There is new research coming out all the time on what makes for a healthy life, as well as more information on what constitutes a wellness lifestyle. Here are five ideas that you can implement today that will make a difference in your overall health and happiness. Experiment by trying one a day for the next five days and notice the difference it makes for you. I guarantee that incorporating even one of these will benefit you – your energy, wellbeing and mood!
1. Get outside. We all know that regular exercise can help you live longer, look better and have more energy. It will help you manage your weight, increase your stamina, and keep you happier and smarter. It will lower your risk of disease, keep you strong and help you sleep better. A growing body of research also shows that outdoor activity can benefit you both physically and psychologically. Studies show that working out in nature — removed from the typical stressors of daily life — boosts mood and lowers tension, anxiety and stress levels. Spring is here, so take advantage of the change in weather – take your workouts outside to enjoy these benefits.
2. Meditate. Science is zeroing in on what eastern philosophies such as yoga have known for centuries – meditation can provide physical and biological benefits that can stave off stress and disease. Stress-induced conditions such as hypertension, infertility, depression, anxiety, even the aging process – all can benefit. Far from being a mysterious or esoteric practice, the kinds of things that occur during meditation produce beneficial effects throughout the body, not just in the brain. Even a short period of meditation combined with breathing techniques can be beneficial. There are lots of good basic books on beginning a meditation practice, as well as introductory classes in most communities. It can help you to be happier and healthier. Why not give it a go?
3. Eat clean. This isn’t about a diet; it’s about how you eat. What does eating clean mean? For starters, it’s about eating food in its most natural state, or as close to it as one can. Think fresh or steamed vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains. If your budget allows, choose organic when possible. It’s also about avoiding processed and refined foods such as white flour, sugar, and breads. Anything high in saturated and trans fats, anything fried, high in sugar, or highly processed is not a clean food. Lots of water. Easy-peasy.
4. Sleep. In today’s fast-paced world, getting a good night’s sleep sometimes falls by the wayside in favor of keeping up with all the to-do’s on our list. Yet, getting a good night’s sleep is critical to health and well-being. Lack of sleep can impact our metabolism function, in turn contributing to weight gain, as well as our immune systems, mood, memory, learning, and other vital functions. Studies show that getting inadequate sleep puts us at greater risk for a variety of diseases and health problems. We usually know what we need to feel at our best – the recommended range is 7 to 9 hours per night, and can vary from one person to the next. The bottom line – sleep matters and needs to be as much of a priority as nutrition and exercise if we want to function at our best.
5. Connect. Studies show that people with a healthy social community have nearly a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival than people without. Having a healthy community of support in family, friends and peers helps foster a sense of belonging, helps in coping with stress, increases your sense of self-worth, and an increased feeling of security. One of my favorite quotes is by the late Chris Peterson, a renowned psychologist and leader in the positive psychology movement: “Other people matter. Period.”
One of the really good things about getting older is the wisdom that often comes only through experience. We go through different stages in life, and what seemed sooooo important at one stage can be almost inconsequential at another. Case in point: I had my son when I was 38, so as he was growing I often found myself at events or play dates with other mothers who were ten or more years younger. I remember some of them often longing for a night out – maybe dinner and the theater, or a weekend away, a little adventure or excitement away from the never-ending responsibility of a little one. Perfectly understandable, too – everyone needs to have to relax and have some fun, and there are not a lot of breaks with small children. That’s when I realized, though, that as an “older” parent, I was in a very different place. I love a nice evening out (still do!), love to travel, love to have a good time – but for me having fun meant watching my son slowly wake up from his nap and hold his arms out for me, with that beautiful smile. Or watching The Lion King for the 8th time. (I still can recite some of the lines from memory.) What I learned at that time was that my idea of fun had changed, rather dramatically. I also learned to pay attention to my inner wisdom that told me there was nowhere more important for me to be. Occasionally I had others (well-intentioned, for sure) remind me that I “needed to get away” or that “time out with the girls” was imperative if I was to keep my sanity. Most of the time, I would get away or take time off only to find myself impatient to get back to my little guy, who I missed more than the world if I was away from him for more than a couple hours! My husband, fortunately, was somewhat like-minded. We had both had our share of nights out on the town, travel, etc., and knew we would have them again. This time felt precious, and so Matthew became very portable and most times came with us, because that’s the way we liked it. On the occasional nights when we would get a sitter and go to dinner, we found ourselves ready to come home right after coffee, and be a threesome again. I learned some things about myself and my values during this time, and here are a few of them:
- Listen to your inner compass. We all have a guide within that will direct us to what is right for us at any given time. No one else really knows what is best for you, however well-intentioned they may be.
