Category Archives: Nutrition

How to Love Your Gut

The human body is a marvelous contraption, but it certainly is not a modern one. It developed ages ago before there were twinkies and McDonalds. The human gut is the passageway for us to give our cells the nutrients they require to survive, and if we are mindful, to thrive. This passageway was not meant to endure a constant flow of carbonated, highly sweetened, artificially colored phosphoric acid, otherwise known as cola.

Our gut is more than just our food superhighway. The health of our gut can impact our immune system and our mood. 70% of our immune system is located in the wall of our gut. When you think about the fact that we have to choose what foods to put inside our bodies, which will be digested into molecules and absorbed into our bloodstream, it makes sense that we would need a strong defense system in our gut lining.

Our gut, a 30-ft looping waterslide from our mouth to our anus, is controlled by a complex web of nerves. This enteric nervous system is also known as the Second Brain. The Second Brain does not rely on input from our conscious brain to do its job of digestion, but it does communicate with our brain via the vagus nerve. The enteric nervous system is interwoven with the autonomic nervous system, so that when we are in high-stress fight-or-flight mode, our guts do not propel food. We would not want to leave a trail of droppings if we were fleeing from a lion! When we are in parasympathetic mode, feeling relaxed, we digest and propel our food more optimally. The enteric nervous system uses the same neurotransmitters as in our brain, and 95% of the body’s serotonin is found in our bowels.

The microbiome of the gut plays a crucial role in our health. We have 10x more microbial cells in our bodies than human cells. To be in optimum health, we must behave symbiotically with our gut microbiome, nurturing it with a diet that allows the healthy bacteria to flourish. An anti-inflammatory diet full of a rainbow of vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and fermented foods not only makes our microbiome happy, but it also makes our human cells happy and healthy. Show your gut some love with a plant-laden diet, 8 glasses of water daily, and regular exercise, and your health and mood will reap the benefits.

Dr. Bren Boston, MD sees patients at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica. Call 310-451-8880 to make an appointment.

Forget about Setting New Year’s Intentions

Talk about setting yourself up for failure. Trying to make a decision about a behavioral change that you will stick with for 12 straight months is nonsense. What research shows is that it takes 3 weeks to form a new habit. So, this year, I encourage you to make separate monthly intentions starting with January 2019. Try it on, feel it out, see if it works for you or if it is even possible to mesh with the rest of your life. If you find it is not working, then, presto, you can make a new intention for February while either carrying forward January’s intention or scrapping it.

For example, last year I made an intention to make every recipe in my superfood snack cookbook. But the problem was that after 2+ hours of shopping, prepping, and cooking each recipe, I found that the person in my house who ate the most of it was me. If I am going to devote 2 hours to cooking something, I want my whole family to eat it. Making every recipe was not going to work for me and was not my best use of time, so I quit with that plan and just remake the recipes that my family likes. But, since I quit on my New Year’s intention, I have a niggling sense of failure that is ridiculous.

Setting monthly intentions sets you up for success. It is much easier to commit to 30 days of change than it is to commit to a year. Monthly intentions also allow you to try 12 different changes to see what works for you, and you can repeat the ones you like best.

Here are some examples of monthly intentions that you might want to try:

January: Anti-Inflammatory Cleanse. After the excess of food and drink over the holidays, it always feels good to tighten up the food rules in January. At the Akasha Center, we espouse an anti-inflammatory cleanse. A bare-bones version is to eliminate all sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy, and processed food.

February: Decluttering. After the excess of material items that enter your home during the holidays, it feels good to declutter. Reach into the recesses of your closets and pull out things that you would not miss if they went missing. Donate them to a charity that could put them to use. It’s amazing how good you feel after decluttering, with improved mental clarity.

March: Cardiovascular fitness. There are still several months until beach season, so it’s a great time to get in the habit of doing cardiovascular exercise. Try for at least 3 days/week of at least 45 minutes, exercising to the point of sweating. I think the best way to commit to a month of exercise is to sign up for a 30-day class-pass to a fitness center. You’ll see the same faces over and over giving you accountability, helping to incentivize you to keep coming.

April: Stretching. Our tendons really want to be stretched. They don’t like getting wound up so tightly. They get creaky and cranky when they are ignored. So, for a whole month concentrate on stretching all your major muscle groups every day, even if only for 5 minutes. If you can get to yoga once a week this month, you get extra gold stars.

