In our last blog we explored the idea that four keys areas bring health and a sense of well being to our lives: nutrition, exercise, emotional stability and spiritual nurturing. Just as four equally balanced legs on a stool provide a sturdy foundation for sitting, these four areas are key to the foundation of our well being throughout our lives. We must be so convinced in our own minds of the benefits of each area that we are willing to act on those beliefs. Each area requires our intentionality, our focus, our creativity and our commitment. Lets take a look at a few ways to help make changes a little easier.
Proper nutrition evades most Americans. We develop habits of drive thru lines on our way to our kid's next soccer game or vending machine snacks at our workplace. Unfortunately, our food supply has been contaminated with pesticides in our produce and grains, hormones and antibiotics in our meats, and mercury in our fish. These easy options will not be easy on our bodies long-term. Eating healthy food takes time and effort to plan and execute. How do we work that into our schedule? Here are a few tips to help you get started.
First, develop a list of healthy foods in each of these categories. You’ll need a list of vegetables and fruits, proteins (plant and animal), and healthy fats in the form of seeds, nuts, and oils. You can find detailed lists with a simple online search. A well-developed list will simplify from which areas of the grocery store you shop, saving you time and streamlining your thoughts about what to eat. Buy organic as much as you can and purchase grass fed beef, organic chicken, and wild caught fish.
Secondly, prepare your environment for success. Throw out foods with no nutritional value and foods that are harmful to your body. Be conscious to eliminate as much refined sugar from your diet as possible and avoid processed foods and artificial sweeteners. Fill your refrigerator and pantry with foods that make your body do a happy dance. Aim to eat a rainbow of colors each day--green, red, orange, purple, blue, yellow, etc. so your body will get a variety of nutrients and flavors. If you can’t get them all in each day, strive to eat a colorful rainbow over the course of 2-3 days. A good guideline to remember is the deeper the color, the more nutrient dense the food is.
Many of us are constantly on the go, so keeping a small cooler of fruits and vegetables is a helpful way to avoid impulse snack purchases. Many of these foods can be prepared in advance, making them an easy “grab and go” in your morning rush. Keeping an assortment of seeds, nuts, and dried fruits in your car is great when you need something to curb your appetite. A healthy protein drink or smoothie is also easy to keep on hand. Small containers of organic nut butter with celery sticks make great snacks and travel easily.
Now turn your thoughts toward exercise. Quite possibly, the thought of exercise gets you as excited as a golden retriever puppy running toward his favorite pond. Or maybe you groan at the thought. Perhaps your weakness revolves around physical limitations. For those who don’t get excited about exercising, try reframing your thoughts from what you can’t do to what you can do. Even if you are limited, there is always something you can do. So go one minute longer today or five minutes longer or whatever is a doable increase. Then celebrate. Pat yourself on the back. Tell a supportive friend. Be grateful that you could do it! Start slowly with something you think you will enjoy. If you don’t like exercise, then do it with a friend. Anytime pleasure is added through either the activity or with whom you are doing it, it’s a win. Try exercising just twice a week. As those joints loosen up and you adjust to a new routine, add in a third day. Drop in small doses of exercise periodically. Run the stairs several times a day. Park your car at the back of the parking lot so you get in a few extra steps walking into a store. If you enjoy social settings, join a busy gym and meet new friends while walking on the track. Hop on a cruising bicycle and ride down your street once a day. Walk twice to your mailbox before gathering your mail. As you begin to practice this, you will find more ways to incorporate small activities that will add up to big benefits. It all counts and it all benefits your health.
Emotional health is a little more difficult to master since it can be affected so easily by our circumstances. There are some basic practices one can put into place to help with emotional stability.
First we must take time for ourselves. We are all busy, but just as we can’t pour someone a glass of tea from an empty pitcher, we can’t invest in others if our personal tank is empty either. We need to take time to fill up in a way that becomes life-giving (instead of life-taking) for us individually. It can be as simple as a quiet bath or rocking on your favorite porch, journaling, reading a book, getting out into nature, working on a hobby, going to a sporting event, or even taking a few minutes at your desk to close your eyes and deep breathe for five minutes. Your mind will relax and your adrenal glands will thank you.
Secondly, seek out strong, healthy friendships. Look for positive, encouraging people who make you a better person, and then be that same encouragement to them. Find people who share your same interests or hobbies. Join a club. Loneliness can be devastating to your emotional health, but it’s up to you to be proactive in seeking healthy relationships.
Thirdly, set healthy boundaries for all the people in your life. Learn how to keep those boundaries in place and learn how to not overstep the boundaries of others. There is a book simply called Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend that is excellent in helping to define how that can be accomplished.
Fourthly, get enough sleep. Sleep affects your mood, your health, and consequently your relationship with others. If you are having trouble sleeping, make an appointment to get your hormones checked and investigate supplements which can support your body’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Both you and the people around you will be grateful you did!
Fifthly, don’t always trust your emotions. We can easily feel one way, but reality may be something totally different. Objectively ask yourself if what you are feeling truly reflects the truth of a particularly situation. If you are having a hard time sorting out your emotions, seek advice from a trusted friend or a counselor.
Some of you reading this have suffered greatly from serious trauma in your life and struggle to get through each day. Please seek professional, trauma-trained counselors who can help you. Balancing the other areas of nutrition, exercise, and spiritual nurturing will also be of benefit.
Lastly, our spiritual health is an area easily discredited in our society, and yet it is a known fact that prayer and meditation positively impact our health. They both shift our minds into an intentional state of calm rather than fight or flight. Consequently we release that happy hormone known as oxytocin which just gives us an overall good, hopeful feeling leading to a more peaceful life. It is easy to see how prayer and meditation also help to stabilize our emotions.
Understanding that God created our bodies to heal themselves means we’ve got to provide our bodies with the raw materials they need to function correctly. While living a holistic lifestyle demands our attention, our efforts, our time, and our creativity, the benefits are rich. And the best time to start is now.