Improve Your Health in 2015


Deciding on the best ways to improve your health is tough.

One day, you hear a self-appointed expert tell you one thing, and the next day a different talking head claims something that sounds like the exact opposite.  Often, the advice is contradictory and confusing.  Much of it lacks scientific evidence.

Here are 13 ways to improve your life that are frequently recommended.

  1. MOVEMENT - Movement offers dozens of benefits, more than just keeping you at a healthy weight.  Regular exercise reduces stress, releases endorphins, improves brain function, and improves cardiovascular health.  A new study published in Frontiers in Human Nature shows exercise even boost creativity.  You don’t have to engage in strenuous exercise, light exercise (such as walking) for about 20-30 minutes a day gives you nearly all the benefits while avoiding injuries like muscle strains and joint pain.  And it’s never too late to get started.  Even people who start exercising later in life lower the rate of senior dangers, such as falling and osteoporosis.  One of the most popular excuses for not exercising is being too tired.  If you’re tired, go for a walk.  You’ll see an improvement in your energy.
  2. SLEEP - More than 1/3 of Americans are chronically sleep deprived.  Chronic sleep deprivation impairs memory, alertness, and concentration, and it leads to serious injury – driving while tired causes more than 100,000 accidents a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration.  Getting around eight hours of sleep a night helps reduce stress, makes your three times less likely to catch a cold, helps maintain a healthy weight, and reduces your risk of diseases like cancer and diabetes.  The key is setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep.  Keep your room dark, quiet, and cool.  Get rid of electronics by your head and bed.  Make sleep a routine.  Go to bed at the same time each night.  This helps your body know when to wind itself down.  And when possible, avoid using an alarm clock to wake you up.  Our bodies naturally wake us up when we’ve had enough sleep.  This will leave you feeling better rested and more awake throughout the day.  Try it this weekend!
  3. MEDITATION - Medication could be considered the “Number 1 exercise in the world.”  For thousands of years, various cultures have used meditation as a way of focusing the mind and healing the body.  Scientific research continues to prove the health benefits of regular meditation.  Like exercise, meditation reduces stress, improves brain function, and lowers the risk of depression.  A new study from a group of researchers in the US, Spain, and France found meditation suppresses genes that trigger inflammation.  (Inflammation is linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.)  The type of meditation used in the study-called “mindfullness meditation”-involves focusing on something in the present while you meditate.  Meditating is simple and it only takes 10-12 minutes a day.  You can sit in a chair or lie in a bed, relaxing your body while you concentrate on taking deep breaths.  That’s it.  You can let your mind wander as it chooses, as long as you keep breathing steadily and deeply.  Make sure to meditate when you’re feeling stressed or tired.
  4. SUNLIGHT - You can stave off the “winter blues” by spending time in the sun.  The reason people feel depressed in the winter – know as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – is mostly due to a lack of sunlight.  Many of us leave for work in the morning when it’s dark and come home in the evening after sundown.  This wreaks havoc on mental health.  Sunlight benefits our health by triggering our bodies to produce vitamin D isomers (different versions of the basic chemical). Studies show having adequate amounts of vitamin D reduces the rick of Alzheimer’s, lessens symptoms of mild depression, and helps our bodies regulate calcium absorption, which keeps our bones strong.  Simply exposing your skin to sunlight for 20 mins or so a day can be enough to fight winter depression.
  5. MASSAGE - It’s an ancient way to reduce stress and relieve pain.  Several studies have proved massage relieves depression and anxiety, improving mental health.  One study published in the journal Applied Nursing Research found back massages help chemotherapy patients combat anxiety and fatigue.  There are several different types of massage, each with their own benefits.  A Swedish massage is great for relaxation and reenergizing yourself.  This is when a masseuse uses long flowing strokes to improve blood and lymph flow.  (The lymph system is the thick infection-fighting fluids that travel in their own “tubes” alongside the blood vessels.)  You can also have a Thai yoga massage.  During a Thai yoga massage, the masseuse will move you into several different yoga positions to help stretch you while you receive massage strokes.  This is a great massage if your muscles are sore or tight.  It’s also a great stress reliever.  If you can afford it, it is recommended to get a professional massage as often as once per month.  A masseuse can suggest the right massage for what ails you.  If you can’t afford a massage, even something as simple as trading hand or foot rubs with your partner has similar benefits.
  6. EATING GREEN VEGETABLES - While the health importance of eating plenty of leafy green vegetables is well-documented, many people still don’t eat enough.  Americans eat less than two servings of vegetables per day.  In several states, including North Dakota and Mississippi, the average person eats less than 1.5 servings.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends eating at least two and a half cups of vegetables per day (or about three servings).  As far as health benefits go, leafy green vegetables – the scientific term is “cruciferous”  – are king.  Vegetables like spinach and kale contain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin B-12, folate, and iron.  Dark leafy vegetables are also a good source of the antioxidant lutein.  Lutein helps protect your eyes from sunlight damage, maintaining your vision.  A new study from Harvard found lutein reduced the rick of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Try adding two cups of spinach to a breakfast smoothie.  Strong-tasting fruits such as pineapple masks the taste!
