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Pillars of Health: Exercise, Relaxation, Detox, Sleep

Older woman in jacket standing in front of a pillar
October 13, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

If you’ve been following my advice for a while, you’ve likely heard about my Pillars of Health. But if you’re new to my health letter, the Pillars of Health are eight lifestyle choices providing the foundations for good health.

You can successfully build a life around the pillars by starting small and focusing on one area at a time. Once that change has become routine, you can tackle the other pillars, one by one. Soon your lifestyle overhaul will be complete.

Being Active

The miracle remedy for a better life is already known to science and available to you free of charge. This panacea:

  • Burns calories.
  • Brings oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout your body.
  • Improves circulation.
  • Supports natural detox.
  • Improves sleep and mood.
  • Strengthens the heart and immune system.
  • Reduces the risk of cancer and other ailments.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Counteracts the effects of aging.
  • Powers up joints, strengthens muscles and bones, and reduces the risk of falls.

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of exercise. I’m not proposing a marathon for couch potatoes. Moderate activity—dance, swim, walk briskly, or any movement that keeps you too winded to sing but able to talk—for a total of thirty minutes every day, will leave you amazed at the results.

Beyond getting enough activity, you have to avoid being too sedentary (sitting too much). English scientists observed close to a 50 percent increase in premature death for those individuals who spent the most time sitting—even if they exercised regularly! Australian researchers, separately, found that watching television for six hours a day (a proxy for sitting) shortened lives by nearly five whole years. Fortunately, you can get those years back just by breaking up your time in the chair, like walking in place during commercials.

Bottom Line: Staying active has major pay-offs for your health and longevity. Get up and get moving!

Managing Stress

Whenever someone complains of weight gain, carbohydrate and sweet cravings, irritability, fatigue, repeated colds, difficulty sleeping, high blood pressure, and memory problems, my stress detector shifts into high gear. One things unites all of these different symptoms: cortisol.

For our earliest ancestors, the stress hormone cortisol was a life saver. But these days, you’re probably not running from bears. But if your emotions are always on high alert, cortisol accumulates and erodes your health, impairing healing, raising blood sugar, and interfering with digestion.

Deep, “belly breathing” minimizes stress, and you’ll feel relaxed immediately.

In belly breathing, you expand your abdomen, like filling a balloon with air. (Put your hand on your tummy, and try it right now!) Stretching the abdomen means the lungs have more space for oxygen. To exhale, contract the same abdominal muscles, forcing air out of the lungs.

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Belly breathing calms your body and interrupts the cascade of cortisol before it can wreak havoc.

Bottom Line: Chronic stress undermines your health, so learn to relax.

Detoxifying Your Body

Your body is designed to eliminate the toxins common to our environment, like carcinogens, heavy metals, insecticides, pesticides, and more. One of the liver’s biggest jobs is assisting the body in toxin removal. Additionally, we eliminate toxins through sweating, urination, and bowel movements. You should do everything in your power to support the process.

Step one is building meals around whole, organic foods, especially vegetables. Clinical trials show that vegetables and fruits contain substances known as phytochemicals, which are recognized for their ability to protect us from cancer and heart disease.Veggies are also rich in fiber, a “must have” for healthy detox.

More advanced steps may include lymph drainage, fasting, and liver flush, all of which we’ve gone over in recent weeks.

Bottom Line: Eliminating toxic overload only requires a few simple changes. Get clean today!

Sleeping Long and Well

Researchers have shown that insufficient sleep is more harmful to your health than lack of exercise.

Hormone imbalances, lack of exercise, and diet can lead to restless nights. So can glowing gadgets in your bedroom. Too much light can lead to low production of melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep. Melatonin production is highest between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. But that only happens if you’re asleep in a dark room.

Mother Nature provides a pantry full of sleep aids that have helped relieve insomnia for centuries. Some of my favorite ingredients include: valerian, hops, lemon balm, chamomile, passionflower, and lavender. I sometimes recommend them with an amino acid, such as 5-HTP, or a neurotransmitter, like GABA, to amplify their effect. I alternate herbs with the critical hormone melatonin throughout the week to avoid building up a tolerance.

Bottom Line: Sleep is your body’s required recovery mode. Melatonin and herbal remedies are your best bet to get the needed seven to eight hours.

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