It’s that time of the year again when you look back on the year gone by and excitedly anticipate better things during the coming year. The last two years have not been good ones for many of us, having lost family members or friends to COVID-19 and other health-related issues. And while the reality of COVID-19 still lurks around, making us apprehensive about the coming year, there are steps that we could begin taking to develop robust health and prepare us to successfully fight such eventualities.
Too often, we are caught up in meeting our personal and professional goals, caring for family and looking after a sick elderly. So looking after ourselves always takes a backseat. Consider this—you can give your best to your loved ones only if you feel your best. Your well-being directly impacts the life of people around you. So this year, let your new year resolution be all about SELF-LOVE and SELF-CARE. If you are healthy and happy, you will bring happiness to those around you.
My primary goal has been to encourage people to take up a healthy diet, but we all know that food is just one of the four pillars to achieving good health. Equally important are other lifestyle changes such as exercise, de-stressing and sleeping well. So, through this post (a fifteen minute read), I will help you understand how a balanced, holistic approach can help you achieve your health goals. Take one informed step at a time and you will begin enjoying good health and energy levels.
Studies show that Indians have a three times higher risk of developing coronary artery disease than Caucasians, with risk amounting to 11% in non-diabetics and an alarming 21% in diabetics. Oddly enough, the non-diabetics are equally high in number, but are under-reported as a majority of them fall in the pre-diabetic category, with increased risk to the disease.
Does this mean that we cannot change these numbers? Of course, we can. With diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, coronary artery disease, obesity, hormonal disorders, and neurological disorders setting in at a much younger age, there is a need for each one of us to embrace health-enhancing lifestyle changes—that we could pass down to our children, and they to their own. If each member of your family upholds self-love and self-care, there would be a tremendous shift in the health spending of each individual, thereby significantly contributing to national health spending.
We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones, to be healthier and happier. To achieve this, we need to focus on:
- Educating ourselves on how we can take care of our health and ensure that we are free of debilitating lifestyle diseases and conditions.
- Reversing a medical condition and begin leading a liberated and complete life.
- Not sinking into depression due to a prevailing condition, but taking proactive steps to find the underlying problem and getting it reversed or treated conservatively.
- Looking for a doctor, who will not just manage your health condition, but guide you in reversing it.
Here are a list of lifestyle changes you need to make to enhance your health and cut down the risk of coronary artery disease:
- Taking care of your gut
Your gut is your life-line, and you need to take care of it every day. It is the conduit, which supplies nutrition and helps our body function at peak levels, rejuvenate, replace and repair tissues, provide immunity and vigour. Helping our body to digest and metabolise the food we eat are trillions of microbes that live in our gut. These bacteria consume the food we eat and produce beneficial metabolic byproducts that are then readily absorbed by our body. So we share a symbiotic relationship with our gut bacteria.
Any disruption in this gut microbiome results in digestive disorders and weakness in an individual. For instance, antibiotic treatments leave a person weak as the microbiome gets destroyed and the person is not able to gain nutrition from the food that is being consumed.
To enjoy the benefits of a healthy microbiome, we need to feed on food that is natural and organic. This is recognised by the gut microbiome and is easily assimilated by our body. The bacteria thrive on the fibre in our food. Therefore it is important to consume foods having high fibre content such as that present in a plant based, whole food diet, as opposed to a diet that is devoid of fibre—as seen in processed foods.
Our gut microbiome changes based on our diet. There are certain foods that help us develop a healthy gut microbiome, while there are foods that can destroy a healthy gut microbiome and in its place allow unhealthy microbes to thrive and multiply. These microbes produce metabolic byproducts that could produce inflammatory responses at the cellular level. For instance, a bowl of leafy green and raw vegetable salad along with your cooked food will help in better assimilation of nutrients. Processed foods such hamburgers and pizzas that are low in fibre and high in sugar, refined flour and unhealthy fats promote the build-up of bacteria producing unhealthy metabolic products such as acid and gas. This is how the environment in our body becomes acidic. Such an environment gives rise to diseases such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, hormonal and neurological disorders, and even cancer. Research has proven that people afflicted with cancer do not have a healthy gut microbiome.