May: Meditation. Mindfulness practices lead to improved mental health and peace of mind. It is so hard to carve time out of our busy day to just feel present. Try setting aside a special time, even if it is just for the first 5 minutes you are lying down in bed, to listen to a guided meditation and see how it feels. Once you get the idea, you can meditate without guidance.

June: Meal planning. Americans lead the world in food waste. Meal planning for the whole week on the weekend is time consuming at first, but then saves you time by eliminating all the extra grocery runs during the week. Planning each meal ahead also allows you to waste less food, and to ensure the correct ratio of veggies, proteins, and grains. This month, your family gets what it gets, and no getting upset allowed. You’re not going back to the grocery until the next weekend. Ahhhh.

July: Triceps. We use our arms every day, but primary only for activities right in front of us. Our poor triceps don’t get the action they deserve. So, this month, commit to 30 push-ups a day (3 sets of 10 push-ups). You can work your way up if 30 sounds impossible. By the end of the month, 30 push-ups will only take 1 minute out of your day.

August: Hydration. Most Americans are chronically dehydrated. We do silly things like interpret thirst as hunger, eating more instead of hydrating our cells. If we wait until we feel thirsty, our bodies are already in water debt. This month, get a 20-oz glass or stainless steel reusable water bottle and drink 3 of them a day filled with filtered water.

September: Health care maintenance. Preventative health care can make all the difference in early detection and keeping you well. The years can easily slip by without getting your heart listened to, your lipids checked, your abdomen palpated, and your routine cancer screenings done. This month, carve out time to see your doctor, dentist, eye doctor, dermatologist, and other health specialists.

October: Core. Our core muscles include everything around our torso. Keeping your core strong can help prevent back pain, improve balance, correct posture, and improve endurance. Dedicate 5 minutes each day this month to core exercises like sit ups, crunches, plank, side plank, leg lifts, and standing on 1 leg, like tree pose in yoga.

November: Decluttering, part 2. You know that the stuff has piled back up. Let’s declutter before the influx from the holidays arrives. You’ll be able to breathe deeply and will have more donations for worthy causes at a time when they need them.

December: Me time. December is all about family time. We bend over backwards to bring the magic of the holidays to our family. So, dedicate this month to self-care. Give yourself the gift of guilt-free me-time once a week: a facial (at home or spa), massage, hike with a friend, get a sitter and go see a daytime movie, whatever it is that makes you feel recharged and ready to continue with the holiday rush with an inner sense of peace.

Dr. Boston sees patients at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica, California. Call 310-451-8880 to make an appointment. www.akashacenter.com

Longevity Depends on Your Liver

Your health depends on your liver. The liver is your largest solid organ other than your skin. It is located in the upper right corner of your abdominal cavity tucked under your rib cage. Your liver helps you digest and absorb fats and vitamins. It stores iron so that you can make red blood cells to circulate oxygen. It stores glucose for when you need a burst of energy. It makes proteins involved in blood clotting. The liver is the site of immune activity to protect from invading organisms that might enter your body through your gut. It detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. The liver helps filter your blood, removing unwanted chemicals from the bloodstream.

The cells of the liver are called hepatocytes. Hepatocytes release enzymes when they are inflamed or damaged. Detecting elevated liver enzymes on a routine blood test may be the only way you find out your liver is stressed. Early stress to your liver can be caused by excessive alcohol intake, obesity, diabetes, or viruses. Early damage causes a small bump in liver enzymes, and if the damage continues then triglyceride fat deposits within the hepatocytes causing fatty liver. At this point, the liver damage is completely reversible, and the liver cells are able to regenerate to a healthy state as long as the offending source is remediated.

If the damage continues, then fatty liver progresses to cirrhosis when functional liver cells are replaced with hardened scar tissue. Once a liver is cirrhotic, it usually cannot regenerate and a liver transplant is required. Signs and symptoms of liver failure include abdominal pain and swelling, nausea, jaundice, fatigue and internal bleeding.

Liver cancer is the fastest increasing cause of cancer death in the U.S. Unhealthy livers are more at risk for liver cancer. At least 50% of liver cancer diagnoses in the U.S. have preventable factors, including excessive alcohol intake, hepatitis viruses, cigarette smoking, obesity, and exposure to toxins like fungal aflatoxins in crops or arsenic in drinking water.

What can you do to reverse fatty liver? There is no magic pill, but committing to lifestyle changes can allow your liver cells to regenerate to healthy detoxifying machines. Along with lifestyle changes, and an herbal supplement called milk thistle can help your liver heal.

