While health magazines and other marketing campaigns often make it sound so complicated, the secrets to good health are simple: consume good food, drink water, exercise and reduce stress! We all intuitively know that obtaining great health is not found in a bottle, fad diet or the latest exercise craze. Achieving perfect health is a tricky balancing act, and most of us need help along the way. Most of these tips you've probably heard already, but allow me to lay them out for you all at once.
1. Eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. You´ve heard it so many times and yet it continues to be the number one diet recommendation of all time. It seems so simple and yet how many vegetarians, Paleo book thumpers, or other diet-obsessed individuals, actually follow this sacred pillar of good diet? No matter what food they call for you to avoid, all good diets have one thing in common: they emphasize fruit and vegetable intake.
The Canadian Food Guide recommends 5-10 servings a day, however most health experts will tell you to aim for 10 servings, which is roughly the equivalent of 10 handfuls, or 5 cups, of fruits and veggies a day. Try to consume a variety of fruits and veggies by eating different colours and making 6 out of those 10 servings come from vegetables, which have less sugar. Rather than obsessing over fad diets, calorie-reduced snacks or eliminating certain foods, increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Consuming enough will reduce your incidence of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, among other common chronic diseases, as well as help you maintain a healthy weight.
2. Exercise every day. Make your body move for a minimum of 20 minutes every day. My clinical nutrition professor, Dr. P, says, "if I could invent a pill that does everything that exercise does I would have the money to retire and everyone who is remotely related to me would never have to work a day in their lives." Exercise benefits every system, from our bones, muscles and cardiovascular system to our mental health. Simply moving doesn't have to be an activity that involves paying gym memberships, buying a special outfit or signing up for the latest fad exercise class. It could involve (and, for me, almost always does) lacing up comfortable shoes and going for a brisk walk outside. Go for a walk after dinner with the whole family and make it a routine.
3. Drink water. Water helps flush toxins, keeps us hydrated and lubricates our organs. Our bodies are made up of mostly water and many of the chemical reactions in our body involve water. For some people it may be hard, but try to get used to drinking plain water and drink it often. It often helps to start increasing your daily intake by 1 or 2 cups every few days. Observe the changes in your energy levels, your skin health, your appetite, digestion and even your weight, from this simple, inexpensive change.
4. Get outside. This can easily be combined with step 2. Obtaining exposure to natural sunlight increases energy, improves mood, reduces stress and increases the body's production of vitamin D, an important hormone. Try to spend your time outside near something green, such as a park, a forest trail or a walk by the water. Go with friends and family or go by yourself to be alone with your thoughts.
5. Get enough sleep. Ensure adequate sleep and good bedtime hygiene (eliminating use of electronics before bed, getting to bed at a reasonable time and eliminating light and excess noise in the bedroom). Our bodies repair while we sleep, and adequate sleep is related to lower body weight, reduced stress, a stronger immune system, increased daytime productivity, higher daytime energy levels and a decreased risk of chronic disease.
6. Crank up the cold. Rather than simply showering or bathing using hot water, engage in an alternate hot and cold shower. Alternate hot (3 minutes) with cold (1 min) cycles, always ending on cold, to help invigorate, energize and detoxify your body. Hot and cold showers help stimulate the immune system and increase circulation and lymphatic flow. It's like having a free daily spa treatment, right in your bathroom.
7. Be passionate. What do you love most in life? What are your hobbies? How would you spend your last 24 hours on earth? Staying in touch with what we deem most important in our lives and making time for these things is crucial in reducing stress and improving mental health, life satisfaction and happiness. Spending quality time with family and friends, scheduling regular time for yourself and tapping into your special interests and passions are all important for living a full and healthy life. Make time for connection, stimulate your creativity and challenge yourself in new ways in order to keep things interesting and keep your zest for life at an all-time high.
This article is not meant to serve as medical advice. For a more individualized assessment, please see a licensed naturopathic doctor.
Talia Marcheggiani has a bachelor of science in Life Sciences from Queen’s University and is graduate of the naturopathic doctor program at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in Toronto. Talia is passionate about health: clean eating, balanced living and creative self-expression: painting, photography and writing. She loves snowboarding, practicing yoga,hiking with her dog and traveling the world. She also loves curling up with a book and an espresso and sharing the wealth of knowledge of naturopathic medicine with the world!