- Don’t miss the special moments. They pass so quickly. The thing I heard the most from wistful strangers who would stop to smile at my child in the park or grocery store was this: Enjoy this time. It goes so quickly. I am grateful every day that I paid attention to those words. Don’t get me wrong – I had my moments when the thought of playing Thomas the Tank Engine one more time was not a happiness for me. But then, one day, he no longer wanted to play Thomas the Tank Engine, and that time had passed forever. Now I’m so glad I was there.
- Nothing is more important than the people you love and who love you. Everything else is secondary. (This is self-explanatory.)
- Have your own life. Being a wife and mother has been and still is a top priority for me. I also know that it’s important for me to be my own person beyond those roles, and I have worked hard to do that. I value my close friendships, my interests, my work, and my physical and spiritual health, and I make time for these things. They are all components of who I am, and add depth and richness to my life. Having a rich life feels joyous to me, and I bring that joy back to my relationships. In the end, we are multi-dimensional creatures, and no one role is going to complete us always and forever.
I’ve written about the concept of being a lifelong learner in the past. I think it applies as much to one’s personal and emotional/spiritual growth as anything, maybe more. On that path, I’ve always find that paying attention to my inner compass never fails me. Call it your inner voice, intuition, your gut – what have you – but call upon it. It’s an available inner resource that can help you live richly.
Coach’s action step: Undecided about a decision or course of action this week? Take the time to get quiet within, and access your inner wisdom. What feels right to you, what is your gut feeling? Pay attention to the direction that is there for you.
One of my favorite vacations ever was a bicycle trip through the state of Vermont some years back. I spent 5 days biking from one quaint village town to another, enjoying the peaceful Vermont countryside and picnic lunches along the way. Each night was spent at a different bed-and-breakfast, charming and antique-filled, with wonderfully prepared meals and time to relax on the porch or explore after dinner. A beautiful state and great memories. I also recall being struck by the vitality of the people I met there, so it was no surprise when I read that a recent Gallup poll ranked Vermont first in two areas of major importance to optimal health: diet and exercise.
I’m a big believer in keeping things as simple as possible, so here are a couple simple ways to incorporate healthier habits into your life today, courtesy of the state of Vermont.
• Go for shorter workouts. The majority of adults in the state of Vermont report exercising three or more days a week for at least 30 minutes. (Hawaii and Montana placed second and third.) Physical activity and the outdoors is a way of life in this state, and Vermonters spend lots of time being active at both work and play.
Even a few short exercise sessions a week boosts metabolism, improves heart health, and helps you stay strong. Exercise sessions can be broken up throughout the day, as long as each session lasts at least 10 minutes. (Research shows that exercising in ten-minute increments at a moderate intensity can be just as effective as exercising for 30 minutes straight.) Walking or biking to and from work, to lunch or class, or after dinner all count. Shorter workouts also have the advantage of being easier to add into your day. You may not have time on a Tuesday for an hour at the gym, but you can likely find 20 minutes for a brisk walk or jog. Doing something is always better than doing nothing and it all adds up.
• Eat your vegetables. The Gallup poll also found that residents of Vermont consume the most produce on a regular basis. Over 67% of Vermonters stated that they ate at least five servings of vegetables four or more days per week. (Montana was second, and Washington state third.) Fresh and cooked vegetables add key nutrients and fiber, and vegetables overall are generally lower in calories. It’s probably no coincidence that Vermont also ranked in the lower one-third in state obesity rankings.
A salad with protein for lunch, or a side salad at dinner with an extra serving of steamed or grilled vegetables is an easy way to get your servings in. There are also lots of delicious vegetarian main dishes and soups on menus these days.
These healthful practices are easily incorporated into anyone’s life, and will help you live better, stronger and longer – no matter what state you’re in.
