HEALTH Q&A

I have read that both a meat-cen­tric Pa­leo diet and a ve­gan diet— po­lar op­po­sites, it seems—are healthy ways of eat­ing. What’s the truth?

Amazing Wellness - - CONTENTS - — J. Ricks, Galve­ston, TX

7 Foun­da­tional Health Habits Step back and take a “helicopter view” of your health with these big-pic­ture well­ness prin­ci­ples.

Q:A: The de­bate over the best way to eat is not go­ing away. In fact, in just the past few years, it seems to be par­al­lel­ing our na­tional po­lit­i­cal de­bate—and not in a good way. Nu­tri­tion is get­ting ever more par­ti­san—the raw-food peo­ple dis­agree with the Pa­leo peo­ple, who think the ve­g­ans are nuts, while the South Beach Diet en­thu­si­asts take of­fense to the keto diet peo­ple, who think all the rest of us should be eat­ing like they do. And the de­bate over ex­er­cise isn’t much bet­ter—in­ter­val train­ing or con­ven­tional weights? CrossFit? Stan­dard aer­o­bics? Ev­ery day? Once a week? (In­sert “scream” here!) Calm down, peo­ple. Ev­ery so of­ten, it’s good to step back and take a “helicopter view” of a sit­u­a­tion. We get so deeply into the minu­tiae and de­tails of things that we fre­quently lose sight of the big­ger pic­ture. Th ough you wouldn’t know it from all the trib­al­ism, there ac­tu­ally are a few things that we all can and do agree on. So for this col­umn I’d like to of­fer what I con­sider the “7 Bi­par­ti­san Prin­ci­ples of Health,” habits that would be worth cul­ti­vat­ing for ab­so­lutely ev­ery­one, no mat­ter what diet or ex­er­cise pro­gram you fol­low.

1. EAT REAL FOOD

By “real food,” I mean food that would go bad if you left it out­side in the air for a cou­ple days. Food that you could hunt, fish, gather, or pluck. When I say this at work­shops, I in­evitably get the ques­tion, “Does that in­clude( fill in the blank )?” My an­swer is al­ways the same: If you’re not sure if it’s real food, it’s prob­a­bly not. There’ s not much to won­der about with an ap­ple, a berry, a nut, or a fish. If you have to think about it, it doesn’t make the cut. Sorry.

I hap­pen to be­lieve that the qual­ity of the food we eat mat­ters more than the pro­por­tion of carbs, fat, and pro­tein. If you cut out the junk, it au­to­mat­i­cally re­duces your carb in­take. And if you get food qual­ity right, you au­to­mat­i­cally im­prove your mi­cro­biome, which can im­prove ev­ery­thing else. You’re also less likely to have mi­cronu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies, which can lead to a host of other health is­sues.

2. EX­ER­CISE

Are there tons of ways to work out? You bet. Do they have their ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages? Yup. But in the big­ger scheme of things, what mat­ters is that we move our butts. I don’t care if it’s walk­ing, golf­ing, climb­ing stairs, do­ing jump­ing jacks, belly-danc­ing, uni­cy­cling, jug­gling, or do­ing the Macarena.

And don’t con­fuse ex­er­cise for weight loss with ex­er­cise for

fit­ness. Ab risk daily walk won’t get you on the cover of Men’s Health or Shape, but it will grow new brain cells and re­duce the risk for cancer, de­pres­sion, di­a­betes, and heart dis­ease.

3. SUP­PLE­MENT IN­TEL­LI­GENTLY

I’m of­ten asked if you re­ally need sup­ple­ments. I al­ways an­swer, “No. You don’t need sup­ple­ments; you also don’t need in­door plumb­ing. But why would you want to do with­out ei­ther of them?”

Sup­ple­ments are just a high­tech way to de­liver nu­tri­ents that your body needs. And many of those nu­tri­ents aren’t avail­able in food (ex­am­ples: al­pha-lipoic acid and CoQ10 are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to get from food un­less you eat a ton of or­gan meats).

I con­sider ba­sic sup­ple­men­ta­tion to in­clude at least fish oil, mag­ne­sium, vitamin D ,

3 and pro­bi­otics. Be­yond that, one size does not fit all, but some of my fa­vorite add-ons in­clude cur­cumin, resver­a­trol, vitamin K , and CoQ10.

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4. MAN­AGE STRESS AND SLEEP

Stress is im­pli­cated in a host of health prob­lems, from in­ter­fer­ing

Fo­cus your diet on “real food” that you could hunt, fish, gather, or pluck.

with a good night’s sleep to bring­ing on an at­tack of a con­di­tion or dis­ease (her­pes, acne, alope­cia). It can ag­gra­vate an ex­ist­ing ill­ness, and it makes re­cov­ery from any­thing slower.

Dur­ing a stress re­sponse, hor­mones such as cor­ti­sol and adren­a­line are se­creted. Blood pres­sure rises and heart rate in­creases. But all that hap­pens whether you’re run­ning from a lion or sit­ting in a traf­fic jam. And chronic stress can shorten your life in the long term.