Glutathione, the most important antioxidant synthesized in cells, plays a key role in liver detoxification. Glutathione helps recover oxidative-stress induced liver damage. You can boost your glutathione production by eating sulforaphane-rich cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale. Oral glutathione supplements are controversial because they get broken down by gastric juices, however, supplements like Antiox Restore by Akasha Naturals can help support your body’s own glutathione production. Glutathione can also be given via the intravenous route to deliver antioxidants directly to your bloodstream.

Lifestyle Changes for a Healthy Liver
• Avoid excessive alcohol intake
• Avoid tobacco products
• Avoid excessive sugar intake
• Avoid environmental toxins
• Protect against hepatitis viruses
• Eat more cruciferous veggies
• Lower your triglycerides
• Lose weight
• Exercise

Bren Boston, MD is a Sports Medicine, Pain and Women’s Care specialist at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica, California. Call (310)-451-8880 or email us at info@akashacenter.com

Natural Strategies for Blood Sugar Control

No one was more surprised than me when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my first pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes in which the hormones of pregnancy impair insulin’s ability to lower blood sugar. The diagnosis was a blessing in disguise because it led me to meet with a diabetic nutritionist to learn about how to keep a food log, introduced me to the glycemic index of foods, how to eat a Type 2 diabetic diet, and how to check my blood sugar after meals. The education I got about my body and about the hidden sugar content in foods was priceless and benefits me today.

I found out that a single piece of pizza would put my blood sugar over the limit. I had not thought of pizza as a sweet food, but pizza sauce has sugar in it and the crust becomes sugar in your body. I found out that if I walked for 10 minutes after a meal, the impact of the meal on my blood sugar was reduced. The flexing of muscles when walking helped to pump the sugar into the muscle cells where it was used to power my walk rather than raise my blood sugar. Walking after meals helped reduce my insulin resistance and improve my blood sugar.

I learned how to determine carbohydrate equivalents. One carb serving is 15g, and you can subtract a gram for each gram of fiber in the food. That is how the glycemic index works. All carbohydrates, including vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans, are ranked on the glycemic index. It is obvious that a bowl of beans will not spike your blood sugar the same way a muffin will, but I also learned some good tricks. I learned that I could eat a larger portion of apples or berries than of grapes or watermelon because apples and berries are lower on the glycemic index and have more fiber. The lower a food on the glycemic index, the less it will raise your blood sugar.

Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 7-fold increase in the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. I am in prevention mode and continue to be mindful of a diabetic diet when I choose my foods and my dedication to exercise.

If you have already been diagnosed with prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes, there are several natural strategies that you can employ to help control your blood sugar.

  1. Diet: Learn how to count your carb equivalents and limit them to 2-3 per meal or 1-2 per snack. Eat small, frequent meals to keep blood sugar levels more stable. Familiarize yourself with the glycemic index and choose low-glycemic carbs. Increase the fiber in your diet and drink more water. Avoid processed fats and eat plenty of healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, wild salmon, nuts and seeds.
  1. Exercise: Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes per day of aerobic exercise. If you walk for 10 minutes after each meal, you will lower the blood sugar impact of the meal by improving the insulin sensitivity of muscle cells, helping the sugar go into muscle cells and out of the blood stream.
  1. Lose weight: Excess stored fat causes the body’s cells to become resistant to insulin.
  1. Supplements:
    1. Chromium – helps stabilize blood sugar and supports the job of insulin
    2. Cinnamon – reduces fasting blood sugar and improves insulin sensitivity
    3. Alpha Lipoic Acid – antioxidant that can help lower blood sugar by enhancing the uptake of glucose into cells and help inhibit glycosylation (the abnormal sugar-coating of proteins). It helps promote eye and nerve health.
    4. Magnesium – promotes healthy insulin production
    5. CoQ10 – antioxidant that helps support a healthy heart
    6. Green Tea – antioxidant helps support insulin and glucose control, reduces hunger, and reduces inflammation
    7. Botanicals such as blueberry, prickly-pear cactus, ayurvedic gurmar, and Asian bitter melon may help lower blood glucose.

Work with your physician to help implement an individualized program for your blood sugar control and monitoring. You can make an appointment to see Dr. Boston at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine at 310-451-8880.

