Better Health = Better You
When we think of better health the first thing we thing of is exercise, and yes, this is certainly part of it, but to truly have better health along with a better version of you, means to take a look at your triangle. And, no, I'm not talking about geometry here. I'm talking about the connection between your mind, body and soul.
Any time we allow one of these to get out of balance it causes incongruency in other areas of our life. We can have a six-pack ab, but then deal with anxiety or depression; or we can have peace in our mind, but deal with obesity-related health issues. Neither of these scenarios are ideal. So, in order to operate in our lives at optimal performance we need to have these three areas congruent and operating at their highest level.
Great you say, but how do I do that? It's really quite simple, but sometimes that word is easier said than done, right? But, what I have found is the number one factor in optimizing our health starts with:
1) Controlling Your Thoughts:
There's a saying, "You are what you think". Well, it turns out that saying may be more true than we realize. The more you think about something the more likely you are to do it.
When we have repetitive thoughts they create something like a "highway" in our brains. A path is formed that causes our minds to revert back to this thinking each time it encounters a similar situation. Think of it like a ravine. If you dug out a channel for a river, every time it rained the water would gather in this ravine and would travel down this channel.
This is why you hear things like it takes 21 or 30 days to break a habit. You are retraining your brain to react differently to that situation. Take for example someone who when something goes wrong says, "Things never work out for me." They are creating a pathway in their brain to respond negatively when something doesn't go the way they planned.
So, instead of reacting with an attitude of "all things work together for my good" or seeing opposition as a tool to better themselves and make themselves stronger, they may resort to complaining, blaming or accepting a victim mentality. After time, this then creates a pathway in their brain that says to quit and not try anymore whenever an obstacle confronts them.
So, the first step in creating better health is to identify your thoughts. What are you thinking about?
The average person has over 30,000 thoughts a day - some more, some less, but either way that's a whole lot of thoughts coming into our brains on a daily basis. Interesting enough, the National Science Foundation did a study in 2005 that showed 80 percent of those thoughts on average are negative in nature, with 95 percent of them being the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.
If 95 percent of our thoughts tend to be repetitive of the thoughts from the day before it's imperative to:
2) Rid Your Mind of Toxic Thoughts:
Not only could your thoughts be making you miserable, but they could be making you ill and in some instances killing you. According to Dr. Caroline Leaf, 75 percent or more of illnesses are directly related to our thought process.
When the body processes negative thoughts, i.e., anger, bitterness, anxiety, unforgiveness, fear, etc..., it is in fight or flight mode. This is great for survival. If you are hiking in the mountains and a mountain lion jumps in front of you, fear will cause you to get away as fast as possible. This is a good thing. However, this adrenaline that is released into our bodies isn't meant to be sustained for long periods of time.
When our bodies remain in this process for prolonged periods of time, the body begins to release toxins. These toxins over time begin to attack our own immunity, therefore, creating an environment conducive to disease and illness. According to Dr. Leaf, fear all on its own, triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones.
But it's not enough to just say, "Stop thinking negative thoughts". Much like a diet, if you tell yourself you can't have any cake, what's the first thing and only thing you think about? Cake...cake...and more cake! That's why diets don't work. You lose the weight but then you gain it back because you haven't changed the way you think about your relationship with food.
Instead of saying you can't have cake, you should tell yourself you can have it, but it's not going to give you the results you want with your body if you eat it. Therefore, if you eat it you're not going to feel good, and since you want to feel good you're going to choose to eat something healthy instead that will nourish your body in order to give you the energy and clarity you need to feel good and meet your goals.
In the same way we must change our relationship with food, we must change our relationship with our thoughts. If you've been thinking repetitive negative and self-defeating thoughts for some time it will take some training with your mind to change these habits, and the only way to rid yourself of toxic thinking is to replace them with something positive and affirming.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to begin your day with:
Whatever you start your morning thinking about, will most likely dominate the rest of your day. I was on a conference call one time when one of the speakers who grosses over a million dollars a year said this:
"Gratitude is a magnet for all the beautiful things in life." I love that.
He went on to say, "Whenever I wake up in the morning with a bad attitude, my day doesn't usually get better."
I'm not suggesting someone's yearly income dictates a life of perfection and is an end all to happiness, however, he's obviously accrued some major success in this area and if he's making it a point to stress how important gratitude is in one's success I'd suggest it's worthwhile to at least try it out and see how your life may change for the better.
There's some major benefits to gratitude:
Improves your happiness and sense of well-being
Increases production and effectiveness
Improves your relationships
A study was done by Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and his colleague Michael McCullough from the University of Miami, which was published in 2003 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In this study they divided the participants into three groups. The first group was to write about things that had happened throughout their week that they were grateful for. The second group wrote about daily things that had irritated them or displeased them. The third group wrote about things that had affected them with no positive or negative emphasis.