Th at’s why man­ag­ing stress in some pro­duc­tive way is cru­cial. Th ere are a mil­lion ways to re­duce daily stress, rang­ing from tak­ing a walk to do­ing yoga. Don’t con­cern your­self with the best way to re­duce stress—just do what­ever low­ers your heart rate and deep­ens your breath­ing, for at least a few min­utes ev­ery day.

Worth not­ing: Not sleep­ing well is a major stres­sor, which is one of the rea­sons that good, healthy, restora­tive sleep is vi­tal. Im­por­tant meta­bolic op­er­a­tions hap­pen dur­ing sleep, like the mak­ing of bio­chem­i­cals, the pars­ing of neu­ronal cir­cuits, and the re­lease of hor­mones. Make sleep a pri­or­ity. Keep the tem­per­a­ture down in your bed­room and the lights off, and never fall asleep with the TV on.

5. RE­LA­TION­SHIPS

On some level, “like seeks like.” Peo­ple who stay fit, care about their health, don’t smoke, and ex­er­cise reg­u­larly are likely to be sur­rounded with peo­ple who care about the same things. So choose your friends care­fully!

But there’s more to it. When Dan Buet­tler re­searched the ar­eas around the world with the great­est num­ber of healthy 100-year olds, he made an as­ton­ish­ing find­ing. While there were a num­ber of vari­a­tions in these ar­eas, there was one con­stant across all of them: so­cial fab­ric. Th e peo­ple all had strong so­cial re­la­tion­ships, ties that bound them to neigh­bors, friends, and fam­ily and that were an im­por­tant part of their lives.

There’ s ar­eas on why peo­ple in long-term re­la­tion­ships live longer. Re­la­tion­ships mat­ter.

6. CON­TRI­BU­TION

Ellen Langer is a psy­chol­o­gist at Har­vard who has done some amaz­ing stud­ies on hu­man be­hav­ior. In one, she went into a nurs­ing home and gave half the res­i­dents a sim­ple task: take care of a plant.

Th e re­sults were re­mark­able. Th e plant care­tak­ers had fewer doc­tor vis­its, got sick less of­ten, and re­cov­ered from ill­ness more quickly. And their blood pres­sure went down.

Langer showed that the very act of car­ing for some­thing out­side your­self, thus di­rect­ing your en­ergy away from ob­sess­ing over your own con­cerns, has sig­nif­i­cant health ben­e­fits. And do­ing it makes you feel a whole lot bet­ter in the process. As mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist Es­ther Perel says, “Th e most pow­er­ful an­tide­pres­sant is tak­ing care of other peo­ple.”

So vol­un­teer for a cause close to your heart, such as an an­i­mal shel­ter, soup kitchen, or re­tire­ment home, even if only for an hour or so a week.

Th e ben­e­fits—not only to those whose lives you im­pact, but also to you—are price­less.

7. KEEP YOUR WORD

Th e sev­enth habit that I rec­om­mend sounds the weird­est, but may ac­tu­ally be the most im­por­tant of all: Keep your word. Here’s why it mat­ters.

Th ink for a minute of a friend you have who is al­ways late. Like, al­ways. And ev­ery time— ev­ery sin­gle time— he prom­ises you that he’ll be on time. What do you do? Easy an­swer: you don’t be­lieve him.

I would ar­gue that we have be­come—to our­selves—very much like that friend who keeps break­ing his prom­ise. We prom­ise our­selves we’ll eat bet­ter. We give our word that we’re go­ing to stop smok­ing. We vow to keep our New Year’s res­o­lu­tions (again).

So we stop be­liev­ing our­selves, just like we stop be­liev­ing the al­ways-late friend.

Th is mat­ters be­cause words have power. (Even thoughts have power—there’s a whole sci­ence called psy­choneu­roim­munol­ogy that stud­ies how our thoughts in­flu­ence our im­mune sys­tem.) Imag­ine if ev­ery time you told your­self (or some­one else) you were go­ing to do some­thing, you did it. Ev­ery time. Even­tu­ally, you would start re­ally be­liev­ing in your­self, and so would oth­ers. Be­ing true to your word is the op­po­site of help­less­ness and vic­tim­hood. It’s claim­ing that won­der­ful qual­ity that men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als say is so im­por­tant for well-be­ing: agency. Th e sense that what we do mat­ters, that we are the masters of our own fate.

So there you have it. I be­lieve that these seven ba­sics mat­ter more than any of the de­tails of spe­cific di­ets or ex­er­cise pro­grams. We could de­bate the minu­tiae of var­i­ous plans and pro­grams end­lessly. But if you just ad­here to these ba­sics, you have a solid foun­da­tion for good health no mat­ter what camp you’re in.

Ba­sic sup­ple­men­ta­tion in­cludes fish oil (pic­tured), mag­ne­sium, vitamin D and pro­bi­otics. 3,

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