As I’m writing this, it’s a sunny winter day and right around 50 degrees outside my window. A couple of weeks ago, though, it was -25 degrees one morning! Welcome to winter in Colorado. The state of Colorado has a bit of a reputation for extremes – extreme sports, extreme mountains, extreme beauty, and extreme weather, with good reason. During the course of a day hiking in the mountains, I have experienced warm sunshine, rain, hail and, by the time we got to the top, snow!
Winter has hit hard for a lot of us this year. One thing I hear a lot from clients is their difficulty keeping up with their exercise routines in the winter, particularly if they are used to working out outdoors. It can also be hard to get back into a routine when warm weather hits, once you’ve gotten out of the habit. I’m not crazy about going out for a run in sub-zero weather myself, and there are actually lots of options for colder weather workouts. Here are a few:
• After one particularly harrowing morning when, dressed in approximately 5 layers of clothing and a face mask, I slipped and slid down the street trying to run, the light bulb went on for me. I had contemplated the idea of getting a treadmill for those days when it was feeling too dicey to get out but this was the day the decision was made. I wasn’t having any fun, jogging was a challenge, and probably dangerous to boot. By the next week, I was the proud owner of a brand-new treadmill and enjoying my workouts overlooking the snowy scene before me in the comfort of my nice (warm!) basement. I’ve had one ever since, and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made.
If running or walking isn’t your thing, that’s ok. There’s a wide variety of aerobic exercise equipment available these days, at a range of price points. Try checking out an elliptical machine, a recumbent bicycle, or even a rowing machine. All of these offer an excellent cardio workout. Some companies even offer these types of equipment for lease with an option to purchase.
• Gyms and recreation centers offer a variety of cardio equipment. You can set up a seasonal membership and head back outside when it warms up.
• There are all sorts of fitness and aerobic workout classes out there these days. Classes are often included in a gym membership or offered at a nominal charge. There are also fitness centers and studios that offer classes. Try spin, Zumba, barre, or cardio kickboxing, to name just a few possibilities.
• If time or weather is an issue, workout DVD’s are another great option, and you can also find online fitness classes. There is something for everyone, at any fitness level, with any fitness goal. Try yoga, Pilates, circuit training, dance – the list is endless.
By now, you’re starting to get my point. There’s really no reason (excuse?) for you to get off track with your workout schedule during the winter months. (I didn’t even begin to go into outdoor options such as cross-county skiing or snowshoeing. Keyword – layers!) Staying fit and healthy is too important for every aspect of your life not to keep it up all year long.
Coach’s action step: We still have some winter to go and exercise, with its mood-boosting and stress-reducing components, is a great way to shake the February doldrums. Try one of the suggestions here, or create something of your own. Just keep at it. By the time spring comes, you won’t have to play catchup.
Love is the theme of Valentine’s Day so let’s talk about it here today. And not just romantic love – wonderful as that is – but love as a basis for our relationships with those we care about and for how we live our lives. Let’s face it – is there any topic more popular? We all grow up with our varied notions of love: what it means, what it looks like, what the latest songs have to say about it. By the time we’re adults, we are usually pretty fixed in our views of what love is, and what it isn’t.
In her recent, groundbreaking book, Love 2.0,: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., approaches love from a more global vantage point – the vantage point of how this positive emotion can and does affect more than just our closer relationships. According to Dr. Fredrickson, love is a renewable resource that affects our health and sense of well-being and connectedness to the world around us and to ourselves. She’s spent years studying the effect of positive emotions and the emotion of love as director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After years of study on the topic, Dr. Fredrickson has concluded that this healthy emotion literally affects our very biology and health in ways previously unsuspected. She states: “The love you do or do not experience today may quite literally change key aspects of your cellular architecture next season and next year – cells that affect your physical health, your vitality, and your overall wellbeing.” Having loving connections in our lives literally makes us healthier.
Some of her other findings include:
- Feelings of love can blossom virtually at any time between people when they reflect and connect over a shared positive emotion. Dr. Fredrickson’s term for this is “positivity resonance.” Simply put, love is connection.
- Love builds resources. It can make us more effective and productive, and more resilient. It makes us wiser and more attuned to others. It nourishes our bodies and builds stronger immune systems.
- Because love is a positive emotion, it broadens our awareness which can lead to an increase in problem-solving capabilities and creativity.