After 10 weeks of study, those who wrote about the positive things were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than the other two groups. They also tended to exercise more often and had less visits to the physician.
Another study was done by a group of researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. They studied two fundraising groups. The first one made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the manner they had always done in the past.
The second group did everything the same as well, however, the only difference was they received a pep talk from the director of giving prior to making their calls, telling them how grateful she was for their efforts. The group who received the pep talk and message of gratitude ended up making 50 percent more calls than the other group.
Being grateful has also proved to be a simple method to improve your relationships. Studies showed couples who expressed gratitude to their partner say they not only felt more positive towards their partner, but also felt more comfortable expressing their feelings in the relationship.
Another important factor in improving your health is to:
4) Manage Stress:
It's a no-brainer that we live in a stressful world. Inside your home it can be the epitome of feng shui, zen, peace and every other word to symbolize tranquility, but all you need to do is step outside of your home and you are sure to cross the path of stress.
The increase of social media has certainly increased this. There once was a time when there were only three predominant news channels that broadcast mostly local news several times a day, usually the morning, evening and night. (Millennials have no idea what I'm talking about.)
How things have changed. Now we have access to news sources broadcasting every single horrific thing happening around the entire world 24/7. No wonder anxiety is increasing. Then add on top of that social media where we get to listen to the blabbering of every single mean and degrading thought someone has about another human being and you've got a recipe for stress.
So, here's some easy fixes to help reduce stress:
Limit your news intake and social media
Set boundaries with negative and toxic people
Set a schedule and stick to it
Allow enough time to get to your destination
Take a breather and get away from it all. (A walk in the park, fishing in a pond, a hike on some trails, etc...)
5) Prayer and Meditation:
Setting aside time daily, whether it's 5-15 minutes or longer, to pray, relax and meditate on good and lovely things decreases stress levels and increases health.
Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard Medical School discovered that when people pray and meditate their heart rate slowed, their blood pressure went down, and their breathing became calmer and more regular.
Bowling Green University did a study on two groups suffering from migraines. The first group spent 20 minutes daily repeating spiritual affirmations such as, "God is good. God is peace. God is love." The second group used non-spiritual language such as, "Grass is green. Sand is soft." Those who repeated the spiritual mantra reported fewer headaches and had a higher tolerance for pain than those who focused on the non-spiritual mantra.
Prayer helps people to feel more in control, which reduces stress levels, and as the world we live in seems increasingly more out of control, this is something we could all definitely use more of - feeling in control.
Exercise has so many benefits and while it may take a period of time before you see the physical benefits, the mental benefits are immediate. When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals give you a positive feeling. They are nature's Prozac. Research has shown those suffering from depression can improve their mood and decrease depression from exercising.
If you've never exercised start with something you can maintain, like three days a week for 30 minutes. As you build up your stamina increase it to 60 minutes a day, five days a week. Also, adding weight lifting to your exercise increases your metabolism, which causes you to burn calories at a higher rate even when you are resting. Now, that's good news!
Exercise also increases your self-confidence as you meet exercise goals and can be a positive outlet for anger. If you join an exercise class or a running group it can also be a great way to meet new people and avoid depression that can come from isolation and too much social media.
In addition to the mental benefits, the more obvious aspects of exercise is not only getting the physique you desire, but decreasing health-related issues and being able to be more active and have more energy.
7) Increase intake of unprocessed foods:
Packaged ready-to-eat foods are certainly convenient, but they're not always the healthiest choices. A lot of them can have low nutritional value, and are packed with additives and artificial flavors (all those long words you can't pronounce).
While I understand it's probably not realistic to suggest not buying anything packaged, a good rule of thumb is the more food you can buy that's not packaged (fruits and vegetables - food in the produce aisles) the better.
As more of our foods become tainted with steroids, hormones and GMO's it's more important than ever to read labels. Anything that's not naturally derived is going to take its toll on your body. You won't die from eating this stuff one time or once in awhile, but if your diet is chocked full of it think of your body as being compared to a filter.
A few small things can pass through a filter, but if you keep trying to pass more and more bigger stuff, eventually your filter will get clogged. Our bodies are the same way. They're smart enough to be able to process some unknown substances, but if you keep pumping it full of unnatural substances, the body doesn't know how to process this stuff, so it ends up storing it because it doesn't know what to do with it.
Eventually, this creates a toxic environment, which is conducive to disease. The other problem with these empty calories is they're just that - empty. They're void of necessary nutrients and vitamins that our bodies need to replenish itself and regenerate its cells. When this happens the immunity breaks down causing the body to age and deteriorate faster - think wrinkles, bad skin, aches and pains, grey hair....etc. - all the stuff we don't want.
While I understand it may take you awhile to change some of these bad habits, I want to challenge you to begin to implement these steps into your daily life and see how your life might change for the better. After all, you are worth the investment!