7 Steps to a Healthier & Happier You

Every journey starts with one step. And in the next few minutes, I’m going to share with you a few simple actions you can take to dramatically improve your overall health and happiness.

And I guarantee it won’t take long for you to feel the difference — a big difference in your physical and mental energy as well as your overall vitality.

Follow these simple steps, and within 21 day, three short weeks, you’ll be feeling better than you have in years.

To begin, let’s take a step back and talk about some common habits that get us into trouble. You see, there is a pretty consistent set of decisions we make on a daily basis that not only contribute to us feeling poorly, but also open the door for chronic diseases to invade our bodies.

The cycle goes like this: We don’t consume enough quality nutrients, which leads to a lack of energy. When we feel tired we aren’t as active and tend to rest more frequently, typically indoors. The combination of these actions leads to us feeling lethargic and irritable. To compensate, we perk ourselves up by consuming stimulants (e.g., caffeine, nicotine, sugar) during the day. In the evening, we may consume depressants (e.g., alcohol, sleeping pills) to wind down or help ourselves sleep. The problem with this is that the cycle of stimulants and depressants disrupts our sleep pattern. So in addition to feeling lethargic and irritable, we’re now also sleep deprived!

Sound familiar?

Well, you can break this cycle! And the seven steps we have identified in this report represent simple ways to begin the process.

As one might imagine, breaking the reliance on stimulants and depressants are the hardest nuts to crack given that most of them are highly addictive. And this is where modern medicine tends to be too hard-line in its recommendations.

For example, let’s say you are a cigarette smoker (20% of American adults are). Doctors will tell you the best way to improve your health is to quit smoking immediately and for good. And they are correct. The science is too strong to ignore. But only about 3% of smokers in this country are successful in quitting each year. So what additional health advice is given to the 97% who can’t or won’t stop smoking to improve how they feel? Sadly, very little.

Did you know there are a set of research verified actions smokers can take to improve their health and, thus, how they feel? We’ll bet not. Why? Because in the linear medical world of A+B=C, many doctors don’t consider actions beyond their preferred solution — often referred to as the “standard of care.”

Whether you look at sugar consumption, alcohol use, or other uppers and downers, the story is largely the same: Stop eating unhealthy foods, stop drinking and stop taking pills, and you’ll feel better. In essence, we are asking people to take the hardest steps first. As a result, many fail. Many give up hope of ever feeling better.

Perhaps, if one can instead implement some simple steps that address the underlying health behaviors that lead to the use of stimulants and depressants, one can start to feel better and get better. Once that foundation of improvement is established, one is then in a better position to tackle stimulants and depressants.

In other words, if consuming six cups of coffee a day is the only thing giving you the energy to tackle your day, why take that away first? Instead, why not work to incorporate better health behaviors into your daily routine first, and once you’ve started to feel better and have gained greater confidence, then act to cut out caffeine.

And even if you don’t feel like caffeine or alcohol is affecting your health (or you abstain from one or both already), incorporating one or more new health self-improvement ideas into your everyday routine can still pay big dividends.

Sound like a reasonable approach? It certainly isn’t the same trite snippets you’ll get from grocery store magazine covers. You know, “7 Ways to Feel Better NOW!”:

1. Stop smoking cigarettes
2. Stop drinking alcohol
3. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages
4. Go on a diet
5. Sleep more
6. Exercise more, harder, faster
7. When all else fails, ask your doc for pills to make it all go away!

Ta-da! Problem solved! It’s not quite that easy, is it?

Our 7 Steps — A New and Different Approach

OK, ready for a different approach? We promise we’re not going to suggest you give up anything… yet. Instead, we are going to suggest some ways to incorporate healthier behaviors into your daily routine that have been shown in numerous research studies to provide immediate and lasting health benefits. Steps that are easy to try. So easy, in fact, you’ll look at some and say, “That’s so simple I can’t believe it will help me feel better.” To you doubting Thomases we say, “Au contraire, mes amis.”

So let us begin. When it comes to embarking on new health habits, a big problem for many people is the tendency to jump in too aggressively. They change their diet, start exercising and quit smoking, etc., all at the same time. After a few days or weeks, the shock therapy loses its appeal, and one by one, the new behaviors cease.

