5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve Your Health
- Externalize stress.
- Internalize joy.
- Eat foods in their raw, natural state.
- Get sunshine every week.
This is the hardest of the five on this list, but essential to maintaining good health.
In stressful situations, adrenalin, which is now known as epinephrine, is secreted from the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys. When this happens heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, a miserable sense of doom or failure or fear clouds over the mind. As you can imagine, none of this is very good for your health. In the book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky looks at the different ways that humans experience and process their stress. Unlike zebras who can either stay and fight in a herd, or run away from their stressors, we have trickier stressors in our lives – getting behind on our mortgage payments, dealing with rush hour traffic, a family member who is inconsiderate of others.
Deepak Chopra MD is famous partly because of his ability to bring practices of serenity from the east to our frenzied western hemisphere. Dr. Chopra teaches how to externalize stress in his numerous published books. A large part of a person’s stress comes from the assumption, whether real or imagined, that you can do something about a stressful situation. Whether you can correct a stressful situation or not, it is important to understand that the intolerable situation is external to your mind and emotions, even if the stress is related to your own health condition. Things will happen as they happen, and you generally cannot change them. Of course, sadness is an appropriate response to a bad situation, or better yet, trying productively to change it. But if there’s nothing that can be done, then the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to begin to accept it, and stay healthy and strong. Your punishing yourself with a sense of panic or a higher blood pressure is a typical response, but it accomplishes nothing. The serenity prayer may come in helpful when external stressors loom large. “God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
With joy and success and beautiful things in life, even if they seem to happen more to other people than to you, allow yourself to bask in their good fortune. There is much about life that is incredibly beautiful, and what you consider to be good in life really does not have to conform to any rigid set of standards. Let me give you a few examples from my own life.
I maintain a low threshold for happiness, which means that I derive much of my happiness from pretty much any old thing, just everyday household events: I can lose myself in complete contentedness simply pulling weeds in my garden or transplanting seedlings. Every new flower or fruit is a source of new delight and a reason to pester the next person I see with my “garden report.” But for years I did not have a garden, and for some of the year not much is happening back there. So there are other things that make life wonderful . . .
I once lived in a little town at the bottom of a mountain and taught classes at a small college at the top of the mountain. Every day I hiked to work for about an hour, then walked back home at the end of the day, including in rainy weather. The exercise, fresh air, and mountain views were fantastic regardless of the weather. But I don’t live or work there anymore, so there are other things that make life wonderful . . .
I derive immense joy from my little son, playing with him, teaching him, watching him grow. But for most of my life, I did not have a child, and my joy came from teaching other youth, volunteering at an emergency room and many other activities.
In other words, your source of happiness does not require special events or lots of money or unusual circumstances or particular locations or individuals. Happiness is not miles away on a distant beach or cruise ship or casino or on Mt. Everest; it lies no further than the boundaries of your house or yard or workplace or neighborhood. It consists of nothing more or less than those activities, people, or experiences that bring you the most pleasure and fulfillment and/or hope for the future.
Eat Foods In Their Raw, Natural State
Humans have been so intimately connected to plants for all of our existence as a species that we cannot live without them. We connect with plants and exchange with plants down to our very cells and our smallest molecules. That is why they heal us like nothing else can. Our historical reliance on plants has been an integral part of every human society. Plants and humans resonate on levels that are still beyond our comprehension, including biochemical and physiological levels, and some would say aesthetic and emotional as well. How could humans and plants so closely have shared this earth, one with the other, and not had complementary, multi-faceted relationships with each other? Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” Medicine is what you get when the most appropriate plant is given to an ill person. The plant kingdom does play the major role of all foods in this wonderfully beneficial relationship for us.
Yet, we live at a strange crossroads in history. Over the last few decades, the human species has been hypnotized by the temptations offered by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The 1950’s ushered in the “better living through chemicals” age. And we believed, and we bought and swallowed and injected and are still consuming them in massive amounts, and, most recklessly, injecting such chemicals as ethyl mercury, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), aluminum and formaldehyde into our babies as part of vaccines, without any prior safety testing.
But now with massive chronic disease plaguing our most industrialized populations, autism closely following children’s shots, and more pathology coincident with concentrated chemicals, we are beginning to wake up from our long post-World War II slumber. Now begins the next era when synthetic chemicals are starting to be seen as, however useful in many applications, best kept at a distance from our bodies, our homes, public spaces and wilderness.
The old era of unthinking reliance on a synthetic existence is showing severe disadvantages, just as the urgency to forge new relationships with nature is becoming apparent. Plants and other whole foods are coming into their own new era as naturopathic physicians and other well-informed health practitioners rely on them for their central role in healing. Within our lifetimes, I predict that whole food will eclipse pharmaceuticals in medical practice, as the general public awakens to its far superior healing capacity.
Get Sunshine Every Week
Light really matters to your health. Bone health is greatly dependent on quality light. We make Vitamin D through our skin when exposed to optimal levels of sunlight. Vitamin D is key to a proper quantity and balance of calcium and magnesium in the body, as well as a healthy balance of hormones. A growing body of research demonstrates that by increasing one’s exposure to full spectrum light it is possible to optimize hormone levels in the body. Such balance is key to avoiding osteoporosis and fractures, as well as minimizing tooth decay.
