This article first appeared on Chalkboard Magazine.
Health is multifaceted, it needs to be cared for on many levels for true wellness to occur, and these concepts have been my tried and true method for achieving that in my own life and with my patients. Wishing you health and happiness.
Did you know a lack of community and strong social connection can have a disastrous outcome on your health? You might be surprised to learn that an imbalance in these aspects of life can pose just as much health risk as smoking. We often only focus on eating well and moving our bodies, which are most definitely keys to good health, but they mean nothing if someone feels isolated, disconnected, and lonely. We know that friend-power is more powerful than willpower, and that comes in the form of a supportive and aligned community. Volunteering, joining a class, and prioritizing time with loved ones are all ways you can strengthen your social bonds and support your health in the process. Get involved in things you care about and your community connections will naturally fall into place.
Deepening our connection to ourselves and finding a sense of spirit leads to profound strength and courage, allowing us to better navigate the ups and downs of life. We’ve seen that a positive attitude with enthusiasm for life, emotional vitality, and a sense of purpose can make people more physically resilient and decrease the risk of health issues, like heart attack and stroke. Taking time to check in with yourself everyday, allowing yourself the room to change when necessary, and practicing meditation are all helpful ways to nourish your spirit; these tips have greatly helped me overcome hard times and rediscover happiness.
Making the decision to work with a coach and overcome my emotional barriers has changed my life. The more we push the bad feelings away, the more power they seem to hold over us, and I was guilty of not wanting to recognize my negative emotions. Ignoring these feelings can actually contribute to physical disease, which is one of many reasons it’s important to face your fear of feelings. There are many ways you can foster a more open relationship with your emotions; try practicing deep breathing methods during overwhelming moments, show yourself compassion when times are tough, and don’t be afraid to talk out a difficult feeling with a friend or professional coach. You deserve to feel your best and overcoming emotional conflict is a key part of that process.
From your relationship with yourself, to your children, friends, and romantic partners, each of these holds significance for your short- and long-term health outcomes, starting in childhood and having a cumulative effect throughout life. The quality of our relationships can influence every aspect of our health. I’ve personally dealt with the consequences of broken and half-lived relationships. After working through this, I’ve been able to heal and meet the love of my life. One way you can focus on supporting your relationships is to first realize that as humans we all have an innate desire to connect and be close to others. It’s also important to explore your own feelings, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and work on prioritizing the relationships you want to support. It’s okay to walk away from toxic relationships that aren’t serving you—sometimes moving on is the best way to support our own needs.
What we put into our bodies can impact our mood, our energy, and our physical health. By becoming more mindful and intentional about what we eat, when we eat, and why we eat, we can create balance and harmony, both physically and emotionally. But nutrition can be confusing, even overwhelming at times. There are so many dietary approaches out there—vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, keto—how do we choose which one to follow? That’s actually why I wrote my latest book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, to help debunk the nutritional myths and calm the confusion surrounding what the ideal diet is. My favorite rule of thumb for eating a nutrient-dense diet is to eat a wide variety of colorful plant foods, which ensures you’re getting beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants to support whole-body health. The bulk of your groceries should be organic vegetables and fruits, some grass-fed meats and pastured eggs, healthy fats like coconut and avocado, along with nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. Real foods in their simplest form make the most nourishing fuel for the body.
Body + Movement
We’ve known for quite some time that aerobic exercise benefits cardiovascular health, but we’re now seeing that all types of movement, even slow and mindful practices like yoga and tai chi, additionally benefit our body through decreases in blood pressure, body mass index, and even cholesterol. Science is also showing additional physical benefits from movement, ranging from supporting brain health and cognition to balancing our stress response signals. I always encourage my patients to find an activity that is fun for them and keep an open mind to try new things. It’s also okay to start small—even just a short walk each day can work wonders for your health. For those that have a hard time getting motivated, find a buddy and help each other stay accountable. And remember, longer is not always better. Interval training can work the entire body in short amount of time, which is a great way to fit a shorter workout into a busy schedule and still feel amazing.
Feeling we have a purpose in life and sharing our unique gifts with the world allows us to tap into more joyful living. In fact, research has shown that having a sense of purpose produces longer, happier lives. It’s clear that our internal dialogue is intimately connected to our physical body. When it comes to digging deeper into purpose, there are several questions I’ve found helpful in clarifying my own role in life. A major part of pursuing a sense of purpose is identifying what makes you feel your best. What parts of your schedule do you most look forward to? How can you make more time for these things that light you up, and what is sucking away your energy and happiness and how can you step away from it? Are you keeping an open mind to unexpected opportunities? These are important questions to ask yourself so that you can move forward feeling happier and more fulfilled.
Mindset + Practice
Our mindset and daily practices can be the strongest guiding force to carry us on the journey to better health. Having the intention to eat well or get regular exercise doesn’t make you successful, it’s taking action on those good intentions and making them part of your daily routine that will help you thrive. Your mindset is your collection of attitudes—how you respond to challenges, how your express gratitude, how you manage your time, and how you take care of yourself are just some of the parts of your life that you can assess to get a better understanding of your mindset. Mindset can deeply affect our body’s reactions. In the case of stress, one study found that those with a “stress-is-enhancing” mindset, as opposed to a “stress-is-debilitating” mindset, had fewer psychological stress responses like anxiety, depression, and anger. I’ve found meditation is essential for me to maintain a balanced mindset, and prioritizing this practice in my daily routine keeps me functioning at my highest level. Beneficial practices can come in many forms, just find something that feels good to you and make it a non-negotiable part of your schedule.