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Thursday, January 1, 2015

6 Strategies to Make 2015 Your Healthiest Year Yet

Recently I enjoyed reading Atul Gawande's book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. It eloquently raises an issue that most physicians shy away from: The fact that we can't cure everyone. Some patients die. Eventually, we all die. So what matters most is how we live. And while a cure isn't always possible, healing always is. Everyone can heal on some level, physically or emotionally or both. Make 2015 your best year yet with these six strategies to help you heal.

#1  Wake up with the sun.
Early morning sunshine stimulates the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that help regulate our sleep, energy, mood, appetite, blood sugar levels, and even the way our bodies store fat. Sunlight also stimulates the production of vitamin D, which benefits the cardiovascular, neurological, and immune systems, and helps regulate blood pressure and calcium levels. Compared to afternoon or evening light, morning light contains more blue light, which has the strongest effect. Experts recommend as little as 20 minutes per day, as early as possible, when the sun’s rays are least intense. Avoid prolonged sun exposure and spending time outside when the UV index is moderate or high.

#2  Be active every day.
Take advantage of your time outside in the early morning to go for a walk or ride your bike. Or incorporate exercise into another part of your day. Some experts say that most of the benefits we get from exercising happen within the first 20 minutes of any workout, so your daily goal should be at least this much. Be sure to incorporate all kinds of exercise -- aerobic, strengthening, and stretching -- and talk to your doctor about individualized guidelines and goals.

#3  Have more sex.
Pleasurable sexual activity, whether alone or with a partner, is good for you. It balances hormones and normalizes neurotransmitters that help regulate our metabolism. Good sex also helps relieve stress, lower high blood pressure, boost immunity, improve sleep, reduce pain, and bolster self-esteem.

#4  Practice relaxation.
A certain amount of stress is unavoidable. In small doses it can be good for us, but prolonged stress, whether mental or physical, real or imagined, causes continual production of stress hormones that trigger inflammation, raise blood pressure, prompt the body to accumulate fat, and increase the risk of developing diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Counter these effects with relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, meditation, self hypnosis, qi gong, tai chi, yoga, or even cooking. Relaxation is a skill and it doesn't come naturally to everyone, but like any other skill, it can be learned and the more you practice, the easier it will become.

#5  Let go of things you can't change.
While you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react to what happens to you. Painful emotions like anger, fear, grief, and sadness certainly have their place in our lives, but we must also learn to let them go. Like Toni Morrison said: "Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down."

#6  Detox.
We tune-up our cars, spring clean our homes, and recharge the myriad of electronic devices we've come to rely on, so why not tune-up, clean up, and recharge our bodies? Find an effective detox program in my book, The Prediabetes Detox. It's directed toward people with prediabetes, which affects 1 in 3 adults and almost 1 in 4 adolescents in the United States, but the detox program is a general one that most people could benefit from. (Individuals who should not undergo detoxification include pregnant and lactating women and people with kidney disease, liver disease, cardiac arrhythmia, unexplained abdominal pain, acute inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, or recent surgery or chemotherapy.)

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