Developing Sustainable, Healthy Habits
Personally, I always think of my birthday as the milestone to reflect on the year(s) past and to plan for the year(s) to come. My birthday resides at the point in the year that summer turns to fall and summer vacation turns to back-to-school. In this way, it just naturally feels like the right time to find resolve for what's ahead.
But the New Year is the universal (at least for those following the Gregorian calendar) time for making positive changes and new resolutions. So as we transition out of 2016 and into 2017 (and as we transition into longer days), let us take a moment and put forward several strategies for developing sustainable, healthy habits and for making the most of 2017—and whatever lies ahead.
The following are the top RAW Forest Foods suggestions for making the most of 2017.
1. Maximize time spent outdoors and add in time spent with friends to improve both mental and physical health.
Ample research has gone into mapping the positive effect time spent outdoors has on our mental health. As we spend more and more time indoors and more and more time behind screens, we must prioritize getting outside. Being outside is vital for our mental health.
Need convincing? Read this article titled " This is Your Brain on Nature," published almost one year ago in National Geographic. For those that exercise indoors (but could exercise outside), note that research indicates that there is a greater benefit to mental health when exercising outside.
Want to maximize your time spent outside?
Even better, incorporate spending time with friends and family. According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships can “ Enrich your life and improve your health.” Additionally, forging and maintaining friendships may:
- Increase longevity;
- Reduce blood pressure, body mass index, waist circumference, and inflammation;
- Reduce risk of dementia in old age;
- Provide emotional support and increase resiliency.
Adding in Fitness to the Wellness Equation
While spending time outdoors is not specifically about fitness, we will mention here the importance of incorporating a weight training routine to support longevity and endocrine function. Harvard Medical School notes that “Regular physical activity promotes general good health, reduces the risk of developing many diseases, and helps you live a longer and healthier life.”
Strength training is important for endocrine function as well. Studies abound linking weight/strength training and improved testosterone levels, with one study demonstrating a 40% increase in testosterone levels and a 24% decrease in cortisol levels in healthy participants after 4 weeks of strength training.
These are benefits that everyone can reap, regardless of age or sex.
Exercise has such a positive effect on the body that in 2016, a peer-reviewed research article was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology titled " Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise," where the authors state that the benefits are so pronounced that exercise could be classified as a drug.
2. Implement some type of daily journaling to both improve productivity, but to also increase happiness (gratitude) and to help slow the steady, forward march of time.
It may be cliché, but time really does seem to keep speeding up. One effective strategy to slow down the passing of time is to journal each and every day. Journaling does not have to be a lengthy narrative written each evening—it can be as simple as an extended to-do list for the following day and an short accomplishment list for the day you’re on.
We like bullet journaling.
Here is a fantastic article by BuzzFeed titled “ WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? An Explainer.”
In short, a bullet journal is a hybrid between a calendar, a to-do list, and a journal/diary. And they’re great.
Bullet jounrals can also improve mental health (as we see here in another BuzzFeed article titled " Here’s How To Use A Bullet Journal For Better Mental Health.")
If you want to become an expert in bullet journaling, head over to http://bulletjournal.com.
But Easy = Long Term Sustainability
If all of that seems a little too complicated (no judgement), try a Panda Planner (that’s what I use). The Panda Planner was started by Michael Leip to aid in his recovery from Lyme Disease and a traumatic brain injury. They are easy to use, which makes it easy to keep using them.
We are huge fans of the Panda Planner at RAW Forest Foods.
3. For both men and women, practice Kegel exercises daily to improve reproductive health.
Muscles begin to waste as we age, and once we hit our late 20’s, it seems that the body loses its almost miraculous ability to keep muscle and to keep in shape.
And the Kegel muscles are no exception. I am convinced that a sedentary life exacerbates the onset of muscle wasting (technically known as sarcopenia), and that it is affecting younger and younger people as lives become more and more sedentary.
It is of no surprise to me that so many people begin to develop reproductive issues (prostate, performance, et cetera) in their late 20’s, simply because of lack of tone and lack of development of the Kegels. Luckily, fixing this is free and easy.
There are also several pretty good apps available for both reminding you to do your Kegel exercises and for instructing you to do them. One app is called Kegel Trainer and is available at the Apple App store and at Google Play.
4. Try 5 to 10 minutes of mindfulness based meditation daily.
Meditation has many proven health benefits, including decreased markers of inflammation and increased telomere length. In fact, Harvard researchers have shown how meditation positively changes the brain.
Once you start meditating, you can join the ranks of Katy Perry, Madonna, Hugh Jackman, Russell Brand, and Jerry Seinfeld.
OK, celebrities meditating might not be the best reason to start meditating.
Here is The Guardian's list of the best meditation apps currently available (2016).
And here is the New York Times' How To Meditate guide. So you officially have no excuses. And like the old adage goes, "Everyone should meditate for 10 minutes a day. Unless you don’t have the time. Then you should meditate for an hour."
5. Find something you love and do it.
Remember, passion has no expiration date. If you’re young, follow your dreams. If you’re old, follow your dreams. As the saying goes, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." If you've been putting off starting a new project or learning a new skill, there is no better time to start than right now (unless you have a time machine, in which case...). All too often we postpone doing what we really want to be doing, waiting for some mythical point in the future where we will feel or be ready. But that time never comes. Right now is the right time.
Do not be put off by picking up a new skill or hobby. There is no requirement to become the next world-renowned expert on the seasonal migration patterns of cedar waxwings. Just find something you enjoy and do it—and do it regularly. This doesn't mean 12 hours a day. It just means regularly. Try once a week.
6. Stretch and get loose.
I am 110% convinced that there is a fundamental connection between our physical flexibility and our emotional and intellectual flexibility. This pattern is exemplified through the flexibility that children enjoy—both physical and mental—but that we lose as we transition into adulthood. We should resist that.
While not technically stretching, this dynamic warm-up by Coach Sergei Karaliou from the Underground Gym makes a great way to loosen up and energize in the morning (or any point in the day). Try this each morning immediately upon waking and I guarantee positive changes.
The Starting Stretching Routine
For a comprehensive approach to increased flexibility, the Starting Stretching routine is one of the best out there (see the printer friendly guide to the routine to the left—click to enlarge).
This routine is comprised of 9 stretches (3 upper body, 4 lower body, and 2 torso) and is appropriate regardless of your starting level of flexibility.
Bonus: if you sit a lot and/or have chronic lower back-pain, try this stretching and mobility routine (in addition to the others) to alleviate the pain.
7. And lastly—but most importantly—sleep.
Sleep is going to be the next big thing. Just you wait and see.
I see so many people wreak their wellness and fitness goals simply by not sleeping enough. Lack of sleep literally sabotages even the best of intentions. It increases cortisol, increase blood glucose levels, decreases testosterone, decreases muscle growth, increases inflammation (including in the brain), and the list goes on and on.
We all know sleep is important, but we are all to quick to write it off.
So let's make 2017 be the year of sleep (and remember, each hour before midnight counts as two). And while Benjamin Franklin purportedly stated that "There will be plenty of time to sleep once you are dead," I'd rather be well rested and alive than sleeping and dead.