The holidays are coming up, and so is the new year! For many of us the holidays are filled with family time, great food and a break from our everyday routines. The holidays are a great time to catch a breath before we start into the new year, hopefully with enthusiasm! While the holidays are a time of sweet treats and temptations, it is time to prioritize our health and start making changes in the New Year starting with more exercise, better sleep, and improved nutrition.
If you don’t know where to start, focus on one of the four leading risk factors for chronic diseases: Eat healthier, quit smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, and be more physically active! Did you know that 6 out of every 10 Americans suffer fromat least one chronic disease? These include heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and kidney disease. Did you also know that, according to theAmerican Heart Association, the average American consumes 2.75 ounces of sugar per day, or 308 calories in pure sugar, or more than 17% of daily calories!? Sugar has no micronutrients, spikes our blood sugar, increases inflammation in the body and increases our risk for diabetes, fatty liver disease, cognitive decline and some cancers (Rippe & Angelopoulos, 2016). So, if you want to improve your health and are looking for a place to start, try to avoid sugar on most days of the week.
You can find healthy replacements, for example substitute your soda for a sparkling water, and your afternoon candy bar with a protein-rich and low sugar alternative such assugar-free chocolate or aprotein cookie. However, be aware of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose, which can also spike your blood sugar. Instead, choose options with stevia, monk fruit, or allulose.
Whether it is reducing your sugar and eat healthier, be more active, stop smoking, or drink less, make sure that you choose a goal that is truly important to you. For example, you may have thought for years that you “should probably cut down” on the sugar, or quit smoking, but think about why you haven’t done so yet. WHY do you want to make these changes? Is it so that you can lose some weight and play with your children? Is it so that you can be alive and spend time with your grandchildren when the time comes? Is it to do an activity that you used to enjoy or want to try?
Once you have figured out your motivation, set a realistic and attainable goal. For example, it is unlikely that you will be able to quit smoking tomorrow, or start working out 5 times a week for 45 minutes. Instead, create small weekly or monthly goals that build up on each other. In the first week, your goal may be to decrease your cigarette consumption from 15 to 10 per day, or walk 10 minutes on 3 days per week.
Lastly, focus on your journey. The longer the journey is, the more likely it will create lasting changes. Focus on changing your habits and on the process rather than the outcome. For example, your goal may be to lose 10 lbs. until May, but instead of focusing on the weight loss figure out behaviors that you can change that will help you to reach that goal. Eat less sugar, eat more foods with high water content, get your veggies in, drink more water, and get your daily exercise or movement.
Did you know that being physically active prevents chronic diseases? Not being physically active isone of the four leading causes for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and stroke. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Committee is a group of experts in the field of physical activity and health who have been appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to summarizethe research of the last five decades. The experts suggest that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week (i.e., activity when you breathe harder) and do strength training on two days per week. If you follow or exceed theseguidelines, you will minimize your risk of chronic diseases, and the more active you are, the lower your risk of disease!
Find and choose activities that are fun, that make you feel good and that make the time go by fast. What is it that makes you happy? Music, dance, yardwork, running in nature, group fitness classes, cycling, … the list of physically active leisure time activities is endless. Check outthis activity planner from the “Move your Way” campaign from the National Institutes of Health. You can pick out activities that you like, add them to your week and find out how much you need to meet the physical activity guidelines. For example, a sufficiently active week could look as follows: Play an active video game on the weekend for 30 minutes, walk briskly for 15 on five days a week, spend 45 minutes gardening and weeding on one day, and take one strength class for about 20 minutes.
Prioritize your movement. Most of us are busy and have little time during the day. But why is that? Think about what you do make time for that is not part of your career, chores or childcare. Is it your nightly TV watching routine, or maybe the time you spend in online stores? You can make time for exercise and movement by scheduling it into your day at a time that you are most likely to do it. For example, are you a night owl or an early bird? When is your best time? Complete your daily exercise, or at least some of it (e.g., a 10 minute walk!) in the first few hours of the day, or before you watch TV or do other leisure activities.
Actively seek social support. Surround yourself with those who are active, and meet up with a friend for a walk or have your spouse or children move with you. If you ask someone to help you out, they will most likely want to help out and by helping you out they also improve their own health!
Instead of seeing exercise and activity as a punishment or chore, see it as a gift.Exercise is Medicine and it will help you to become healthier and live your life to the fullest, and it is a CELEBRATION of what your body is able to do. No matter your fitness level, the fact that we can get up and do something is a gift and a miracle. Be thankful to the pile of cells that is your body for what it makes possible for you.
“The question is not why we sleep, but why we don’t sleep all day!” Matthew Walker, Ph.D., is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkely. In his book “Why We Sleep – Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”, he summarizes decades of research on sleep in a consumer-friendly way. When we sleep, the body restores our immune system, recalibrates our emotions, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Sleep enriches many brain functions such as our ability to learn, memorize and make logical decisions. Make an effort to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night to help you regulate your appetite, increase your metabolism, and avoid mindless eating. If you need a new routine because you have been getting only 4-6 hours every night, there are many ways that you can integrate more sleep into your 24 hours.
Think about what activities you do every night that do not contribute to your health goals. For example, do you spend 3 hours or more watching TV at night?Studies show that watching TV for 3 or more hours every night is related to a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and early death. Think about replacing some of that time that you use to “unwind” at night to create a bedtime routine around the same time. For example, set yourself an alarm for 9 pm and reminder at 9:30 pm so that you can start getting ready for bed. Plan to use some time in bed to read a book, or journal.