The Buzz about Intermittent Fasting

The truth is you probably already do some intermittent fasting (IF) and don’t even know it. If you don’t snack after an early dinner and eat a late breakfast, you have done a form of IF. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that sets aside a specific period of time during the day for eating while the rest of day is devoted to fasting.

There is not a one size fits all protocol for intermittent fasting. Each person responds differently to how many hours they fast and how often they practice IF during the week. It does take some experimenting in the beginning to see if IF is right for you and which protocol allows your body to thrive.

The most common schedules are:

  • The Leangains Protocol (also known as the 16/8 method – involves restricting your eating period to an 8-hour period, for example 11AM -7PM. For many people we recommend lengthening the eating period to 12-hours (7AM – 7PM). This can be done 2 or more times a week.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat – fasting for 24-hours once or twice a week. For example, no eating from dinner one day until dinner the following day.
  • The 5:2 Protocol – involves only eating 500-600 calories on 2 nonconsecutive days of the week, for example every Monday and Wednesday.

What are the benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

You might be underestimating the benefits of not caving in to the late night snack food cravings. The benefits of IF are far greater than just helping to maintain weight.

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting:

  • Improves brain health
  • Increases energy
  • Enhances tissue healing
  • Promotes longevity
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Supports weight loss
  • Normalizes the hunger hormone ghrelin
  • Raises adiponectin which tells our body to burn fat
  • Reduces oxidative stress
  • Reduces inflammation

People who practice IF report feeling more energetic and wake with a feeling of alertness and excitement to start the day. Exercise can work in conjunction with intermittent fasting to improve your health and weight loss. Following an overnight fast, we encourage avoiding strenuous exercise and embracing more gentle forms of exercise such as restorative yoga and walking. Generally after 2-weeks most people will know if Intermittent Fasting is right for them and which schedule feels best.

The benefits of IF are increased when you choose a fiber-rich, anti-inflammatory Mediterranean-type diet with lots of multi-colored vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole non-processed grains during your non-fasting hours.

If you are interested in learning more about intermittent fasting and to discuss the best schedule for your body and your lifestyle, let us help you.

Dr. Bren Boston and Dr. Maggie Ney are practitioners at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine. You can schedule an appointment by emailing us at info@akashacenter.com, or calling 310-451-8880.

How Does Activated Charcoal Work?

Activated charcoal is a fine, black powder with an extremely high surface area, making it ideal for adsorbing, or trapping, toxins. Activated charcoal can be made from various carbon sources, including coconuts husks, hardwood, or peat. It is available as capsules, loose powder, tablets, or liquid.

In the emergency room setting, activated charcoal is used orally to treat certain kinds of poisoning, especially within the first hour. Charcoal works by soaking up the toxic compound so that the poison is not absorbed from the intestinal tract into the blood circulation. The charcoal, along with any toxins that are stuck to it, is eliminated in the stool. The dose to treat emergency poisoning in an adult is 25-100g of activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal is used in the non-emergency setting to detox ingested impurities at a much lower dose of about 1g after a meal. It can be used to help with digestion for foods that cause symptoms such as cramping, diarrhea, or nausea. One study showed that activated charcoal can reduce bloating and gas in the lower intestines, reducing cramping. Activated charcoal can be useful in food poisoning, especially if taken within 30min to 1 hour.

Activated charcoal carries a negative charge, so it attracts heavy metals and other toxins that are positively charged. Activated charcoal in a facial soap or facial mask can remove impurities and toxins from the skin, commonly used to treat acne or brighten dull skin. Activated charcoal can stain your clothing or carpet, but if used to brush your teeth, it actually whitens them by pulling out color impurities in teeth. Teeth should be rinsed well with water after brushing with charcoal powder.

Activated charcoal has anecdotally been used for hangover prevention, although there are no scientific studies. The use for hangover prevention is typically 1 capsule prior to each alcoholic drink, and 1 glass of water right after the alcoholic drink.  Excessive alcohol use is dangerous, and even potentially deadly, whether or not charcoal is used.

Safety concerns for activated charcoal include constipation or vomiting if too high a dose is used, intestinal obstruction if patient has a gut motility issue, temporary dark stools, corneal abrasion if it gets in eyes, and respiratory distress if it gets inhaled into the lungs. If you are taking prescription medications, there is a chance that they will be less effective if they are adsorbed and eliminated with the charcoal. Therefore, you should wait at least 2 hours after taking your prescription medication before you take activated charcoal. Activated charcoal should not be used concurrently with a laxative due to risk of electrolyte and fluid imbalance. If you are pregnant, you should ask your doctor before using activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal is not effective for low molecular weight compounds like cyanide, iron, ethanol, lithium, or methanol. Activated charcoal should not be used for caustic ingestions, such as cleaning agents, acids, or batteries. Contact your local poison control center if caustic ingestion is suspected.