Our suggested approach: start slowly. Don’t try to add all seven steps at once. Even though we’ve ordered our steps from one to seven, you will be the best judge of which steps are easiest for you to begin with and which ones to add as you go along. We won’t be so bold as to declare this a “secret formula.” But whatever step you begin with, give each a week before adding the next step. If you can add one per week, over a seven-week period, we believe you’ll find it is easier to stick with the steps you do try. After all, this isn’t a sprint. Good health is a marathon pursuit, and the goal is to feel better for the long haul, not just a few weeks, right?

Step 1: Seek More Sunlight to Ward Off Sickness and Disease

Hand Gripping SunRecommendation: Go outside for at least 20-30 minutes each day, exposing multiple areas of skin to direct sunlight. 

Now how hard is that? See, we told you these steps would be easy to implement!

If you’re sitting there now feeling like a complete idiot for reading this far, please give us another moment to change your mind.

Lack of exposure to direct sunlight is one of the most destructive health behaviors to develop in America over the past 50 years.

Direct sunlight helps your body produce one of the most vital nutrients necessary for proper functioning, vitamin D. Sensors in our skin cells absorb the UVB rays from the sun and spark the body’s production of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread in Americans, both adults and children, and is believed to be at the root of osteoporosis, lung disease, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, auto-immune diseases and dementia, among other conditions.

During the past 50 years, there has been a dramatic drop in the amount of time Americans are exposed to direct sunlight. The invention of air conditioning, television and video games has seduced us to spend more hours of the day indoors. On top of that, concerns about skin cancer have prompted people to slather on thick layers of UVB-blocking lotions before they even take a step outside. Further still, the shift of our economy to office-bound day jobs has forced a substantial portion of the workforce inside for many of the daylight hours.

As a result, the amount of time we are exposed to direct sunlight each day is dramatically less than it was in the first half of the 20th century, and a significant portion of Americans have developed a vitamin D deficiency.

So what’s the big deal? When we don’t have enough vitamin D, the body lacks one of its most potent weapons to fend off antagonistic molecules known as free radicals that over time break down the body’s immune response. In short, vitamin D deficiency lowers our defenses and makes us more vulnerable to sickness and disease.

Therefore, an easy way to make a big difference in how you feel is to make sure you get at least 20-30 minutes of direct exposure to sunlight each day (without sunblock on since it prevents UVB rays from reaching your skin). It is best to have multiple parts of your body exposed to the sun (which we acknowledge is challenging during the winter months). The more surface area exposed to the sun, the greater and quicker the absorption of vitamin D.

If it is not feasible for you to get 20-30 minutes a day of direct sunlight exposure, or if your doctor has advised you to avoid direct sunlight without applying sunblock, you should at least consider consuming foods that are fortified with vitamin D.

Raw Salmon on a Chopping BoardWhat Foods Provide Vitamin D?

Most foods that provide vitamin D in American diets are fortified, as very few foods naturally contain the nutrient. Here are some foods that supply vitamin D:

Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are among the best sources. Beef liver, cheese and egg yolks provide small amounts. So do mushrooms. Some producers are boosting the vitamin D content of mushrooms by exposing them to ultraviolet light.

Almost all of the U.S. milk supply is fortified with 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D per quart. However, foods made from milk, like cheese and ice cream, are usually not fortified. Vitamin D is added to many breakfast cereals and to some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine and soy beverages. Check the labels.

Source: Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health

You might also consider taking a daily vitamin D dietary supplement. Vitamin D is widely available in retail stores and online and is very inexpensive ($5-$10 for a monthly supply). Make sure to look at the supplement facts box on the bottle’s label to verify the product contains vitamin D3 in the form of cholecalciferol — the form of vitamin D best absorbed and utilized by the human body.

The National Academy of Sciences recommends 400-600 IU of vitamin D daily for healthy adults. That may be adequate for people who aren’t yet in disease states, who have great digestive systems, who get adequate exposure to sunlight, and who don’t take medications that leech vitamin D from the body. But if you’re already vitamin D deficient, this amount is not adequate. We recommend adults consider dosage levels between 500 IU and 2,000 IU. (The National Academy of Sciences considers 2,000 IU the safe daily upper limit of vitamin D supplementation.)

