Image by Mel Poole

Diet

Food and water fuel our bodies and brains to function. The quality, quantity, and frequency of what we eat and drink impact our energy level, mood, cognitive functioning, and even our interactions. Hydrating every day is essential for our health. It is recommended that we drink water throughout the day while limiting processed drinks like soda and energy drinks. The human body is 60% water, so it is essential to replenish this water content by hydrating well daily.

 

It is highly encouraged to eat as fresh as possible while limiting processed foods. Processed foods contribute to many chronic health diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, cardiac concerns, and persistent pain.

Eating fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats has improved health and reduced many chronic diseases.

Many of us engage in stress and boredom eating. We may snack mindlessly. Sometimes we eat quickly. These habits are often unhealthy and can lead to weight gain, increased pain, lower motivation, and insufficient energy. The anecdote to these ineffective habits is intuitive eating which is about tuning into our bodies and minds before, during, and after eating. This is a practice of being intentional and mindful of when, how much, and what we eat.

Hunger Scale.jpg

Using the hunger scale, we eat until we are satisfied or slightly full. We avoid dropping into the starving and very hungry zone because that encourages eating quickly, which often results in consuming very large amounts that can result in being in the feeling stuffed zone or worse. Usually, the foods we eat when we are in the lower zones are less than ideal.

The takeaway message is that it is ideal to stay in the middle zones and avoid the zones on the ends whenever possible.

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Movement and Exercise

 

Moving regularly and exercising helps us stay flexible and strong. Movement and exercise burn stress and calories. It supports our cardiac, respiratory, and metabolic health. Going for a brisk 15-minute walk after meals may lower our blood sugar and pressure. Regular exercise improves mood and provides an antidepressant effect. Persistent pain and stress are often reduced through regular exercise adapted to our limitations and discomfort. Sitting still for long periods, laying down for an extended time, and not moving can make us stiff, reduce muscle mass, and increase pain.

 

The more we stay still, the harder it is to move.

 

A sedentary lifestyle significantly lowers our physical and emotional health. Sitting still for too long may exacerbate diabetes and high blood and other health conditions. It is recommended that we stand up and move for 2 minutes every 20 minutes or 5 minutes every hour. If you find yourself sitting still in front of the computer, watching TV, reading,  or laying down for a while, consider standing up, walking around your room, or going outside for fresh air.

 

Any movement or exercise should consider any disabilities, limitations, or pain you may have. Consult your physician if you have questions or concerns about movement and exercise.

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Sleep
 

Sleep has the most significant impact on our emotional and physical health. It is recommended that we get at least 6 hours of sleep a night. We often underestimate the importance of sleep and chronic sleep deprivation's negative impact on our lives.


While sleep aids such as benzodiazepines help in the short term, they may prevent us from getting restful, restorative sleep in the long term. Drinking alcohol seems like it helps us sleep, but it disrupts sleep architecture and prevents us from achieving REM sleep. Tobacco, caffeine, and sugar are stimulants and limit the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Phone, computer, and tv screens activate the brain and reduce the amount of naturally occurring sleep hormones in our brain. It is recommended that we stop looking at screens 30 minutes before bedtime and don't look at screens when we should be sleeping.


Effective sleep hygiene sets us up for success in getting the best sleep we can. Going to bed and getting up at around the same time every day. Limit naps, and don't try to make up sleep later. Keep your room as dark as possible. Light reduces sleep hormones because our brain interprets light as daytime.

A comfortable environment facilitates sleep. This includes mattresses, pillows, and sheets. We often sleep better in a cooler room with little noise. Our parents may have had a good idea when they encouraged us to make our beds. People report better quality sleep when they get into a bed made earlier in the day. A well-organized bedroom also improves sleep quality, so it might be worth decluttering and putting things in their place.

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Stress Management
 

We all experience stress in our own ways. Sometimes there is a lot of stress, while other times there is less. Sometimes stress is chronic and overwhelming, while other times is acute and intense.


The first step to dealing with stress is down-regulating our nervous system by taking a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply. This moves us away from the sympathetic nervous system's fight, flight, or freeze response toward the relaxation response of our para-sympathetic nervous system. Slow deep breathing reduces our heart and breathing rate, dilates our blood vessels, lowers our blood pressure, lessens our muscle tension, and relaxes our brain. As this happens, we can think more clearly to be more responsive and relaxed.


Deep breathing won't solve all our problems, but it will set you up for success in dealing with and minimizing them. Deep breathing is the foundation for effective stress management.


A few other stress management techniques are

  • Laughing and not taking ourselves too seriously

  • Engaging in soothing activities

  • Distracting ourselves in healthy ways

  • Participating in artistic and creative endeavors

  • Eating healthy and hydrating well

  • Taking a break and being well-rested

  • Moving to burn off energy and distress

  • Spending time with family, friends, animals, and nature

  • Finding meaning and connecting with our spiritual framework

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Connections
 

Connections happen in many ways and can be essential for our mental and physical health. Healthy connections can be with ourselves, family, friends, animals, and nature. For some, a spiritual framework is also a meaningful connection. Healthy connections can help engage in the other pillars of lifestyle medicine, such as eating healthy, hydrating often, moving regularly, breathing deeply, and laughing more.


Healthy connections may lower our stress and increase the quality of our lives.

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Substances


Alcohol and other drugs, including tobacco, may decrease physical and mental health. Excessive sugar and carbs may also be problematic. While using substances may seem like a stress management technique or way to facilitate connections, it is not the best option.
 

Often these substances can be part of our lives in moderation. However, it may be best for some folks if they don't use these substances. Therapy can help you find a healthy balance or eliminate unwanted substances from your life.