So where to start in this whole thing called ‘health’? You should start with the basics. I like to break things into three areas: nutrition, body and mind. Each of these areas plays an important role in our well being and how we feel each day. If we just take a little bit of time to focus on each of these we will live a much healthier and often happier life. Lets take a look at each separately and see what we can do to become healthier.
I like to break down the recommendations into three different phases. This makes it a little easier for people to try and become healthier and allows them to do it at a pace that works for their lifestyles. Trying to implement these phases can be a struggle for some and a breeze for others. No matter where you fall just make sure you keep trying and working towards the health and well being that you desire.
PHASE 1: Getting Real
I like to start with nutrition. I think this is where we will get the most ‘bang for the buck’ so to speak. 70 to 80% of the benefit you may achieve will be through optimizing your nutrition. Nutrition is everything we are putting into our bodies. This includes all the foods we eat, the so called foods that are packaged for us and the wide variety of supplements and health aids that are sold to us each and every day.
In phase one, we start with eating foods that have minimal processing. This means foods that are picked, pulled, gathered or slaughtered. As close to nature as you can get is what we are looking for. Fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, meats and dairy. Essentially a paleo type diet with dairy thrown in if you so choose. If you can cut out the majority of the highly processed junk that you eat you will start to feel much better in a matter of weeks.
One warning, the first few weeks of eating well will make you feel terrible (ironic I know). This is due to many factors including a change in the average glycemic index of many foods taken in (processed foods are much higher in general) and the change of substrates that the body is trying to use to fuel itself. This will abate as your body adapts to these changes and will soon be a thing of the past.
Body includes things that we do physically to keep ourselves physically healthy and active. Included in this is exercise. Exercise is a critical component of feeling better. We so often skip this as part of our busy lives that we do not even realize the benefits that just a little bit each day can bring. In this section I want to make it as easy as possible to start taking care of your body and exercising. I want you to start with getting in the habit of exercising. This is for people with active, physical jobs as well as those with sedentary desk jobs that move very little during the day and everybody in between. You all need to get moving as part of a wellness program and exercising on a regular basis will provide you with many benefits.
There are so many different ways you can exercise but I want to keep it simple. I want you to find fifteen minutes in a day. You can break it up into three, five minute episodes or do it all in one shot. Take that fifteen minutes and walk. Walk back and forth to the mailbox, walk around the block, walk on a treadmill, walk a circle in your home. Just start walking for fifteen minutes and leave all of your devices at home. Use this time as a ‘you’ time. Nobody needs to talk to you during that fifteen minutes, shut off the outside distractions and use that time to start to get in the habit of exercising for your health at least three times a week. That’s it, three times a week. This is for you and your health so lets get started today.
If there is one of the three that the majority of people do not pay attention to it’s the mind/body connection. We run ourselves around all day taking care of everything and everyone but ourselves and over time this leads to burnout, depression and often acute and chronic illnesses.
Taking care of the mind can be as easy as a few seconds to minutes of mindful breathing or as extensive as hours to days of meditation. Taking care of the mind entails many different tools and ideas. Some involve the body (yoga, Tai Chi) and others are more focused on the inner self (meditation). No matter what you choose, find something that works for you. Find something that you will do consistently, once a week, daily, every other day. Just start doing it and get into the habit of taking care of yourself.
A place to start could be mindful breathing. This is how it goes:
Sit or lay in a comfortable position. This can be done standing too. Direct your attention to the air moving in through your nose or mouth. Feel as it expands your chest and fills your lungs. Try to pay attention to that breath only. You will have thoughts of the day pop into your head, distractions of things you think you should be doing at that moment. There is nothing wrong with those thoughts, just slowly redirect your mind back to the breath. Experience the feel of the air as it is passing over your skin, is it warm or cold? Can you feel your chest moving, your diaphragm expanding as you take in that breath. How does the air feel moving out of your body? Is it warmer or cooler than when you inhaled?
You can spend as little or as much time on this exercise as you need to. The idea behind it is to focus on the now, feeling the breath and calming your mind as you become aware of the act of breathing.
This can be a great place to start for anybody that wants to start to feel better and live a healthier lifestyle.
About Dr. Dalhgren
The internet allows me to spend the time educating you on the various topics that will help you maintain or improve your health.
Education should be the beginning of your journey back to health. It is a continuous process where each day you learn new things about yourself, your body and your environment. Join me as we both learn and try to improve our health and well being.
Dr. Dahlgren is a Sports Medicine physician practicing in Richmond, Virginia. He works with OrthoVirginia, a large orthopaedic group with offices throughout Virginia.
Dr. Dahlgren’s office is located on the campus of Memorial Regional Medical Center, part of the Bon Secours Richmond Health System. His office address is 8266 Atlee Road, MOB II, Suite 133, Mechanicsville VA 23116.