To get your gut microbiome in peak condition, you need to start your day with two glasses of warm water. After half an hour, you can have a fruit or a green vegetable smoothie. Watch this video to understand the benefits of the green smoothie as advocated by Dr. Pramod Tripathi of Freedom from Diabetes. The green smoothie is a fibre -rich prebiotic drink that helps nurture healthy gut bacteria. Avoid starting your day with tea and coffee, which increase acidity in the body. After two hours, you can have your meal, which should comprise of cooked vegetables, lentils or sprouts, whole-wheat bread or chapatti and a raw vegetable salad in equal proportions.
- Eating healthy
The process of eating healthy does not begin at the dining table, but with your visit to the supermarket to shop for your grocery. What you choose to fill your shopping cart with will largely determine your health and fitness levels. So what should your basket ideally contain? Apart from organically grown fresh fruit and vegetables, you need to pick up whole foods such as lentils, nuts, seeds and cold-pressed vegetable oils such as sesame oil, olive oil, coconut oil as well as pure spice mixes.
While a good diet is key to good health, you need to also cut down on the number of meals you eat. There needs to be a gap of at least 14-16 hours from night to morning before you eat. This helps in keeping your system healthy and reduces insulin resistance. Limit yourself to two wholesome low carbohydrate meals in a day with a healthy snack of nuts and seeds in between. If you are below 25 years of age, suffering from an illness or elderly with a diminished appetite, then you can have three meals a day to fulfil your nutritional requirements.
- Eliminating processed and unhealthy foods
Avoid processed foods such as bread, white flour, sugar, dairy products, breakfast cereal, protein drinks, fruit juices, jams, preserves, bakery products, white rice, sauces, pickles, chutneys. These foods contain high levels of sugar, unhealthy trans-fats, artificial colouring, preservatives, emulsifiers and other unhealthy additives that will affect your gut microbiome adversely and give rise to diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, inflammatory and hormonal disorders as well as cancer.
Avoid grain-fed poultry and meat as the seeds used as feed are high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Consuming this meat causes inflammation and hormonal imbalance. Instead choose grass-fed poultry and meat, which are comparatively healthier. But you need to be sure about their authenticity.
- Taking supplements
This is a big one, but overly neglected by a vast majority of the population. While eating a wholesome balanced diet is required to keep you in good health, you cannot fulfil your nutritional requirements through food alone. For peak functioning of our body, we require a daily recommended dose of vitamins and other essential nutrients that cannot be obtained from food alone. These nutrients in our food are available in small quantities and therefore there is a shortfall in meeting the daily requirement. Secondly, the bioavailability of these micronutrients may vary since they may not be readily absorbed by our body, thereby leading to deficiency. To make up for this shortfall, you need to take supplements such as multi-vitamins and other essential micronutrients such as folate, zinc, iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and others.
To check on the levels of these essential nutrients or to find if you are deficient in meeting these requirements, you need to get some tests done. Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and others play a vital role in our body’s functioning. 1 out of 10 people world-wide are deficient in Vitamin B12. It may come as a surprise, but a large portion of the Indian subcontinent, is deficient in Vitamin B12, predominantly due to a vegetarian diet and due to excessive hygiene and sanitation practices. There is also a strong incidence of people with cancers being deficient in Vitamin B12.
Vitamin D3 deficiency, which is seen in 80% of the population, directly impacts immunity and bone health. It is also on the rise, mostly due to poor sun exposure and also due to more people choosing to go vegan. It affects sleep quality and reduces sleep duration too. Vitamin D3 deficiency is also linked to body aches and pains, as well as leads to certain types of cancers. This deficiency is more predominant in the elderly population. Therefore regular testing and supplementation will help meet the required daily dietary recommendation.
Always consult your doctor and take the prescribed supplements for the prescribed period. Testing your vitamin and other micronutrient levels every 6 months will help you determine whether you are meeting your optimal requirement. So begin taking your supplements advised by your doctor, and you will find yourself enjoying better bone, vascular, nerve and brain health. You will find yourself more alert, energetic and active, as also enjoying better sleep, which is important for your overall wellness.
- Exercising regularly
I cannot stress enough on this. Make exercise a part of your daily regimen. Make it a point to spare a few minutes, at least five days a week, to work out either in the form of yoga, walking, aerobics, zumba, weight training, staircase climbing, spinning or jogging, or a combination of 2-3 activities. The majority of us are so caught up with our work and responsibilities at home that exercise is the last thing on our mind. But it is important to make time for a workout routine of at least ten minutes and choose your preferred activity. I will guarantee you that you will begin enjoying it and will look forward to your workout routine. Gradually, you will find yourself increasing your workout time as it makes you feel good.
