A life of health and wellness is built on a foundation of good exercise habits and proper nutrition. But even when diet and exercise are locked in, there are other factors that might be adversely affecting your health. Here are 3 common problems that tend to creep up, and some simple solutions for each.
Problem #1: Lack of sleep
Inadequate sleep is probably the most overriding factor in chronically poor health. Even when your diet is good, you’re exercising consistently, and you’re practicing other positive health habits, lack of sleep can tear it all down to the ground.
Not only does lack of sleep negatively impact energy levels, mood, and mental sharpness, but a chronic pattern of too little sleep will elevate your cortisol levels, putting you into a constant state of stress. Elevated cortisol is also a prevailing factor in weight gain and body fat retention.
Clear Your Mind Before Bed
Nothing will wreck sleep like a cluttered mind. One of the easiest fixes for a preoccupied mind is to write things down. Keep a notebook by your bed and write down any thoughts, ideas, lists, problems, or anything else that might occupy your mind while you’re trying to fall asleep. Don’t worry about trying to fix anything at this point, just get it down on paper so that you can let it go and take comfort in the fact that it will be there to attend to in the morning. Not only will this help you sleep, but I’m betting it will increase your productivity as well.
Optimize Your Sleep Environment
By “environment” I mean bedroom. Sleep should not happen on a couch. Or a recliner.
Your bedroom should be as dark as possible. Consider getting blackout curtains for your windows or using a sleep mask to cover your eyes. Or both. Unplug any electronics with ambient lighting (especially annoying flashing lights) or cover the lights with electrical tape.
Set your thermostat to drop a few degrees just before bedtime. Your body temperature decreases slightly in preparation for sleep, so keeping your bedroom a bit cooler can really improve your quality of sleep. Somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees is thought to be ideal for most.
Curtail the Caffeine
If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, try eliminating caffeine after lunch. Even if you don’t consider yourself extremely sensitive to caffeine, it might be causing a subtle reaction that’s having more of an impact than you realize. If you like a warm cup of tea to relax you at night, there are plenty of caffeine free herbal varieties that will get the job done.
Kick the Blues
Light is made up of a spectrum of different colored wavelengths. Blue light is particularly harmful to your sleep because it suppresses melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone whose release is triggered by dim light onset at night and is believed to play a crucial role in a good night’s sleep.
Blue light is emitted from a variety of sources, but the most prevalent culprits are the screens that we find ourselves constantly staring at – computers, tablets, smart phones, and televisions. Do your best to avoid screen exposure a couple hours leading up to bedtime. Short of abstaining from use, you can install apps that filter blue light from your devices, giving your screen a reddish hue. You can either kick your device into night mode, or some apps will read your location and fade your screen to red at sundown. I like f.lux for my laptop and Twilight for my Android.
Problem #2: Insufficient Movement
What’s worse than sitting all day? Sitting all night, too. Many of us do just that. Drive to work, sit all day, drive back home, relax on the couch for the night. And then do it all over again the next day.
There are obvious negative consequences to excessive sitting, such as weight gain, stiff joints, tight muscles, and weak bones. Not to mention a sore butt!
But besides incurring the downsides of a sedentary life, you are by default missing out on all the benefits of physical activity. We all know how important nutrition is to a healthy life. But recent studies show that exercise, and movement in general, signals your body’s cells how to optimally use the nutrients you ingest.
Find More Movement in Your Day
I’m willing to bet there are opportunities to move during a typical day that you are missing out on, as I wrote about in this post. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Take a stroll outside on your lunch break. Take your dog for an extra walk.
All these little bouts of movement add up and can go a long way toward building a healthier, more fit body. Best of all, they take very little additional effort.
Commit to Resistance Exercise
I adjust lots of runners. Of those that count running as their only form of exercise, almost every one of them has poor muscle tone relative to the amount of exercise they put in. While working more movement into your day is essential, the type of movement you engage in is critical to your long-term health.
Schedule at least 3 days per week of resistance exercise, even if you just start with your own bodyweight. Strength training builds healthy muscles, joints, and connective tissue. It also accelerates fat burning. And perhaps most importantly, it just makes life easier. If you don’t have weights or a gym membership, resistance bands are versatile, portable, and inexpensive option.
Take a Stand
If you work at a desk or computer all day, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to stand frequently. Consider investing in a standing desk or an adjustable desktop model like this one. Remember, we’re aiming for movement, so standing in one position all day isn’t necessarily the goal either. Ideally, you’ll want to alternate between sitting and standing. You might want to set a reminder to shift positions every 20-30 minutes. Convertible desks like this one make switching between sitting and standing a breeze.
Other options you might want to consider are sitting on a physio ball while you work, using a treadmill desk, or even working from a squatting position. A tall plyo box serves as a great squatting platform while doing computer work.
Problem #3: Your Bad Attitude
You’re exercising, you’ve cleaned up your diet, and you’re getting plenty of sleep. Yet you’re still struggling with your health. It’s time to look beyond your physical habits.
Your mental outlook and emotional state have a bigger impact on your health and well-being than you might realize. Pervasive, insidious stress seems to find a way to creep into your life and derail your health.
We are bombarded with stimuli from every angle. Realize it or not, there comes a point where we all suffer from emotional overload. You might not feel frazzled or stressed in the classic sense, but if your nervous system never gets a break you will constantly be living in a state of high alert.
Make time every day to simply get quiet. Even if it’s just 10 minutes. Try to get clear of any stimuli or potential interruptions. Pray or meditate. Visualize your perfect day or your ideal life. Or just take in the silence and try to turn your mind off. Doing so deactivates your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and engages your parasympathetic nerves (rest and relax), allowing your body to reset and recharge.
What’s one of the quickest ways to destress? Get outside in nature. Go for a hike in the woods, or just find a seat on a log or a rock. Listen to nature’s sounds and get lost in the moment.
The Japanese have been practicing “forest bathing”, cleansing yourself among the trees, for decades. This involves nothing more than getting deep within the woods and relaxing. The goal is simply to settle yourself and be calm. There is no concern with tracking steps or logging your distance. Science has proven the practice to be effective in lowering heart rate and blood pressure, boosting the immune system, and increasing feelings of positivity.
In addition, getting outside exposes you to fresh air and vitamin D, which can also enhance your mood.
Think Healthy Thoughts
You know those times when everybody around you is ill, and you’re convinced that you’re the next to get sick? Guess what. You’re the next to get sick.
You’ve heard all the quotes and clichés. You become what you focus on most. You are the sum total of your thoughts. Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.
Your thoughts have power. Get into the habit of creating thoughts of health and wellness. Envision activity and vibrancy well into your later years. Putting your health at the forefront of your mind makes it a priority that you are more likely to act on.
Gratitude just makes you feel good. Thankfulness gives you a sense of peace, along with a number of other health benefits, as outlined in this Time article.
You can either complain about all of your problems, or you can be thankful for all of your blessings. Perfection doesn’t exist, so stop measuring yourself against it. You neighbors aren’t as well off as they’d like you to believe, so stop comparing yourself to them. Live life the best way you know how, and be grateful for even the smallest wins.
Sometimes being your healthiest means filling in the cracks between the obvious habits of diet and exercise. Take a good look at your sleep pattern, your general movement, and your emotional outlook. Cleaning up anything that might be out of skew in these areas can result in significant improvement in your quality of life.
Be Your Best,