If you are concerned that you may be vitamin D deficient, ask your doctor to order a vitamin D profile blood test. If you are deficient, your doctor can recommend a dosage level that is appropriate for your particular situation.

Step 2: Exercise for Fun (Not Pain) With Tai Chi & Nordic Walking

nordic-walkers_244x172Recommendation: Practice tai chi for one hour a day two to three times per week, and “Nordic Walk” for 40-60 minutes two to three times per week.

Tai chi? Nordic Walking? We’re kidding, right?

Nope. Weight-bearing, aerobic physical activity in any form confers conditioning, strength and balance/coordination benefits.

Regular physical activity is the most powerful step you can take to protect your long-term health. Whether you’re perfectly healthy or riddled with disease, regular physical activity has been shown in study after study to improve physical conditioning, balance, coordination, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, arterial flexibility, mood and sleep quality, and contributes to healthy body mass (i.e., helps you lose weight).

As the American College of Sports Medicine has coined, “Exercise is Medicine.” And they are right. No doubt about it.

Trouble is most people equate exercise with pain, not fun. We envision ourselves lifting heavy weights and huffing and puffing while trudging on a treadmill or neighborhood street. And let’s be honest about two things when it comes to starting an exercise program:

#1: Most people jump into programs too fast and at too intense a level. This approach creates a notable amount of muscle soreness and joint stiffness, and often leads to injury. This, in turn, results in many “resolution warriors” dropping quickly out of an exercise program.

#2: Unless you are inspired by working out (and believe us, some people literally get off on it), a traditional cardiovascular and strength training routine can get boring very quickly. Beyond muscle/joint pain and injury, one of the most common reasons for people quitting an exercise program is plain, old boredom.

So, if you want to shake things up and stick with an exercise program, what you’re really looking for is one that:

1. Allows you to start off slowly
2. Is fun and interesting
3. Is easy to do
4. Is easy on your joints and muscles

Tai chi and Nordic Walking are two interesting and fun ways that have been clinically shown to help people sustain exercise programs for longer periods of time.

Will you get as ripped from tai chi and Nordic Walking as you would from weight training or running a 10K? No, you will not. But that’s not even the goal. You will, however, improve your physical endurance and strength. You’ll also be markedly less sore and less prone to injury. You’ll likely also stick with these two exercise methods longer because they are more fun and interesting — at least that’s what a number of recent research studies conclude.

You see, the real goal is to get active. To stir your heart, lungs, muscles, joints and bones to action — and to start off in a way that enhances your chances of engaging in physical activity for the long haul. It’s not about training to summit Kilimanjaro, or setting the 50-plus-age-group record in the Ironman triathlon. At least not when you’re starting out.

The alternative, lounging in front of the TV or computer for the four to six hours a day you are awake that you’re not sitting at your desk at work or commuting to and from work, is decidedly unlikely to confer any conditioning benefits. In fact, such sedentary behavior is downright lethal over time.

Can’t you spare a measly one hour, four to five days a week to feel better, sleep better and ward off the development of serious disease? If you can, then we recommend tai chi and Nordic Walking as a good mix of low-impact cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercise that is fun and confers meaningful health benefits.

Tai ChiWhy Tai Chi?

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial arts form that involves a series of slow, graceful movements repeated in patterns. The movements are intended to improve balance and teach defensive actions to physical attack. Tai chi is NOT karate. There is no squaring off on a mat and bowing before leaping at your opponent all Bruce Lee-like.

Tai chi classes are often set to soothing music. Initial movements are intended to stretch and loosen muscles and joints. The subsequent movements are slow and graceful. Instructors emphasize deep breathing, meditation and clearing one’s mind while performing the tai chi movements. Since these classes are offered in groups, the social interaction is part of the fun. You’ll be surprised how one hour flies by. You’ll also be surprised at how good you feel when you leave the health club or community center where your class takes place. And you will get stronger and see your balance and coordination improve.

And guess what — a recent study showed that adults who participated in a 24-week tai chi program one hour per day for three days a week experienced significantly improved sleep quality, slept for an average of 48 minutes longer, and fell asleep 18 minutes faster than study subjects following a traditional low-intensity exercise program!

