Do you ever stop to think about what wellness means to you? When we’re healthy and well, we often take our health and wellness for granted. But that can sure turn around in an instant.
Unfortunately, last week we experienced such an instant. My husband Kirk tripped on a friend’s shag carpet throw rug under their coffee table. His hands were full as he was carrying things from the dining table to the kitchen. So as he went flying—along with the things he was carrying—he didn’t have time to get his hands out in front of him. And he took a face-plant into the coffee table. No bueno! He cracked a rib and his cheekbone, along with several places around his orbital bone.
We have a saying on the boat, “One hand for yourself, one hand for the boat.” Maybe that would be good to employ on land as well?! This accident has really made us think about our overall health and wellness, and where we can improve upon it as we age.
Sympathetic vs Parasympathetic Nervous System Mode
One thing to keep in mind is that the body only thrives and heals when it’s in a state of parasympathetic nervous system. Rest-digest-repair mode. And humans are meant to live 95% of our lives in rest-and-digest mode. But given the fast-paced, high-tech, go-go-go world we live in, today most people spend about 95% of their lives in sympathetic nervous system mode or fight-flight-freeze mode. And that definitely impacts our wellness.
When the body is in fight-fight-freeze mode it shuts down any systems that aren’t critical to survival at that moment in time. This includes things like:
- digestion (which shuts down by 95% when we’re stressed— don’t need to digest if you’re running for your life),
- sex hormones and reproduction (no need to reproduce if you’re fleeing for your life),
- blood pressure increases (so you can run faster),
- blood starts to thicken (so it will clot faster if that sabertooth tiger swipes you…this can also lead to blood clots),
- stress also increases blood sugar to give you more energy.
So as you can see, there are many reasons to aim to keep our bodies in parasympathetic, or rest-digest-repair mode as much as possible.
So many aspects of our lifestyle play a big role in our overall health and wellness including:
- hydration, sleep, exercise (or lack thereof),
- what we eat, or don’t eat
- personal care and cleaning products we use,
- even our mental outlook
And while we might think we’re “healthy” or living a “healthy lifestyle”, we all likely have room for improvement, even me as a health coach!
Thankfully Kirk had an excellent surgeon who put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And he will make a full recovery. In fact, thanks to homeopathic arnica Montana for the bruising and trauma, and eupatorium perfoliatum (boneset), he’s healing up really well and his broken rib isn’t causing any pain after only one week. But dehydration likely played a role in his fall. We had spent that afternoon outside in the sun, and he hadn’t had much water to drink that day.
So let’s take a look at some simple ways our lifestyle habits can promote or detract from our own wellness as we age. As you consider some of these dietary and lifestyle habits you might change, choose just one to start with. Incorporate that modification into your life for several months. Then when it’s truly an ingrained part of your life, revisit this list and choose another one. Continue on, making modifications that work well for you. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling more energetic, and maybe even younger!
Clumsiness: Do You Trip, Fall, Bump into the Wall?
Clumsiness is one of the first symptoms of dehydration. When you get dehydrated, your brain starts to shrink—yikes! Not to worry, just like your dried-out kitchen sponge on the counter, once you re-hydrate, so will your brain. I like to drink out of a glass quart mason jar so I can visually see how much water I’ve drunk throughout the day, and see when I need a refill. To determine how much water to drink each day, take your body weight and divide it by 2. Then drink that many ounces.
For example, if you weigh 130 lbs, and divide by two you get 65. So you’d need to drink 65 oz. of water a day. If you divide 65 by 8 (the number of ounces in a cup) that’s just over 8 cups of water a day. If you weigh 200 lbs and do the same math, that’s 12.5 cups of water a day. So staying hydrated is a very individual formula. You’ll also need to drink more if you exercise and sweat, drink caffeine or alcohol (both dehydrating), or live in hot climates or higher altitude which dehydrates you more than sea level. And possibly less if you eat a lot of fruit and veggies that contain a lot of water.
