While it is increasingly recognized that nutrition plays a preventative and treatment role in our health, we still are so accustomed to addressing illnesses as they arise, and may give less attention to reducing the potential health risks and feeling good in general. But there are so many ways that we can care for ourselves much the way we care for our cars and homes to fend off problems down the road. The only difference between us and our material possessions is that we are our most important asset and deserve the same attention as our personal property.
There are basic steps that we can take to reduce the risk of illness and increase our general well-being. People often ask, “Where do you start to live a healthy life?” I personally choose for stress-reduction since stress is so integrally-linked to our health. When we bear the burden of stress, our immune system is weakened, leaving us more prone to all sorts of illnesses, including high blood pressure, respiratory disease, and cardio-vascular problems. From my own personal experience, stress ran me down to the point of developing pneumonia, which from a health perspective, was a learning and growing experience. This meant becoming aware of stress triggers, managing unavoidable stress, and minimizing my reactions to stress.
There are many ways to reduce stress and exercise is on the top of the list. But we can overdo it and have to find a happy medium since over-exercise is in and of itself stressful, and can compromise the very immune system that we are trying to build up. Attitude plays a key role in stress reduction. Viewing life through a lens of “less is more” can help to manage stress along with recognizing that our overreactions to stressful situations are a greater cause of stress the event itself. High stress can increase cortisol levels in our body and add to weight gain, which ultimately can lead to illness. It also is very difficult to lose weight when our lives are packed with stress. We can become frustrated and give up in our weight loss efforts when there could be a better path if we only had learned to manage our stress better.
Leaving toxic relationships and developing solid bonds with people is another important way to manage stress. We have to think of what is right for our emotional health and not worry so much about the reactions of others who have been such a source of stress in our lives. Toxic relationships over the long run will make us physically ill and sometimes take a long time to heal from, emotionally and physically.
Consuming refined foods on a regular basis can lead to many health problems as we are not feeding ourselves the anti-oxidants in fruits and vegetables that fight off disease. Many quality-cut meats and fish are rich sources of vitamins and minerals needed to run the body. We need quality protein, not protein bars, to ensure our health as well, including maintaining muscle mass. For vegetarians and vegans, foods such as nuts, beans, edamame, quinoa, green peas, tempeh, and tofu are all good sources of protein. A diet high in refined food is negatively correlated to good health. Refined sugar especially has the power to depress our immune system and over time make us sick.
While our bodies have natural detoxification systems, when consuming an excess of refined foods and environmental chemicals, they can become overtaxed. Many foods have detoxifying properties, especially cruciferous vegetables, along with detoxifying teas, such as dandelion and milk thistle. Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy are common cruciferous vegetables.
Organic foods also have the amazing power to boost our moods and reduce anxiety. Lemongrass, mint, nutmeg, rosemary, saffron, and sage, for example, are all spices that help with anxiety. People consuming healthier diets in general typically report better moods and less anxiety.
All of these foods and teas, the regular consumption of water, exercise, a positive life attitude, and healthy relationships serve as guardians to our health. Never underestimate the role of nutrition in the process. Hippocrates said it well back in the day- “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”