New Year's Resolutions for a Healthier 2017
Along with the merriment of seasonal dinners and holiday celebrations often comes an over-indulgence of food and drink. Many people seek wellness advice after the holidays, as the arrival of a new year can provide a great opportunity to reset and establish better health habits.
The most common recommendation requests I receive after the holidays are for weight loss, cleansing, and detoxification solutions. The thinking is that the excessive calories, alcohol, junk food, and desserts leave the body in need of a wellness reboot. While many want to drop a few pounds in January, I like to look at a broader approach to achieving these goals. According to the World Health Organization, we need a balance of physical, mental, and emotional health for optimum wellness.
Improving Physical Health
When it comes to our physical health, the ultimate goal is to be able to perform the basic activities of daily living easily, without pain. We want to wake each morning with sustainable energy that lasts all day long, to be free of illness, and maintain a healthy body composition.
For many people, achieving our ideal weight (or just losing that last 10 pounds) cannot be easily achieved through diet and exercise. Intermittent fasting, where you fast for one or two non-consecutive days each week, can make an incredible difference for weight management and overall health. Fasting has clinically proven benefits that include improving mental function and memory, preventing dementia, controlling blood sugar, boosting growth hormone, and lowering IGF-1, a protein highly associated with cancer. To learn more, I recommend the books "Fastdiet" by Michael Mosley, M.D. and "The Complete Guide to Fasting" by Jason Fung, M.D. and Jimmy Moore. I also recommend Moore's "Keto Clarity" in which he details how the ketogenic diet can be miraculous for weight loss and improved health.
Natural supplements that can assist with weight loss include green tea extract and Meratrim, a combination of Indian sphaeranthus and mangosteen extract. One study found that those taking this extract lost five pounds and two inches in only two weeks, and after twelve weeks the average weight loss was twelve pounds, with a five-inch waist reduction and three-inch hip reduction.
I recommend avoiding any processed foods marketed as "low fat." Foods with the low fat label usually substitute the satiating fat with sugar or starch. For many years fats have been by assailed by public health experts, but it is now clear that past recommendations to avoid fats have contributed to the epidemic of diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and dementia that we have today. New research has not only exonerated fats (including the vilified saturated fat), but many well-known health professionals now recommend increasing healthy fat consumption, and encourage reducing carbohydrate intake for weight loss, improved brain function, and energy. I recommend the book "Eat Fat Get Thin," by Mark Hyman, M.D. which as Dr. Hyman says, "separates fat from fiction."
I am generally not an advocate of cleansing or detoxification supplements. Our body has the innate ability to eliminate toxins, but unless our diet and lifestyle choice supports these natural processes, our toxicity levels can increase, potentially contributing a variety of health concerns.
Colon Cleanses: Some people seek out colon cleansing products, looking to mediate or 'undo' the consumption of toxic or unhealthy foods, or to provide quick relief from constipation. Laxatives and cleansing supplements have no clinical evidence of efficacy. Some detox methods can increase the risk of liver damage, harm the gastrointestinal tract, and even precipitate symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Poor bowel function can lead to toxins accumulating in the body, resulting in a wide range of health conditions including fatigue, headaches, hemorrhoids, insomnia, varicose veins, body odor, and diverticulitis. Rather than cleansing for a set period of time as defined by a product, I believe we should detoxify daily through our lifestyle, with exercise and dietary choices including foods and supplements that improve liver function. The liver is our most important organ for detoxification. Specific nutrients including N-acetyl cysteine and alpha lipoic acid increase glutathione. This "master antioxidant" is crucial for the liver. I also recommend probiotic supplements and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Eating lots of high-fibre raw or steamed green vegetables is important, as is drinking green smoothies and fresh vegetable juices which can be miraculous in their ability to support gastrointestinal and liver function.
A five-year clinical study by the University of Kansas found that donating blood can reduce heart attack risk by up 86%, and that male smokers who donate have half the risk of stroke compared to those who have never given blood. Donating blood lowers blood viscosity, iron levels, and free hemoglobin, resulting in better blood flow and increased nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide is the miracle molecule that dilates blood vessels, improving circulation to every part of the body. Low blood viscosity is highly associated with a decreased risk of atherosclerosis, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, while elevated iron levels are tied to higher risk of many cancers. The new blood cells created after donating are also more flexible and less likely to impede blood flow. Donating blood every 2-3 months is associated with a lower risk of liver, colon, lung, stomach, and throat cancer. Plus, every donation saves an average of three lives.
While exercise is an integral part of attaining good physical health, it also plays a critical role in achieving optimal mental health. Research has proven that different types of exercise can have specific mental health benefits. In older adults, aerobic exercise performed three times a week for a year resulted in improved memory tests. Lifting weights helped improve problem-solving and multitasking. When combined, researchers found improvements in executive function and associative memory.
Learning new things at any age brings tremendous long-term health benefits, whether itís learning a foreign language, taking a cooking class, or pursuing a hobby like music lessons or woodworking. Plus, the social interaction and new friends can make the learning experience even more enjoyable. Many believe that the knowledge gained through travel cannot be achieved in any other way. Exposure to new places, ideas and cultures can challenge and expand our ways of thinking.
Seeking to improve our emotional health may be one of the most difficult New Yearís resolutions to stick to, as emotional responses so often seem to be involuntary, like they're hardwired into our brain. Learning how to calmly deal with the stresses of daily life, controlling our temper when upset, and striving to be in a good mood at all times may be even more important than achieving optimum physical and mental health.
Taking up yoga, learning to meditate, the study of mindfulness, and controlled deep breathing techniques can all help us improve emotional health, and when done daily, help to more effectively handle stress and naturally lower cortisol levels. I highly recommend the book "Emotional Rescue" by Dzogchen Ponlop which is a guide to learning how to transform negative emotions into energy and power. Based on Buddhist psychology, the methods outlined in this book can help anyone deal with anger, aggression, and desire more positively.
Mental or emotional stress increases levels of the hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels depress adrenal function, resulting in fatigue. A classification of herbs called adaptogens can help the brain and body deal with stress and restore adrenal function, resulting in increased energy. Some of the most popular and effective adaptogens include rhodiola and ashwaghanda. In addition to supplements, I advise trying to make some small changes to your daily routine that together can make a big difference.
I recommend eating less, avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates, sitting less, standing more, moving more, and getting more sleep. Take opportunities to volunteer or share your knowledge. Reconnect with family and friends. Make a conscious effort to smile more, and spend time each day being thankful for the beauty in your life, and for the friends you have. What you mentally focus on advances, so focus on the many wonderful things in your life.
By making healthy choices and incorporating some manageable lifestyle changes into our daily routine, we can lose weight, cleanse toxins, boost energy, and make improvements in our physical, mental, and emotional health that will last all year long.