Lack of Sleep: The American Badge of Courage
From college all-nighters to the vicious cycle of working late, staying up late, waking up early, rinse, and repeat, most American’s don’t get enough sleep. And if you stop to think about it, humans are the only animals that don’t sleep when they are tired. Take a look at your cat or dog right now… chances are they are asleep.
It’s worth noting that our bodies do the majority of their repair and restoration while we sleep. In fact, the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) view is that the majority of healing is done between 10 PM and 2 AM, and recent scientific research is backing that up. So if you’re hitting the hay at midnight or 1 AM (like I used to do!), you might not be giving your body a fighting chance to repair and regenerate cells.
It’s also interesting to note the energy in that “second wind” many of us get around 9 or 10 PM is actually intended to help the body heal while sleeping, not to allow us to stay up for another three hours binge-watching our latest fav Netflix shows. I’ve been there… I was once the ultimate night owl, rarely in bed before midnight or 1 AM. But lately, we’ve been aiming to be in bed by 10 PM, and I’ve gotta say I feel SO much more well-rested when I wake up, and more energetic and mentally relaxed during the day than I ever used to. So give it a whirl and see how you feel going to bed by 10 PM.
Are You Moving Your Body Enough Each Day?
Most Americans move from the house to the car, to their office, and back. Otherwise, they’re sitting at a desk, sitting in their car, or sitting in front of the TV. And it’s not surprising that sitting has now been likened to second-hand smoke in its impact on poor health. For optimal health, we want to move our bodies a minimum of 30-minutes per day, 5 days a week.
And for sure moving enough has always been the hardest part of my personal wellness routine. I’ve never liked to exercise for the sake of exercise. But I do love to walk, hike, kayak, swim, dance, and generally move my body—which is great. But when life gets busy and I have a lot on my plate, the first thing to fall off is moving my body. And boy can I tell it!
So I’m sharing two of my favorite ways to move my body. I aim to fit in at least one of these a day. But even if you don’t have 20-30 minutes to spare, moving your body for just 10-minutes two or three times a day can really boost your health. And I’m sure we can all find a spare 10 minutes here and there—ahem, Facebook?!
- QiGong – this 20-minute QiGong video is a fantastic way to start each day. I can really feel the energy zooming through my body when I’m done. It doesn’t take any equipment, and if I can do it on my sailboat, you can do it anywhere!
- Chair Yoga – you might think this is too easy, but give it a try and you might be surprised. My friend Amanda leads this amazing 15-minute chair yoga workout you can do at your desk. And it’s also a fantastic workout if you’ve got any injuries, as you don’t need to stand up.
What’s REALLY In Your Food, Personal Care or Cleaning Products?
Reading labels can be very beneficial in your quest to stay healthy. Though we don’t eat much packaged food, whenever I do buy something in a box, can, or package, I always take a look at the ingredients. Even if it’s something I’ve bought many times before. You’d be AMAZED at how often companies change up the ingredients and what might have been “clean” to eat one time, may contain added sugar or trans fats the next time you take a look. Even the Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen list of fruits and veggies with the most and least amount of pesticide residue changes a bit each year, so I frequently re-visit that as well.
Reading labels on your health and beauty products and cleaning products can also help you to avoid toxins. Ingredients like BPA, fragrance, and phthalates act as synthetic hormones that mess with your own natural hormones, potentially leading to thyroid issues, weight gain, and neurological disorders.
While the EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 known toxic chemicals from health, beauty, and personal care products, the US has only outlawed or curbed 11 of them. And many Americans are totally unaware of just how toxic their everyday products are. From toothpaste and deodorant to laundry soap and dryer sheets, most are toxic. People think that if their fav products are advertised on TV, or sold in a drug store or grocery store “they must be safe.” But sadly, they are misinformed. Big corporations have deep pockets and lots of lobbyists, and they don’t want you to know how toxic their products are.
“…formaldehyde, a known carcinogen banned in EU-sold cosmetics, is found in US hair-straightening treatments and nail polish. Parabens, linked to reproductive problems, are ruled out in the EU but not the US, where they lurk in skin and hair products. Coal tar dyes can be found in Americans’ eyeshadow, years after they were banned in the EU and Canada”. — Guardian article
According to an article in the Guardian, it’s really buyer beware, and you need to read labels to protect your own body and your kids.
