Sometimes life gets in the way of taking care of your health. You get lazy or busy or distracted. One day, you wake up and realize you have no energy, carry too many extra pounds, and feel awful. You know you have to get it together and think about revamping your diet or starting that new, incredible exercise regimen. But it all feels so overwhelming.
That can all seem doubly true amid a pandemic that raises new difficulties in fixing your lifestyle or reaching out to people you need for moral or other support. And yet, it is especially during this kind of threat to our health that it becomes even more essential to tend to our bodies and minds.
Isn’t there something easy that you can do? The good news is that there is, and research has documented that small changes make a difference in the state of your health. So here are some simple tweaks that you can do that can have an immediate impact.
1) Get More Sleep. Your body repairs and rejuvenates itself while you’re sleeping. If you’re not getting a good 7 to 8 hours a night, you are likely operating at a sleep deficit. Go to bed a little earlier and turn off all your screens and devices at least an hour before turning in. And try to sleep in a cool, dark room.
2) Go Outdoors. Spending time outside in wooded or natural settings affects your health in positive ways. Research has documented that spending time in the woods can lower blood pressure, decrease stress and the stress hormone cortisol, and boost immunity. In a nutshell, walking in the woods is calming and good for your health.
3) Acknowledge Your Stress. Unrelenting stress can be a silent killer because it hurts almost every system in your body—from sleep to digestion to immunity. I see many patients who are experiencing incredible levels of stress, mostly because they they believe they have no control over difficult situations.
The reality is that, in most cases, they do have some control or choice—whether it is to make a change or to choose to look at the circumstances from another perspective. Whatever it takes, dealing with your stress is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
4) Take a Walk. If there ever existed such a thing as the fountain of youth, physical activity might just be it. According to Chinese medicine, you need enough energy to power your body’s systems, and that energy has to flow. Moving your body moves your energy, clears your mind, strengthens your heart and lungs, lubricates your joints, boosts your immunity, and helps to maintain your memory. If you live in a dense urban area, be mindful of social distancing.
5) Take Some Time for Yourself. So many of the people I see are overwhelmed by their jobs, or doing things for others without a break. Months can go by without them having done anything that they really enjoy. Carve out some time to do the things that feed your soul. Whether it’s reading a good book, working on a creative project, or spending time with someone you really enjoy, taking time for yourself isn’t selfish. Think of it as recharging your batteries.
6) Pay Attention to Your Digestion. In Chinese medicine, you get your energy from the air you breathe and the food you eat. If your digestion is funky, your energy will suffer. If you have symptoms such as heartburn, stomachaches, gas, bloating, constipation, or loose stool, your digestion needs help. My advice is to visit a Chinese medicine practitioner, who can use acupuncture, herbal treatments, and dietary therapy to set things to rights.
7) Eat More Plant-Based Foods. Choosing the right foods can feel like a formidable task, in light of all the theories that swarm the media about what you should eat. Here’s a simple guideline: eat more plant-based foods, and according to Chinese medicine, eat them cooked. It takes a lot of energy to digest raw vegetables and fruits, so when you can, cook them in soups, stews, stir-fried dishes, and compotes. They’re much easier to digest and will give you more energy.
8) Choose Simple, Wholesome Foods. Here’s one more on choosing what to eat: Would your grandma have recognized it as food? If not, leave it at the grocery store or drive-thru window. If Granny would have cooked with it, you’re probably good to go. (Thank you, Michael Pollen, author of “Food Rules,” for this one.) Simply put, we’re not meant to eat foods that have been altered to last years on the shelf or filled with ingredients that aren’t really food.
9) Sit Up Straight. Our collective posture has changed over the past few decades as we began to hunch over computers and cell phones. As a result, I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients suffering from neck and shoulder pain. In many cases, the culprit is shortened pectoral muscles in front of the shoulder and overwhelmed rotator cuff muscles, resulting from too much time spent in a hunched position. If your day is spent in front of a screen, a simple stretch you can do to open up your chest and relax your shoulders is to lie down on the floor and move your arms as if you were making a snow angel.
10) Learn to Let Go. Being overwhelmed with too many things to do and not enough time to get them done is very stressful, demanding, and demoralizing. Acknowledge that you will never get everything done, figure out what tasks are low priority, and just let them go.
11) Spend More Time With People You Love. This one is simple and easy and feels good. Nurturing social connections is good for your health and can actually improve your longevity. You may have exactly this time now to reconnect with immediate family, or perhaps reach out through a phone call or—even better—through a video chat. Don’t let this slide when the call for self-isolation lifts. In fact, make it happen in the real world with face-to-face meetups.
12) Play More. In Chinese medicine, overworking is considered to be a major cause of illness. Long hours with your nose to the grindstone may make you a stellar and productive member of your company or community, but it can destroy your health. Make some time for the fun stuff and file it under the heading of “Improving My Health.”
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com