In summary, the low dose of non-prescription activated charcoal available over the counter is safe for most people to use on an intermittent basis as part of their detox protocol. For best results, find a supplement that states the carbon source and avoid any extra additives.

Dr. Boston helps patients develop personalized detox protocols at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine located at 520 Arizona Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401.  www.akashacenter.com  (310)-451-8880.

 

 

What to Eat to Heal from Surgery

What you eat can affect how well you heal from an orthopedic injury or surgery. When your body has to repair injuries, create new bonds, and strengthen tissues, its performance will depend on whether it gets the building blocks it needs. Imagine your food being digested into molecules, and those molecules being absorbed into your blood stream to be delivered to the site of healing.

Protein intake should be spread out evenly throughout the day in meals and snacks. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are metabolized in muscles to provide energy and promote protein synthesis. BCAA found organic poultry, grass-fed beef, fish, soybeans, lima beans, eggs and nuts boost healing after musculoskeletal injury.

Vitamin C is required to make collagen to repair tendons or ligaments and heal surgical wounds. Good sources include citrus, broccoli, strawberry, kiwi, and bell pepper.

Zinc enhances wound healing. It is found in free-range beef, oysters, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.

Beta-carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A and promotes stronger bones, healthy scar tissue, and elasticity of skin. Good sources are sweet potato, kale, squash, carrot, prune, apricot, and mango.

Antioxidants (Vit C, flavonoids, Vit A, Zinc, Selenium, B vitamins, folate) neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals and repair cellular damage from injury or surgery. Found in leafy greens like kale, vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean meat/poultry, fatty fish, nuts and seeds.

Flavonoids reduce swelling and protect cells. Flavonoids are found in cocoa, tea, red wine, fruits, vegetables, legumes, garlic, turmeric, green tea, blueberries, apples, citrus, and pineapple.

EPA and DHA Omega 3 fatty acids reduce joint stiffness, improve bone health, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits. You can find it in oily fish such as wild salmon, sardines, and anchovies.

Iron is required for oxygen delivery to the site of injury or surgery, and for wound healing. In addition to animal products, iron is found in dark leafy greens, legumes, beets, raisins, and black beans.

Calcium and Vitamin D optimize tendon-to-bone healing after injury or surgery. Calcium is found in dark leafy greens, salmon, rainbow trout, white beans, and fortified foods like almond milk and oatmeal. Vitamin D is found in mushrooms, salmon, tuna, soy milk, and egg yolks.

Healthy fats from avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds will improve immune response and help your body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.  Avoid partially hydrogenated oil (in processed foods) due to their pro-inflammatory effect.

Fiber is necessary to avoid post-operative constipation. The pain medications required for orthopedic surgery, as well as the anesthesia used during surgery, can cause slowing of intestinal transit and constipation. Up your fiber intake from vegetables, apples, berries, prunes, whole grains, flax and chia seeds.

Gluten: Evil or Not?

Gluten is a hot topic, and this is a great article (“Should We All Go Gluten-Free,” by W. Balistreri, MD, see link below). My quick summary is that 1% of the population has celiac disease, and these folks absolutely need to be gluten-free all the time.

For the rest of us, you need to understand that processed foods are the greatest evil, so if you switch from wheat-flour cookies to gluten-free rice flour cookies, you are still just eating processed food cookies. Gluten-containing foods also tend to be high in sugar, and easily converted to more sugar once you eat them, spiking your insulin and leading to food coma and other negative effects.

The best approach would be to strive for a diet rich in plants that still look like plants (organic vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, grains that look like grain, NOT FLOUR – think quinoa). No matter how many vegetables you eat daily, you could benefit from eating MORE VEGETABLES in place of what ever other food you are eating.

Does this mean you have to avoid all gluten all the time? Not necessarily. It means to minimize all flour-based products, even gluten-free ones, to the margins of your diet.

If you have gastrointestinal problems, then you should test for celiac antibodies before you go gluten-free, and then do a 1-month food elimination diet (including eliminating gluten), to see if you improve. Food sensitivity blood tests can guide your elimination diet. After a month, you can see how your symptoms have responded to the elimination and re-introduction of foods.

