Finally, make time in your busy schedule for friends and family. People who have meaningful relationships feel loved and supported and tend to be physically, mentally and emotionally healthier. Social support is as essential to our health and well-being as good nutrition.
“There are many reasons why people occasionally have trouble sleeping,” says Julie Toomey, manager of the Sleep/EEG Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. “Pain, depression, illness and stress are common culprits, and lack of sleep actually can cause stress.”
But there are simple things you can do to improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest. “The National Sleep Foundation recommends adhering to ‘sleep hygiene’ practices,” Toomey says. For example, a warm bath before bed not only sets you up with a bedtime routine, but the drop in temperature when you get out may help trigger the circadian rhythm to go to sleep.” Other tips: maintain regular bed and wake times; establish a regular bed routine; use the bedroom for sleep only; finish eating two to three hours before bed; exercise regularly, but not less than three hours before bed; and avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
“If you’re having trouble staying awake during the day or sleeping at night, despite using these techniques, you could have a sleep disorder,” Toomey says. “Talk to your physician or seek help from a sleep specialist.”
[what’s your real age?]
The Dr. Oz RealAge test is a survey that takes into account diet, physical activity, stress and family history to calculate your biological, as opposed to chronological, age. “It’s a good concept, as it takes into consideration many things we think about in terms of overall health,” says Dr. William Manard, SLUCare family and community medicine physician. “But whether you can directly apply that to the exact age of your body is questionable.”
According to Manard, there’s no hard science for the test. “It’s based on scientific assumptions and statistical models,” he notes. “It’s not like we have an internal odometer that says how many miles we’ve put on our body. But what the quiz does well is break down complex concepts, such as the impact inactivity has on overall health, into an easy-to-understand format.”
Evidence exists that healthy lifestyle changes can improve life expectancy, Manard adds. “For example, one’s life expectancy returns to normal within 10 years of quitting smoking. We also know people who sleep less than six hours per night are more likely to have heart problems and diabetes. By making some relatively simple choices, you can add years to your life.”
[food preservatives and cancer]
Diane Friedman, RDN, Evolution Fitness
In general, additives in our food have undergone extensive testing and are safe. Research on food additives is primarily done on animals, using large doses. Additives deemed to be carcinogenic are banned from the food supply, such as the artificial coloring Red No. 2, which was banned in 1976.
There are no studies proving that food additives cause cancer in humans. Some studies have found an association between eating foods high in nitrites (predominately in cured meats, such as bacon and hot dogs) and certain cancers. One sweetener that remains controversial is Aspartame, which has been studied for several decades, with some studies demonstrating a carcinogenic effect in rodents. While the preponderance of evidence suggests it’s not carcinogenic in humans, some professionals recommend avoiding Aspartame, particularly during pregnancy, or limiting its use to small, infrequent amounts.
That being said, there are additives once deemed safe that have since been banned. The best bet is to eat predominantly whole foods. Scrutinize labels and avoid foods with a litany of chemical names on the ingredient list. Some of the perfectly safe additives in our food come from natural sources, like vitamin C and citric acid, found abundantly in citrus fruits.
Jamila Owens-Todd, n.d., Meridian Institute for Naturopathic Therapies
‘Safety’ has become a relative term in regard to additives in our food. The FDA has determined that many preservatives and additives, such as artificial dyes and sugars, are safe in minimal quantities. However, because the standard American diet is full of packaged and processed foods, those previously determined ‘safe’ foods need to be further evaluated to determine if they’re safe in larger quantities.
Consuming a regular amount of foreign chemicals can pose a health threat. In my practice, I have hundreds of patients who have experienced physical reactions to the scent of perfumes, liquid detergents, cigarette smoke and so on. Those are chemicals that have created an immune system reaction simply by being inhaled. So a similar chemical that you regularly ingest may pose a potential threat to the internal organs.
The key to holistic, healthy living is to consume more fresh, whole foods that require no coloring or added chemicals. A whole foods diet contains fresh fruits and vegetables; healthy grains such as brown rice, quinoa or millet; and clean protein sources such as beans, nuts, seeds and lean cuts of fish, turkey or chicken.
[living with joint degeneration]
Brenda Kingen, d.c., Kingen Chiropractic Wellness Center
Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear of the cartilage on the surface of joints or the discs in the spine. It’s usually accompanied by an overgrowth of bone, referred to as bone spurs, a narrowing of the joint space and, in chronic cases, a deformity of the joint. Osteoarthritis is typically caused by a loss of motion in the joint, stemming from a trauma injury, repetitive or overuse injury, poor posture and metabolic disorders. The loss of motion in the joint results in a loss of nutrition or fluid in the joint.
Chiropractic adjustments can help restore mobility in joints that aren’t moving correctly. This helps to decrease the symptoms of pain, stiffness and loss of motion. It also slows the progression of degenerative changes. Unfortunately, most degenerative joints don’t show severe symptoms until there’s significant damage to the joint, so it’s important to pay attention to a gradual onset of stiffness or loss of motion. Treatment is much more successful if you address the issue before it’s chronic.
Dr. Gary J. Schmidt, orthopedic surgeon
If you suffer from joint degeneration, there are many things you can do to alleviate pain. First, try to maintain a proper weight. This is obviously more important for weight-bearing joints like the knees and ankles. It’s also important to maintain your strength and flexibility. Exercises like walking, swimming, riding a bike, elliptical trainers and yoga, as well as limited weight lifting, are good options for people who suffer from joint degeneration. Avoid activities with repetitive impact, such as running.
Certain medications—particularly anti-inflammatory medications like Aleve and Advil—are effective for reducing inflammation, which causes pain commonly associated with joint degeneration. However, medication can’t stop the progression of the disease. Curative measures include joint replacement and other surgical options, which are extremely successful today. These procedures not only treat pain, but also allow patients to regain an active lifestyle.