Granted, for the first couple of classes you will feel silly trying to replicate the instructor’s stances. But nearly all venues that offer tai chi classes divide sessions by experience (beginner, intermediate, advanced), so everyone in a beginner class looks like a dork too. For those of you who have limited mobility and/or balance, many instructors adapt tai chi movements so you can participate while seated.

Some recent research studies have also shown that people who engage in tai chi as a form of exercise stick with the classes far longer than those confined to typical gym routines. The most common reason given by participants in these research studies for keeping their chosen form of exercise going… drum roll please… it’s fun!

If you’re too intimidated to join a class, there is a wide range of DVD tai chi programs for people of different skill levels available for sale in retail stores and online that you can use to practice at home.

nordic-walkers_244x172What the Heck is Nordic Walking?

Nordic Walking typically occurs outdoors (a good way to get your exposure to sunlight) and involves walking with ski-pole-like arm supports. Nordic Walking poles typically have contoured handles and spring loaded tips. These poles help you push off the ground surface, enhancing the pace at which you walk. The poles also provide balance support. The combined effect of the extra movement of lifting the poles and the increased walking pace results in a more vibrant cardiovascular workout than regular walking.

A simple walking program of 40-60 minutes a day for two to three days a week improves physical endurance and stamina and provides cardiovascular conditioning. This is true for smokers, breast cancer survivors, seniors, healthy young adults and any other group you can think of. You can’t escape it — it’s just plain healthy!

Walking inside on a treadmill can get boring fast. Walking outside on reasonably flat surfaces that are free of ice and snow is far more engaging. Adding Nordic Walking poles enhances the workout’s effect without leading to the kind of muscle and joint soreness that running does. It also does more to strengthen lower and upper body muscles than a simple walking program.

And again, some studies have demonstrated that people who engage in Nordic Walking stick with their exercise program longer than people following a traditional gym routine. Why? Same reason given by tai chi study subjects: It’s fun!

For those of you who desire to improve how you feels, we strongly recommend incorporating an exercise program into your new healthy living habits. And in our opinion, tai chi and Nordic Walking are two fun and effective ways to get started without risk of significant muscle/joint pain or injury, that also improving the chances of sticking with your program for the long haul.

Step 3: Sleep Hygiene — A Good Night’s Sleep Is All About Preparation

man-woman-sleeping_244x172Recommendation: Follow the research-proven steps for falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer, and waking up more refreshed/energized.

The Internet contains a wealth of information from medical research databases and journals, but if you’re looking for studies about methods to help people sleep better, don’t bother entering “methods to help people sleep better.” If you do that, you’ll get close to zero hits. Instead, type the term “sleep hygiene” and, voila, you’re screen is full of abstracts.

Sleep hygiene is a term used by physicians and researchers to denote practices that improve the odds of falling asleep and staying asleep. When you are practicing good sleep hygiene, you improve your chances of a good night’s sleep. When you practice bad sleep hygiene, you’re watching Erik Estrada infomercials and Cheers reruns all night long.

And, believe it or not, there are a bunch of things we do every single day and night that literally mess with our ability to fall and stay asleep. A number of these have to do with some of the stimulants and depressants we discussed earlier, but since we agreed not to ask you to stop these addictive behaviors right off the bat, we won’t pull a “gotcha” and pound you about them now.

There are seemingly a million and one new ideas to help people sleep better being pushed by pharmaceutical, dietary supplement and other health product marketers. Mouth guards, prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, herbs, sleep beds, yada, yada …

But interestingly, the process by which we get ready for bed each night plays a big role in how we drift off to sleep. And making simple changes to your bedtime routine can yield as strong, if not better sleep effects than these products.

A combination of what you eat and drink in the evening hours, what activities you partake in as you near bedtime (watching television, surfing the Internet), and what thoughts are bouncing around in that brain of yours as you lay your little head down, all play an important role in what kind of sleep you’ll get at night.

Based on our review of the latest sleep-related research, here is our recipe for improving your sleep starting tonight:

At least 8 hours before bedtime: Exercise, baby. Numerous sleep research studies have shown that adults participating in a regular cardiovascular exercise program enjoy much better sleep than sedentary adults. In fact, engaging in a regular exercise program is considered one of the best remedies for people experiencing insufficient sleep. (Psst, remember the tai chi sleep study we mentioned above.)

