4 Health Practices to Start Today
Last week, I had a very discouraging meeting with a patient.
She had gone to see numerous doctors about pain in her abdomen.
After examining her a bit, they found a lump. And after going in for a biopsy, they discovered the lump was cancer that had metastasized from her breast.
The cancer is now spreading everywhere—aided in part by the biopsy. Perhaps more shocking, six months ago, this patient showed absolutely no signs of cancer.
This story illustrates problems that I encounter every day. The doctors treating this patient viewed her as a list of symptoms, and their job was to solve the symptoms.
But that’s wrong. If the doctors had dug a little deeper, they could have found the breast cancer before it metastasized (the lumps in her breasts were quite prominent).
Dig a little deeper still, and they would have found out this patient started experiencing high levels of stress last year—which, I believe, played an important role in her cancer.
Western medicine spends too much time looking for instant fixes.
Today, not only is our food instant, but so is our entertainment, communication, analysis—even online orders can be on your doorstep in two hours.
People want the same of their medicine.
But it doesn’t work that way. “Instant medicine”, doesn’t exist…and instant fixes of your immediate symptoms, don’t treat the true problems of your body.
We are complex organisms, with issues that cascade and take decades to develop.
The only good medicine—the sort that not only sees breast cancer before a biopsy, but sees and stops stress before it manifests in illness—is holistic and functional.
Why am I telling you all of this? Very simply—I want to keep you out of doctor’s offices.
I recognize that the best medicine comes before you get sick. That, as good as we’ve gotten at fixing our bodies, we still can’t beat the routine, daily maintenance which truly makes us healthy.
These four pillars of health, longevity, and vitality can do more for you than any pill or surgery can.
Pillar #1: Eat balanced meals of nutritious whole foods
The vast majority of your meals should be healthy, balanced, and made of whole foods.
That means avoiding foods that come in a box, a bag, or a can. (Frozen fruits or vegetables are an exception).
It means avoiding anything processed. If you don’t recognize the shape of the food you’re eating, it’s probably too processed. And loaded down with preservatives.
But even when you can’t find whole foods, at least be aware of the healthy plate.
A healthy plate is about half vegetables and fruits. These foods will give you most of the nutrients you need.
Nearly another third of the plate is healthy whole grains—brown rice, quinoa, etc.—these are your carbohydrates, the energy source for your body.
And finally, the last bit of the plate—the smallest bit, about 1/6th of your plate—should be healthy proteins like fish and chicken. These provide the amino acids that your body uses to build and support your muscles and tissues.
And that’s really all your body needs. Everything extra is liable to wind up as fat or toxins.
Changing up the ratios will also mess up an efficient system. Too much protein may be converted into fat. Too few carbohydrates means your body will have to cannibalize, and convert muscles into energy.
There’s plenty of room in your diet for treats now and again. But only every now and again—remember to eat healthy and whole the rest of the time.
Pillar #2: Be active!
Exercise is best, but simply being active every day will have a profound effect on your health
Getting up and moving around every hour or so is highly beneficial (as exercise gadgets like the Fitbit will kindly remind you). Standing some of the time beats sitting all day—and taking a 30-60 minute walk each day beats just standing around.
How you enjoy being active is a highly personal choice. All I care about is that you choose something…and do it often.
Pillar #3: De-Stress
The more we learn about stress, the clearer its danger becomes. There are studies that link stress to everything—from cancer, to heart disease, to Alzheimer’s, to premature aging and death.
That’s why it’s so important to find helpful, healthy, and effective ways to defuse the stresses in your life.
Breathing exercises and meditation can be very helpful here.
So is human contact.
I make it a point to hug each of my patients when I see them—a form of human touch that has mostly fallen out of fashion in modern medicine.
Also, just being aware of your stress levels helps combat it—much as it’s hard to stay angry when you stop to notice yourself being angry.
So check-in with yourself throughout the day, whether you feel stress or not. And practice meditation or mindful breathing every day, whether you feel stress or not.
Don’t wait for stress to start doing damage. Never give this harmful emotion a foothold.
Pillar #4: Get GOOD sleep
I’ve covered the dangers of poor sleep habits many times.
But it’s so important, it’s worth repeating.
You probably aren’t getting enough sleep. And, in the end, you’ll pay for that.
It’s extremely important that you practice good sleep hygiene. Avoid the blue light of your electronics screens or anything too exciting before bed. Try to have a consistent bed time. And set up your bedroom so you are unlikely to be disturbed during the night.
Give yourself the time and space to sleep well. Combine that with eating right, staying active, and knocking out stress, and you’ll be well ahead of any prescription a doctor can give you.
Maybe someday we’ll have pills to solve every ill. But that day certainly isn’t close. Until then, take care of yourself before problems arise, and you’ll have much less to worry about later.
- Psych Central, “Stress: A Cause of Cancer?”, Lisa Kozarovich http://psychcentral.com/lib/stress-a-cause-of-cancer/
- WebMD, “10 Health Problems Related To Stress That You Can Fix”, Morgan Griffin, http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: February 3, 2016