I love to guide people through this process at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica.
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/857971?nlid=99603_491

HYDRATION

Hydration…I consider it my 3rd full time job after being a mom and a doctor. That’s how important it is, and also how much of a hassle.

The human body is 60% water, and all of our cells function optimally when we are well-hydrated. When we don’t drink enough water, our brain feels tired, foggy, and headachy; our muscles and joints feel sore and unlubricated, and our skin looks dry and papery. Our body’s ability to detox is hampered when we don’t drink enough water to flush through our kidneys and liver. Water is also imperative for healthy gut function, avoiding constipation and the build-up of toxic sewage in our large intestines when things aren’t moving along.

So, how much water should you drink? In general, a good rule of thumb is that women should drink about 2 liters of water a day, and men should drink about 3 liters a day.

I use a 20-oz glass water bottle that has a silicone sleeve, and I drink about 4 refills a day of filtered tap water. I make sure I drink my first 20 oz of water before my cup of coffee in the morning as a reward. It is time-consuming and makes me have to stay close to a bathroom, but I notice immediately if I don’t drink enough water…by feeling sluggish, brain-foggy, and tired.

You need even more water when exercising. The American College of Sports Medicine says that you should drink 3-8 oz water every 15 min while exercising for less than an hour, or 3-8 oz of a sports drink every 15 min if exercising for more than an hour.

Can you drink too much water? Yes. If you drink too much water, you can dilute your electrolytes which can be dangerous.

So, stick to the guidelines, and rejuvenate your dry cells to a nourished state every day.

New Year Post: Top Ten Tips to Improve Your Health

January is a wonderful time to reflect on the past year and make decisions about the upcoming year.  We can make choices about which behaviors to concentrate on changing to optimize our health and our happiness.

1.  Invest in a reusable 32oz cup.   Fill and drink it twice a day with filtered tap water.

Most Americans need to drink more water.  They are walking around dehydrated all the time.  Every cell in your body requires water.  When we are chronically dehydrated, our tissues (such as spinal discs and ligaments) dry out and become more brittle and prone to injury.  If we wait until we are thirsty before we drink, we are already in 1L water deficit.

2.  Walk for 10 minutes after every meal.

When you walk after eating, you improve the ability of insulin to lower your blood sugar by pumping fresh oxygenated blood to your muscles.  The delivery of glucose to the cells which use it for energy becomes possible when insulin allows the entry of glucose out of the blood stream and into the cells that need it.  A 10 minute walk after eating also helps your intestinal tract mobilize the food boluses which improves digestion.

3.  Eat more fresh, organic vegetables.

Vegetables are the most important source of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber in your diet.  Truthfully, we all need to eat more vegetables.  A diet high in vegetables has been linked to longevity and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Juicing is one way to get the antioxidants, but it eliminates the fiber you need for a smoothly working digestive tract.  In my own quest to eat more fresh vegetables, I have found it very useful to cut the veggies into sticks and dip them into dry spice blends.  My favorite spice blends right now are Penzey’s Murals of Flavor (a salt-free blend that includes shallots and lemon peel) and Penzey’s Pizza seasoning (a distinct fennel flavor I love).  I find it very satisfying to snack on veggies this way rather than crackers or chips.  Another trick I use to get more vegetables in my family’s diet is to add pureed fresh spinach to smoothies and in place of water in recipes.

4.  Eat less processed food.

When I see the professionally marketed boxes and bags of processed food in the grocery, it looks appetizing on the cover.  But, once you look at the ingredients of food that comes in a box or a bag, you see some very unappetizing, sometimes revolting truths.  The chemicals and preservatives and empty, possibly  toxic, calories that lie within are tasty due to their fat, sugar, and salt content.  But, they are terrible for your health.  Try to choose foods with the fewest ingredients possible and those that are closest to the natural state.  Choose whole grains where you can still identify the grain by looking at the product, rather than refined, bleached flours.  If you don’t keep junk food in your home, then you will be much less likely to eat it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  If you have a junk food that  you want to indulge in, then have one encounter with it away from home, and don’t bring the leftovers with you.