Environmental toxins can bioaccumulate in your body, creating oxidative stress, leading to free radicals which can cause premature aging and damage your DNA. Oxidative stress can also hamper your body’s ability to clear away toxins, compounding the problem.
So How’s Your Mental Outlook?
Mental attitude plays a significant role in overall wellness. A friend of mine was in a horrible car crash when we were in high school. Her body was badly broken and damaged. For most of her life, she has suffered from numerous physical ailments and autoimmune diseases stemming from that accident. And yet she is one of the most positive, upbeat people you could ever meet. She’s always concerned for others and how they are doing. It’s remarkable to see people who are suffering so much, still finding joy in everyday moments, and gratitudes throughout life.
We’ve likely all had our share of major events in our lives. But we don’t dwell on them, we pick up the pieces and move on, being grateful for all the wonderful things in our life. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way towards living a healthy life. And our daily meditation practice is part of our wellness journey.
Do You Live in Fight-Flight-Freeze or Rest-Digest-Repair Mode?
Watching the nightly news puts the body into sympathetic nervous system mode (fight or flight). One way you can improve your mental outlook is to watch less TV news. That doesn’t mean you have to be uninformed. Reading the news in a newspaper or in email form (I get top stories from the Skimm and NYT each day in my inbox), significantly reduces your fight-flight-freeze mode. This will prevent your nervous system being over-stimulated by video, the news anchor’s hyped-up voices, or advertising which is created to suck you in. TV news is one area where you can choose a less frenetic option.
But it can be a full-time job trying to stay on top of all of the healthy things we “should be doing”, right? Sometimes it makes me really sad to realize the state our planet is now in—a place where to have to actually think about and be concerned about what’s IN our drinking water? What’s IN our food? What’s IN our shampoo and conditioner? And then there are things like off-gassing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) found in carpets, paints, and furniture. Plus our poor pets’ noses so close to those toxic fumes. And just thinking about these things can put us back into fight-flight mode.
Vote With Your Wallet
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just KNOW everything was pure and good, and corporations weren’t poisoning us while improving their bottom line? Luckily there are some ethical brands out there. Check out:
- EWG’s SkinDeep database of safer personal care products,
- MadeSafe.org for safer alternatives to many household products,
- Neal’s Yard Remedies (organic beauty with no nasties)
And when it comes to clothing or outdoor gear, Patagonia.com is a fantastic, ethical brand. They even have a used gear and clothing section on their website. Their clothes are built to last and much of my Patagonia clothing is 20-30 years old and still going strong.
Feeling overwhelmed? Breathe… Things like meditation, breathing exercises, and daily gratitude practices have been scientifically proven to get us back into parasympathetic nervous system mode. They also help us keep a more upbeat mental attitude and give us more energy. And a positive mental outlook can help you stave off the pain (possibly one of the reasons Kirk hasn’t had more pain with his broken face and ribs is our twice-daily meditation practice.)
If you don’t meditate these breathing exercises below can help calm your nervous system flipping the switch from sympathetic nervous system mode to parasympathetic mode.
- Box Breathing – Also called 4×4 breathing. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4. Repeat several times.
- 4-7-8 Breathing – Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, exhale for a count of 8. Repeat 4-6 times (not more than 6 times at once or you may get lightheaded.)
Is Your Glass Half Empty or Half Full?
Is your glass half empty or half full? If it’s half empty, what can you do to fill it up? What’s one thing you can do to be a bit nicer to someone (maybe to yourself!) today, to have a happier outlook on the world, to pay it forward to someone else, to find the silver lining?
To me, wellness is about having family and friends to love and laugh with, and a body to cherish and be grateful for every single day. Some days are harder than others for sure, but overall, we have absolutely nothing to complain about. And so very much to be grateful for.
Please leave a comment to let us know what wellness means to you? What’s one thing you can do today to improve upon your overall wellness? And what are your favorite toxin-free, ethical brands? Knowledge is power. When we know better, we do better.