We all want to cut our risk for cancer and heart disease and generally live longer, healthier lives. It's so temping to make the decision to start a healthy lifestyle and choose a day to start, then spend the next few days or weeks living in debauchery before you make all those changes. If that sounds like you, I've got some good news — you can improve your health without stressing yourself out with an extreme health kick or an intense exercise regimen. You don't have to completely give up eating meat or fat or sugar and you don't have to go on an extreme diet and lose tons of weight. You don't have to start running marathons or doing triathalons. Of course, if those things are fun and bring you joy, go ahead. But if doing those activities is going to put more stress on you than not doing them, let go. Constant stress is one of those things that wreaks havoc on your health.
You don't have to go to extremes to improve your health dramatically. Just doing one of the things listed below can improve your health immeasurably and quickly.
If you are tempted to do all of these suggestions rather than doing them all at once, adopt a 21 day program. Do one activity on the list for 21 days. At the end of the 21 days, add the next activity. By the end of the year, you might just find yourself feeling younger, healthier and more energetic than you do right now.
1. Get Your Sleep In Order
One of the ways to begin to encourage good health into your life is to start with your sleep. Sleep and mood go together. When your sleep is off, your mood is off. When your mood is off and your sleep is off, your immune system is compromised and your emotional stability is off. You then become more susceptible to colds, flu, disease, as well as anxiety, depression, and car accidents. Sleeping too much or too little sleep can both be hazardous to your health. Healthy adults need 7-8 hours each night.
Start by making your bed a welcoming place. Go out and buy a nice, comfortable set of sheets and a new comforter and lots of fluffy pillows. Make your bed some place that is inviting and luxurious. If you can't afford new sheets right now, wash your current sheets and bedding and fluff it up, spray it with some lavender and try to give it a little bit of new life. At night, an hour before you think you should go to sleep, get into bed. If you want to be asleep at 11, get into bed at 10. Don't turn your TV on and don't bring your computer into bed with you. Bring a book, magazine, or your iPod. Listen to some relaxing music with your eyes closed or listen to a guided visualization and begin to let yourself relax.
This isn't about sleep — this is about relaxing your body. Sleep is a natural biological process that your body can do once you begin to relax your body mind. You might also want to get into the bath about 90 minutes before you want to be asleep. A hot bath with Epson Salts is a great way to relax your muscles and calm your mind and warm your body up for sleep. Try to think of a nice bedtime routine that you can do every night that will help you fall into a restful sleep. You might draw for thirty minutes before you get into bed or you might bathe, or write in your journal. Find something that works for you and do it nightly.
If you find that sleep is impossible, try a natural sleep solutions like herbal sleep aids. Examples include valerian, chamomile and skullcap, as well as amino acids like 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan. You can also try a synthetic hormone of melatonin that you can ask your doctor or Naturopath about for help with sleep. There are also over-the-counter-solutions, as well as prescription solutions that your doctor can help you sort through. There's no shame in finding something to help you sleep. Being sleep deprived leads to poor decision making, especially around food choices. It also leaves you looking for more energy and many people use caffeine and sugar to achieve this.
2. Moderate Your Alcohol Use
I recently spent the weekend with a girlfriend of mine who is an oncology nurse. She told me that what has been confirmed to her over and over again is that alcohol and cancer are linked. This is not because she reads studies — it's because she works with cancer patients all day, every day, and what she keeps seeing are people coming in with esophageal and stomach cancer who make a habit of drinking 1-2 bottles of wine each day (or the equivalent). You don't have to quit drinking unless you believe that alcohol is a problem for you. However, you should understand what moderate drinking is. For women, it is one 5 oz. glass of wine (or 12 oz of beer) each day and for men it is double that. Binge drinking is never a good idea for your body. But anyone who has ever woken up with a raging hangover already knows the misery it inflicts.
If you truly find yourself abusing alcohol, AA might be a good place to start. You don't have to immediately jump in and decide to give up alcohol forever. Just try a couple of meetings and see if it resonates for you. If not, then you've lost nothing. For a little extra help, try this guided meditation to support you in ending alcohol abuse.
3. Quit Smoking
Quitting smoking is the fastest way to improve your health dramatically, but it's not easy to quit smoking. I speak from experience. I smoked a pack a day from the age of 14 until the age of 30! I can't believe that someone would sell cigarettes to a 14 year-old, but somehow I managed to buy a pack every single day for those four years before it became legal for me to do so. I realized before my 30th birthday that I'd spent more of my life smoking than not. I quit with a combination of the patch, meditation, and running. I have been smoke free for the past eight years and I have no desire to pick up a cigarette ever again. If you're interested in kicking your smoking habit, check out 10 Surefire Ways to Quit Smoking in 2014.
In the past, meditation was regarded as being an off-beat new-agey practice used by hippies, yogis, gurus and cult members. But it's pretty mainstream now and it has been studied extensively. Even the CDC recommends using meditation to decrease stress and to prevent chronic disease. It has even been known to prevent colds, the flu and loneliness. Check out how this mom of two started meditating and the impact it's had on her life. It really doesn't matter how you meditate or when you meditate. It's just important to try and take some time each day to sit with your eyes closed and follow your breath quietly. If you find that you need a little more guidance, try one of these guided meditations. Keep reading...
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