5.  Prioritize exercise.  Identify 3 priming songs.

The American College of Sports Medicine says that if you want to reap the cardiovascular and health benefits of exercise, you need to find the time to do moderate exercise 150 min/week.  Another way to put it would be to exercise for at least 30 min a day, five days a week.  The exercise you do should ideally be a mix of aerobic exercise, resistance training, balance training, and stretching.  Regular exercise has been proven to help treat anxiety, depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The best way to make sure you exercise enough is to make it fun so that you look forward to it.  If you are not currently exercising on a regular basis, then you need to look at your schedule and see where you can fit it in, and actually write it on your calendar.  Identify 3 priming songs.  Priming songs are songs that when you hear them, you just want to get up and dance or move your body.  Put these songs on your listening device, and use them to get your mind and body ready and geared up for exercise.  I find my priming songs to be incredibly powerful motivators, especially on cloudy days when I am less likely to want to exercise.

6.  Sit less.  Move more.

The human body was not designed to be as sedentary as the typical American regimen has become.  Our hip flexors are shortening from sitting all day, and our low back is straining from the slumped posture that prolonged sitting encourages.  We will feel better and more energized if we move more and sit less.

Build tiny bouts of increased joint range of motion and body-weight strengthening into your daily life.  For example, while you are filling your car with gas or waiting in line, you could use those few minutes to do heel raises, leg extensions (barely placing your straight leg behind you until you feel your buttock muscle engage in contraction), or stretching your arms over head.   For every hour that you spend sitting, you should get up and move for at least 10 minutes.  Take your large joints through their entire range of motion a few times a day.  Stretch your hamstrings.  Feel the improved blood flow and the release of tension that comes with regular movement of your muscles and skeleton.

7.  Eat smaller portions.

As we age, our caloric requirements go down.  This is because our lean body mass decreases and our metabolic rate slows down.  These natural effects of aging can be mitigated by decreasing our caloric intake to match the decreased caloric need.  Low calorie diets have been associated with longevity.  If you eat more calories than you burn, then you gain weight.  The American food portions are often grotesquely large.  There is no need to go around feeling hungry, since you can always eat more fresh vegetables.

8.  Protect your skin barrier.

Our skin is an important part of our immune system.  It is the barrier between our organs and the outside world.  Every part of our internal anatomy is connected to our skin by just a few degrees of separation because our skin involutes to our internal body at our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, urethra, and anus.  As we age, our skin becomes less hydrated and less elastic, making it easier to get micro fissures in the skin.  This can disrupt the natural, protective, healthy bacteria that live helpfully on our skin but should not contact our internal micro biome.  To protect your skin barrier, I recommend using a mild, dermatologist-recommended bar soap, like Dove, in your warm (not hot) shower.  Avoid harsh, anti-bacterial soaps unless you are cleansing your hands after contacting germs.  Women should avoid using soap on their vagina, as it disrupts the natural, healthy flora – just use water.  I also feel it is important to add moisture to your skin daily with a mild, dermatologist-recommended, unscented, daily moisturizer, preferably paraben-free.  Frequent hand-washing can help keep us healthy, but hands should be thoroughly dried afterwards, and a moisturizer applied.  As we age, our feet require more attention to keep the skin healthy and free of fungus, dry skin, and cracks.   Get a professional pedicure monthly or do it yourself to eradicate the thick, dry skin, and use a moisturizing ointment on the soles of your feet every night to prevent the re-accumulation of keratin.  Ointments I use daily on my hands include Un-petroleum by Alba Botanica and  Organic Healing Balm by Honest Company.  I use these products on my children as well.

9.  Improve your sleep habits.

While we are sleeping, our bodies and minds enjoy a restorative period during which our metabolic processes are able to recuperate.  Plenty of scientific literature has shown the benefits of getting 8 hours of sleep a night.  Sleep is not wasted time, but rather an investment in your health and well-being.  Make sure you have a comfortable sleep environment, an ergonomic sleep position (don’t sleep on your stomach), and a routine that helps your mind and body wind down for sleep.  Getting regular exercise and setting aside time to meditate during the day can help you achieve better sleep at night, readying your mind and body for their nightly reward, restful , rejuvenating sleep.

10.  Find gratitude.  Choose happiness.

We all live with some level of stress, yet we can identify others who are enduring much more stress than we.  When we remember there are other humans living in extreme poverty, or as prisoners of war, or as human slaves, or with a life cut short by disease, we should use these remembrances to help ourselves find gratitude amidst our own life stressors.  We are kindred to all the humans on Earth, and we are born into environments beyond our control.  What we can control is how we respond to our situation.  Finding gratitude and not taking our life for granted is key to choosing happiness.  Happiness is a choice, and we can all choose it anew every day.