Have your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime, and do your best to avoid sugar and caffeine in the evening. Replace your after dinner treat with a high fat and high protein treat such as sugar-free peanut or other nut butter on a low-carb wrap, or a keto protein treat. Check out atlas bar, MCT bar and Quest protein treats for blood sugar and sleep-friendly options!
We sleep best in a dark, cold environment. Did you know that our skin has light receptors?? Make sure that all light sources are removed as much as possible, and remove any other devices (TV!) from your bedroom. Keep it clean and cool.
Have the same routine before bed. If you always go to bed after brushing your teeth and change into your pajamas, these actions will eventually work as a trigger for your brain to become tired, and make it easy to fall asleep. Similarly, only use your bedroom for sleeping, so that your brain connects this room with sleeping and sex only, but not working, watching TV, relaxing, or even eating.
If you do not feel tired at night, or have trouble sleeping, try to go for a 30 minute walk after dinner, or about one hour before bedtime. You may feel too tired to start to go, but lure yourself into it by watching TV show while walking or listen to your favorite podcast.
Dr. Mark Hyman, MD is a well-published author, and medical doctor and creator of the functional medicine clinic called theUltrawellness Center which has helped many people improve their health through food, when they had tried everything else and given up. In his book “Food - What the Heck Should I Eat” Dr. Hyman reviews the scientific literature on how the industry and free market in the U.S. have marketed “food-like substances” (i.e., processed foods) full of sugar and unhealthy fats, and how we can choose our foods to use it as medicine and improve our health. He addresses topics like governmental guidelines and collaborations with giants in the food industry, environmental impact, and organic vs. conventionally grown food. For example, Dr. Hyman talks about this “fun fact”: After the first world war was over, the manufacturers of bioweapons did not have any market to sell their products. The farmers however needed something to keep the bugs of their crops and vegetables, so the bioweapons were sold to farmers and put on the food we eat. That is why you may want to pay the extra dollar for the organic apple. It is astonishing what can be marketed as food, and it is not surprisingthat six out of ten Americans suffer from a chronic disease when we think about the average American diet
Luckily, not all types of fruits and vegetables are heavily contaminated.The Environmental Working Group reviews foods for harm and toxicity, and publishes a specific list of fruits and vegetables to help guide which types are least concerning (e.g., avocados), and most concerning (e.g., strawberries). The most concerning fruits and vegetables should be bought organic.
Food is Medicine, and you are what you eat. Have you ever felt tired, anxious, drowsy, or unhappy and thought about what you ate? Well, you should! A large majority of our state and overall health is related to what we eat and drink. For example, you may know the feeling after big meals or celebrations (such as Christmas!) that the social media community likes to refer to as “food coma”. You can feel your heart beating faster, you feel hot, it seems like you can feel blood pressure in your veins, and you are tired and don’t want to move. Good news: There is NOTHING wrong with your body! Your body is trying to process all the carbohydrates, sugars and fats that you introduced to your bloodstream, and the reason why you can feel it is because there is enough of the sugar and fat in your body that you will actually notice. Compare that to your daily afternoon snack. You may eat the same kind of food (e.g., a pastry full of butter and sugar, a candy bar full of sugar), but you may feel just fine after you ate it. Fact is that the sugar and lack of fiber with spike your blood sugar and leave you tired and hungry afterwards.
Be encouraged to listen in to your body in a new way. All your daily aches and pains they you may have gotten so used to every day, they are NOT NATURAL, and are AVOIDABLE! In most cases, taking a pill or other medicine will do nothing for your health but drive income for the pharma industry. A headache is not a signal for a deficiency in aspirin. Similarly, feeling tired and hungry after your snack in the afternoon is not a signal of a deficit in sugar or carbs!
There are two kinds of hungry, one is when we are craving something and the hunger hormone of ghrelin increases. This often happens when you have a large meal at night and wake up hungry the next morning. Think about it. You just had about 1,000-2,000 calories 8 hours ago, and did nothing but sleep and watch TV in the meantime, and now your body seems to need food again? This feeling of “hunger” will subside if you have some tea or coffee, lots of water, and get some movement in for 10-30 minutes. Being hungry in the sense of your body needs food feels different. It is not your stomach that growls or that feels empty or uncomfortable, but you start to feel lightheaded and even after drinking water you still feel hungry. The BEST indicator for real hunger is that you crave whole, healthy foods such as vegetables, and healthy protein sources. When you eat, you will notice how the energy enters your body and creates gratitude for the food you eat.
In the new year, try to find out what it feels like to be hungry or simply have appetite or cravings, and connect how you feel in the morning when you wake up to what you ate the night before. You will likely feel tired and have not had a sleep quality if you had a large, carbohydrate and fat-rich meal late at night. You will likely feel much more restored if you have a light meal around 6 pm, and have lots of water and some movement during the day, even if you sleep the same number of hours.
Eat whole fruits and vegetables with high water content to fill you up, and instead of counting calories count your servings of green vegetables, other vegetables and fruit that are full of fiber that will keep fuller for longer. When you eat dense foods such as cheese or bread, always have something fresh with it such as a salad, a few tomatoes, or bell peppers. Sneak in as much water into each meal as possible, and also make sure that you drink three quarts of water per day, preferably filtered or spring water. Staying hydrated will help your digestion, speed your metabolism, and help you to stay focused.
This article was written by Ricarda, a Certified Health Education Specialist and Ph.D. Candidate for Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida.
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