Let’s face it; we all want to be healthy, happy, and feel good. Sometimes it’s a struggle, especially when life dishes up a large serving of problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic worries, or the illness or loss of a loved one.
Ironically, that’s when you need good physical and mental health the most.
Here’s a list of ways to enhance your physical and mental well-being, in no particular order, culled from what I’ve learned from my patients, Chinese medicine, scientific research, and just plain common sense.
1. Live in the moment. Most of us spend a lot of time rehashing the past or worrying about some future event. It’s important to remember that the only moment that’s real is right now. Impatience means that you’re itching to move onto the next thing or the next moment. However, that next thing is a moment like this one. Slow down and enjoy the right now.
2. Get enough shut-eye. Your body repairs itself and recharges when you’re sleeping. Get to bed with enough time to get 7 or 8 good hours. If you struggle with insomnia, get some help. Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for sleeplessness.
3. Laugh more often. It feels good and it actually releases chemicals in your brain that are good for your health.
4. Listen to your body. Your body is incredibly wise. It knows what it needs, how to heal, and how to let you know when it’s in trouble. Pay attention to those little signs, such as frequent headaches at work, heartburn after eating, or an achy lower back, and address them before they become big problems.
5. Get in touch with nature. Go outside and connect with the natural world. This is something you can do while social distancing. Connecting with nature is a building block of Chinese medicine, in which the natural world is reflected in your body. Hunker down in the winter, eat fresh green shoots in the spring, be most active in the summer, and eat lots of locally harvested produce in the fall. Also know that extreme weather conditions can make you sick, whether it’s achy joints from the cold and damp, heat exhaustion in the summer, or a dry, sore throat in the fall.
6. If you’re a smoker, quit now. This may be the most important step you take to improve your health.
7. Eat for the long run. Get a good breakfast and don’t skip meals. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables daily. Try to eat a diet that’s made up of lots of veggies, whole grains, light proteins, a little fruit, and small amounts of everything else. Don’t eat anything your grandma wouldn’t recognize as food.
8. Indulge your passion. This is pretty simple. Figure out what you love to do and then figure out how to do it more often.
9. Calm down. This can be challenging right now, but the Chinese say that emotions are the cause of 100 diseases. That means staying angry at your obnoxious family member or worrying about what your neighbors are doing can make you sick. Do whatever works for you to lower your stress and cultivate calmness, whether it’s meditating, reading a book, or simply spending time alone.
10. Stay current on regular health screenings. Laugh all you want at your friends’ colonoscopy stories, but make sure you’re keeping up with your own. This includes regular mammograms, mole checks, Pap tests, blood pressure screenings, etc., based on the guidelines for your age.
[Editor’s note: Sometimes best practices from research on screenings are not yet implemented in clinical settings like your hospital or family doctor’s office. Also, complaints that arise from common nutritional, and lifestyle deficiencies can prompt screenings and medical care better used as secondary measures.]
11. Get enough exercise. Keeping your body moving is the closest thing to the fountain of youth. Physical activity keeps your heart and lungs healthy, your immunity resilient, your muscles strong, your bones dense, your butt tight, and research is suggesting that it lowers your risk of age-related memory loss.
12. Exercise your mind, too. Learn a new language, read the newspaper, play word games, or pick up a new hobby. Whether it’s your body or your mind, the saying “Use it or lose it” applies.
13. Grow some food. Whether it’s a plot in your backyard or some pots on your deck, growing your own vegetables and herbs can be beneficial in several ways. You’re getting exercise, connecting with nature, growing your own organic food, and have the joy of picking something to eat right out your back door.
14. Cook and eat with joy. It’s been said that your approach to food mirrors your approach to life. Prepare your meals with care, sit down, and share them with someone you love, if possible. Repeat daily.
15. Eat for good digestion. In Chinese medicine, how you digest your food is as important as what food you’re eating. You can eat the greatest food on the planet, but if you don’t digest it well you’re not getting much benefit. Slow down, chew your food, and avoid rich and greasy meals. Opt for more cooked vegetables than raw, and limit your frozen foods and drinks, especially if you’re having digestive issues. Need help? Your acupuncturist can help get your digestion back on track.
16. Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. I know, we’re all sick of the magic supplement of the day, but D boosts immunity, helps with depression, and offers up a whole host of health benefits. Sadly, most of us aren’t getting enough. You can boost vitamin D through 15 minutes of direct sunlight daily or by supplementing with D3.
17. Change the behaviors that are making you sick. You know that junk food, toxic relationships, sleepless nights, and lots of stress aren’t good for you. If you want to feel better, now’s the time to make some changes.
18. Almost anything goes, but in moderation. In Chinese medicine, a little sweetness can help your digestion, but a bunch of cheesecake is a toxic food bomb. Similarly, some exercise is great for your health, but too much can cause your body to break down. Too much of almost anything over time can damage your health.
19. Connect. Get in touch with your sense of purpose through journaling and self-exploration. Connect with other people through social situations, connect with the divine through meditation or prayer. In Chinese medicine, connection nourishes your heart, which is the home to your soul.
20. Just breathe. In Chinese medicine, your lungs are an important part of immunity, so strong and healthy lungs translate into the ability to ward off colds, viruses, and flu. Breathing deeply opens up your lungs, oxygenates your brain, and helps prevent fatigue and anxiety. Try inhaling for a count of three, holding for a count of three, and exhaling for a count of six.
21. Stand up straight. Bad posture can negatively affect your digestion and breathing and can cause pain in your back and neck. Sitting at a computer for long hours is especially hard on your posture, too. When you’re standing your ears, shoulders, hips, and feet should line up.
22. Just say ‘no.’ It’s incredibly freeing to be able to say no to some of those annoying and unimportant things you don’t want to do and don’t really have to do. It helps decrease that stressed-out feeling of being overwhelmed.
23. Go green. The products you use to clean your home and the cosmetics you put on your body every day have the ability to either enhance or harm your health. Become savvy about the ingredients in your shampoos, lotions, bathroom cleaners, etc., and if the ingredients are sketchy, find cleaner, greener, healthier alternatives.
24. Cultivate compassion. When you’re being kind to others, you’re being kind to yourself. Kindness is embodied by generosity and service to others. Compassion and kindness dissolve anger, annoyance, fear, and competition—all feelings which diminish the quality of your life.
Making healthy changes to your life can feel overwhelming, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the research in this area is clear; even small changes can have a measurable impact on your health. Picking one easy change at a time and sticking with it will have the most benefit in the long run.
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