- Opportunities for loving connections are everywhere – at home, at work, and in your community. These micro-moments of connection, as Fredrickson refers to them, can be intentionally created and cultivated in such ways as being open, freely offering attention and interest, sharing thoughts and feelings, and staying present as the other person shares theirs.
- In a larger sense, these micro-moments of love, of connection benefit both the giver and the recipient. This back-and-forth helps not only the individuals involved but also, over time, can help establish and strengthen healthy communities and cultures.
So what’s the take-away for you? In Fredrickson’s view, love is the supreme emotion and “perhaps the most essential emotional experience for thriving and health.” Love “influences everything we feel, think, do, and become.” Connect with others. Care about them. Stay in touch. Pay a compliment. Smile, make eye contact. Be open to everyday opportunities with those around you. Share your stories and be present to others sharing theirs. Barbara Fredrickson believes you have everything to gain.
Coach’s action step: At least three times this week, seek out chances to connect with others in a spirit of warmth, caring and respect. Notice and reflect on how these interchanges impact you. If you find yourself feeling a bit more uplifted, more positive, you may want to do this more often.
It seems I hear the same thing over and over from clients, friends and acquaintances – there seems to be so much to do, so many tasks and responsibilities vying for our attention – and never enough time! Can you spell O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M?
For lots of us, managing competing priorities and responsibilities, distractions and the like – seems to take up a fair amount of our day. And checking in on Facebook? Don’t even think about it – you may never be heard from again! So much to see, hear, absorb, and do! And just when you are about to get to that project that has been sitting on the floor beside your computer, there’s this really interesting headline that grabs your attention…….
It all points to something I’ve heard called “Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.” And it can take up a lot of time and space in your day, and prevent you from ever getting to what is truly important. Unless you have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is an entirely different matter, Bright Shiny Object Syndrome is more a matter of setting priorities, managing distractions and focusing on follow through. And, let’s face it, everyday life presents ongoing opportunities for distractions these days – probably more than ever. With cell phones and smart phones, the internet, social media, texts, Skype, regular old TV, you-name-it – the possibilities are endless. This can leave us feeling frazzled, scrambling to get everything done, and feeling guilty because we didn’t. And then – guess what – more overwhelm. Is there any hope in today’s fast paced era of instant communication and entertainment?
Here are a few strategies, most of which I have used myself. They absolutely work, when you work them.
- If you’re the type that likes to get up and work out first thing in the morning, make sure it’s the first thing! Checking email, texts, internet news or any social media is not your friend. You will be drawn into the vortex of your curious and distractible mind and may not be heard from again for hours. There goes the workout.
- Set a timer. Yes, a simple kitchen – or any timer – will do. If you have a report to complete, or a project to finish, set a timer for 45 minutes and go to it. (There has been research that suggests 45 minutes is the optimal human limit for concentrating on a given task.) Do not let anything – I mean anything (unless your hair catches fire) – take you away from your task. You will be amazed at what you can do with 45 minutes of clear, focused time. You may find yourself actually completing your task in one sitting – how cool is that?
- Consciously practice mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment (hard) and accepting it without judgment (harder.) The good news is that it gets easier the more you do it, and one big benefit is that you will be more fully engaged in the activities you do pursue. Long thought to be a way to enhance productivity and efficiency, newer research on multi-tasking demonstrates that we reduce our effectiveness and enjoyment of tasks by multi-tasking. We’re not fully present for anything and something will suffer as a result. Ever tried to watch a TV show and engage in a meaningful conversation with your child or spouse? Isn’t going to happen.
- Emails and junk e-mails can be an enormous time waster. Unsubscribe to those you no longer find value in, or that have somehow simply “appeared” in your inbox. Some people swear by setting a time limit for checking and answering email – say 30 minutes in the morning and 15 at night. After the time is up, move on.
The bottom line here is to be aware – aware of your tendencies towards distraction and to take steps towards managing them. An aside – sometimes distractions are our mind’s tricky little way of practicing avoidance or procrastination. Could this be you? If that’s a possibility, it doesn’t call for much more than recognition and getting honest with yourself. Then take steps to get on with it. A side benefit, I have found, is that life starts to feel a bit easier, simpler, and we gain found time – to do those things we find the most meaningful.
Coach’s action step: This week, pay attention to your tendencies – do you get hooked by Bright Shiny Objects? Choose one of the above ideas, or create one of your own, and see how it works for you.