  7. DON’T SHARE UTENSILS AND GLASSES - Eating and drinking from other people’s utensils and glasses is one of the quickest ways to get a cold.  And not just colds, it can result in cold sores.  Known as the “herpes simplex virus type 1″, cold sores are the painful blisters you get around your mouth and nose.  They last for about a week and can lead to cold or flu-like symptoms.  Sharing a meal with friends or family may lead to food sampling.  If you let someone try your food or drink, use clean utensils.
  8. ALCOHOL - Booze has suffered a bad reputation for decades.  From 1920 to 1033, the US outlawed the sale, production, import, and transportation of alcoholic beverages.  “Prohibition” was part of a religious movement whose followers believed alcohol was one of the evils of society – leading to an increase in divorce, accidents at work due to drunkenness, and alcoholism.  And those beliefs are partially right.  Drinking too much alcohol comes with severe consequences.  But in moderation, alcohol is good for you.  Drinks like beer and wine raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol.  Moderate alcohol intake also decreases the risk of dementia 23%.  Having a drink or two, three to four times per week also lowers the risk of blood clotting.  A 2009 study even found moderate drinking cuts the risk of developing gallstones by a third.  There’s little difference between beer and wine.  Both provide similar benefits.  What matters is the amount you drink.  About a glass of wine or beer per day for women and two for men gives you the benefits without the risks of overconsumption.
  9. CLEAN AIR - We breathe about 3,000 gallons of air per day.  Much of it contains pollutants like car exhaust, dust, and ozone.  And it’s not just the air outside.  The air in your office or home likely contains pollutants as well.  So making sure we have a chance to breathe clean air is vital.  You may think that wood-burning fireplace in your home just offers warmth and charm.  But it gives off particulates that make it harder to breathe.  Other pollutants lead to cancer, neurological problems, and even death.  In an effort to make people aware of the dangers of indoor pollutants, the Lung Institute started an initiative to help people “lung-proof their homes.”  One of the institute’s top tips is to stop smoking inside.  To get rid of pollutants already in your home, use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter.  A HEPA filter can remove lead, pet dander, and other pollutants.  You should also fill your home with plants.  Plants are natural air filters.
  10. MUSIC – A study presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s meeting in Amsterdam found listening to music bolsters the recovery of people with heart disease.  People who listened to music for 30 minutes per day in addition to exercising improved their heart function more than people who just exercised.  The researchers said the type of music wasn’t important.  They believe listening to music releases endorphins (mood-lifting and healing chemicals), helping to improve heart function. You don’t just benefit from listening to music.  Playing music gives your brain a workout, keeping your mind sharper as you age.  Playing an instrument also boosts your immune system.  Just the act of playing is similar to light exercise, giving you a small workout.
  11. PLEASANT AROMAS - Surrounding yourself with pleasant aromas is a simple way to reduce stress, improve your mood, and increase brain function.  Several new studies point to even more benefits.  An assisted-living center in Minnesota found patients with dementia slept 42.5 minutes more at night after exposure to the smell of lavender.  People with Alzheimer’s often get agitated and have trouble sleeping at night, a problem known as “sundowning.”  This makes essential oils a natural alternative to giving patients medications with potential side effects.  Lavender can help anyone sleep.  Certain essential oils are alleged to have specific health properties – but most of these claim are unsupported by science and are false.  Pick whatever scents you like best and buy essential oils and not fragrances.  Essential oils are stronger and natural.  Avoid synthetic fragrances that contain harmful man made mimics.
  12. ASPIRIN - More than one-third of Americans take it regularly to prevent heart disease.  Aspirin prevents blood clots, reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke.  If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, chewing as aspirin can prevent clots from getting larger.  The best time to take aspirin may be at night, according to a new study out of the Netherlands.  Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center discovered that taking aspirin at night bolsters the effects of the drug.  Blood thinned better with a nighttime dose, and people taking their pill at night suffered no increase in side effects.  While a daily baby aspirin or one 325 mg aspirin per week is enough for most people, talk to your doctor before starting an aspirin regimen.  Taking aspirin does involve some risk, like bleeding in your nose or stomach.  But for most people, these are minor compared with the benefits.
  13. BLUEBERRIES - Otherwise known as the “Perfect Blue Food.”  Blueberries are the true superfood.  They are packed with antioxidants (like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, fiber, and manganese), flavonoids, anthocyanins (this gives them the blue color), and other chemicals.  They lower cholesterol, improve eyesight, and reduce inflammation.  And new research is adding to the list.  A team of researchers from the US, UK, and Singapore showed eating blueberries reduces the risk of type-2 diabetes 26%.  You can eat them year-round: in yogurt, oatmeal, and by themselves.  Keep packages of blueberries in my freezer so you can eat them when they’re not in season.  Eat a cup per day to get the maximum health benefits.

These tips are the best ways to get started living a healthier life.  In addition to these tips, watch your intake of salt.  Start using these tips immediately, but just try one or two at a time.  After a few months, you’ll have built them into your life as regular habits.  Put a list on your refrigerator.  Cross them off as you incorporate them into your life and you’ll feel healthier than you ever have before.