Recent research has confirmed the essential role of Vitamin D in such necessary function as insulin secretion, cancer prevention, bone health and hormone formation.
Historically, osteoporosis and age-related fractures have hit hardest at those populations who stay in the dark. Contemporary Americans and Europeans who stay indoors much of the time have much higher rates of hip and other fractures than people whose lifestyle kept them outdoors or dependent on natural light. Only a century ago, we had no light bulbs at all, and we had no fluorescent lights until 50 years ago.
A nine-month long study of first grade children in windowless classrooms found that those under full-spectrum fluorescent lights had many fewer cavities in their newly formed permanent teeth than those under standard “cool white” fluorescent bulbs. It turned out that ten times as many children under cool white bulbs had new cavities.
Getting 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your face, hands and arms, between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., two or three times a week, can supply all the Vitamin D you need. In fact, unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D is made best by the skin. The body actually produces Vitamin D while the sun’s ultraviolet B rays hit the skin. It is technically a hormone and important precursor of the steroid hormones in the body.
Many people are deficient in Vitamin D, and it cannot be well absorbed from supplements. Even then, supplement makers usually use the cheap and useless D2, which is not the high quality D3 (1,25 cholecalciferol) that your skin makes. Vitamin D is absorbed sufficiently but not excessively from sunlight. The body efficiently eliminates any extra Vitamin D acquired from sunlight. However, it is possible to get a toxic high dose from Vitamin D supplements.
In fact, Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a Harvard University professor of medicine and nutrition, at his keynote lecture for the American Association for Cancer Research conference, says that Vitamin D may help prevent 30 deaths for each one caused by skin cancer.
Dr. Giovannucci said, “I would challenge anyone to find an area or nutrient or any factor that has such consistent anti-cancer benefits as Vitamin D. The data are really quite remarkable.” As a result of Dr. Giovannucci’s speech the American Cancer Society is now reviewing its own sun protection guidelines. Dr. Giovannucci’s research has determined that 1500 IUs of Vitamin D per day are necessary to significantly curb cancer, by simply stifling abnormal cell growth and formation of blood vessels that feed tumors. 
The plot thickens when we look at sunscreens. Ingredients that are ubiquitous in the mass-marketed sunscreens, methoxycinnamate, oxybenzone, etc., have been shown to increase penetration of neurotoxins,  change to unstable chemical compounds  and stimulate growth of cancer. 
Wait a minute, you might think. Conventional dogma holds that sun = bad, sunscreen = good. At least that’s the baa-baa baloney that we obedient sheep have been taught to bleat for many years now. Isn’t it funny how every time the nastier the chemical, the more villainous the natural alternative is made out to be? It seems like every time – especially if no one can make money from the natural item. The sun has an especially bad habit of shining for free, the scoundrel, and thus thwarting efforts to patent, market or export it.
Of course, one should not sunbathe to the point of burning, because sunburn itself damages the skin. But beware of complacency using sunscreens. The research cited shows that they create cancer more certainly than they prevent it.
Of all the good things you can do for your own health, exercise is probably the most important. When you consider the structure of our bodies, the way our feet and legs are shaped, as well as our hands and arms, our bones and muscles, it becomes clear that we were made to move.
It has been said that even the weakest among us can work very hard and become an athlete. But even the strongest, most Herculean among us cannot long survive a sedentary lifestyle.
The many benefits of exercise are too long to list: improved blood flow is one such benefit, which itself is healing to most health problems throughout most of the body. From broken bones to heart disease, from diabetes to wound repair, blood heals, and the better the flow, the better the healing.
Exercise provides much better longevity, and perhaps much more important, grants you increased comfort inside your own body. Considering your body is either the pleasant sanctuary and temple of your life that it should be, or a painful, uncomfortable prison with a life sentence for you, exercise becomes all the more urgent and necessary.
The trick is to find exercise that is fun and accessible, so that you will be sure and do it, and hopefully look forward to it. I recommend 3-6 times per week of at least a half hour moving each time. An hour would be even better. And no it doesn’t have to be the perfect exercise. Walk, run, skate, bike, golf or play a team sport or go to a gym, but just be sure to do something to get yourself moving.
- Associated Press. Vitamin D research may have doctors prescribing sunshine. USA Today. May 21, 2005. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-05-21-doctors-sunshine-good_x.htm.
- Pont AR, Charron AR, Brand RM. Active ingredients in sunscreens act as topical penetration enhancers for the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004 Mar 15;195(3):348-54.
- Tarras-Wahlberg N, Stenhagen G, Larko O, Rosen A, Wennberg AM, Wennerstrom O. Changes in ultraviolet absorption of sunscreens after ultraviolet irradiation. J Invest Dermatol. 1999 Oct;113(4):547-53.
- Schlumpf M, Cotton B, Conscience M, Haller V, Steinmann B, Lichtensteiger W. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):239-44.