There are six reasons why you should consider exercising. The first one is that it would increase blood circulation in your body, thereby helping your organs function more efficiently. Second, you will begin losing fat and gaining lean muscle, which will help in making you agile. You will notice your motor movements, coordination and strength improving significantly. The third advantage of exercise is that it will increase the levels of nitric oxide in your blood vessels. This dilates the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. Apart from this, your skin will develop a healthy glow due to better blood circulation and rejuvenation. Most important of all, the endorphins that are produced in the brain after exercising will make you feel good and buoyant. It will also relieve you of stress and anxiety, thereby bringing a manifold benefit to your health.
Consult your doctor before taking up any form of exercise so that you are clear of risks to your overall well-being. Practice caution and test your comfort levels. Slow down and rest if it makes you breathless. Do not exercise excessively as this can be detrimental. Avoid injuries by taking all precautions such as a brief warm-up and cool-down routine. Do not go beyond your physical capabilities, especially if you are elderly. Listen to your body if it hurts. Give it adequate rest and recovery before resuming your exercise. Gradually, you will build your muscle strength and stamina for a longer workout routine. Thereafter, you will begin looking forward to your workout routine and will not like to miss out on it.
- Sleeping well
Sleeplessness is afflicting millions of people around the world. This has a direct bearing on our health. We need at least seven hours of sleep every night to enjoy good health. With our professional and personal commitments, stress and the extensive exposure to light emitted by electronic gadgets, the neurotransmitters in our body, such as serotonin and dopamine, get affected. Serotonin promotes sleep or wakefulness depending on the light stimuli, while dopamine is associated with wakefulness.
The pineal gland in the brain has receptors for both serotonin and dopamine. It interprets light and darkness signals received from the eyes and regulates the production of serotonin or dopamine, depending on the stimulus it receives. These chemical messengers then translate the signals to produce melatonin, which induces sleep. Therefore shutting down your gadgets at a decent hour and dimming the lights around your sleep time will help you sleep better.
Sleep is also the time when the body rests, repairs and recovers, which is why lack of adequate sleep is linked to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease. When we sleep, our body is in a calm state and therefore the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, aiding in processes such as respiration, digestion, assimilation, excretion and others.
Stress has become a constant in our lives. As mentioned above, this means our sympathetic system, which elicits a ‘fight or flight’ response, directly affects our heart rate, and is working overtime instead of a once-in-a-while occasion. This affects our other body functions that are coordinated by the parasympathetic nervous system, since at any given time, only one system dominates based on the external stimulus that our body receives.
Being wakeful, alert and stressed out affect these processes as the sympathetic system takes over, switching the body to a ‘fight or flight’ response. This increases our cortisol levels, which helps in countering stress, but also increases appetite and subsequent fat storage̶— which has led to a rise in obesity in the population. So if you are having a reasonably healthy diet and exercise regularly, you will still feel stressed out and fatigued as well as gain weight if you do not get a good night’s sleep. Make a conscious decision to wean away from gadgets at a decent hour so that you get a good night’s sleep and aid in rest, recovery and rejuvenation of your body.
To ensure that both these systems work to our advantage, we need to deal effectively with stress by taking time to exercise, meditate and practice breathing techniques that can calm us down. Getting a good night’s sleep will enable us to handle stress better. So practice these techniques by incorporating them into your daily routine. You could just spend two to five minutes a couple of times a day to relieve stress or you could meditate every morning to give a good start to your day. There’s nothing better than soaking up the sun’s rays in the morning while meditating or doing your breathing exercises.
Include these seven simple steps into your lifestyle and you will find a new, energetic, active and positive individual emerging. Self-love and self-care need to be a part of your daily regimen for your holistic development. Do not shy away from it. For too long, we have been in denial, putting others before ourselves, neglecting our health and well-being. To be the best version of ourselves, we need to feel good about ourselves and we can only achieve this through self-love and self-care. So make this your mantra for continued good health and you will find that you are in a better position to love and care for your family and to put your best foot forward to achieve your personal and professional goals.
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