8 hours before bedtime: Consume your last caffeinated beverage of the day (and remember that many hot and iced teas are loaded with caffeine). Caffeine is a stimulant that activates chemicals in the brain that disrupt the sleep cycle. By cutting off caffeine consumption eight hours before you hit the hay, you’re giving your body the chance to cycle the caffeine consumed earlier in the day by bedtime.

4 hours before bedtime: If you consume alcohol, limit your consumption to two to three drinks, and if possible, don’t consume your last drink within four hours of bedtime. While alcohol is considered a depressant rather than a stimulant, it does interfere with the chemicals in your brain that help you fall asleep. In effect, once the alcohol has left your brain, it “wakes” you up on the way out.

1 hour before bedtime: Stop watching TV and/or surfing the Internet. These activities stimulate the brain and some scientists believe the electromagnetic waves emitted by your television, cell phone and computer can disrupt the brain’s sleep-inducing cycle. Switch to listening to light, relaxing music or reading a few pages of a book that interests you but does not require intense attention (i.e., don’t read a technical manual before bed … on second thought, that might just put you to sleep anyway!). One more thing: Don’t read while lying in bed. You need to get your brain in the habit of associating your bed with sleeping. So read somewhere else like on the couch or in a comfy chair.

About 30-60 minutes before bedtime: Consume a light snack (note: we did not say eat a full meal) and drink a glass of a non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated, non-sugared beverage. Research has shown that adding a light snack right before bedtime helps improve the body’s ability to fall asleep. Further, research has shown that going to bed hungry or thirsty makes it more difficult to drift off to sleep (and to stay asleep).

About 30-60 minutes before bedtime: If you are feeling stressed or anxious about the day ahead, jot down a quick list of the things you are worrying about. Once completed, identify the one or two items most important for you to accomplish the next day and write down one sentence for each describing how you will accomplish these tasks. The act of clearing your mind of worries by writing them down and committing to one or two acts is remarkably effective in removing them from your active thoughts as you prepare to go to sleep.

Zero hour: Engage in gentle stretching of your body to release muscle tension (maybe even try a few of your tai chi warm-up exercises!) and engage in deep breathing exercises (we’ll share a potent breathing technique with you shortly). These steps help relax your body and mind and make it easier to fall asleep.

Zero hour: When it’s time for bed, sleep in a dark, cold room under bedding that is warm and allows you to easily add/shed layers. Darkness is key. There are sensors beneath the thin bone layer of your temples that are sensitive to light and invoke the body to wake when they sense light sources. Separately, research has shown that people tend to sleep better in cold rooms versus warm rooms. We’re not suggesting going for sub-arctic bedroom temperatures, but sleeping in rooms between 68 and72 degrees Fahrenheit is more conducive to a good night’s sleep than rooms 73 to76 degrees. A cooler temperature not only helps you fall asleep faster, but it helps keep you asleep longer.

Zero hour: If you have been experiencing insufficient sleep for an extended period of time, set your alarm clock to go off 30 minutes earlier than you normally wake up for about a week. Studies have shown that this method is effective in helping your body “reset” its internal sleep clock.

sleepless-man-watching-tv-in-bed_244x172Some Important “Don’ts” for a Good Night’s Sleep

DON’T lounge in bed for an extended period of time before attempting to sleep. Research has shown that reading, watching TV, texting and performing other similar activities in bed prior to attempting to sleep makes it more challenging to fall asleep.

DON’T take naps during the day. While “power naps” do help provide a boost of short-term energy, midday siestas disrupt the normal sleep cycle and make it more challenging to drift off at night.

DON’T widely vary the times you go to bed each night. Your body achieves its best sleep when your daily pattern of waking/sleeping is relatively consistent.

Step 4: Mediterranean Diet Foods = Healthier Sources of Energy

Grilled FilletRecommendation: Incorporate food staples of the Mediterranean Diet into your daily meals.

So, we come to food. And no, we’re not going to try to convince you to radically overhaul your diet. Instead our food consumption recommendation is to incorporate or substitute in more “Mediterranean Diet” food staples into your daily meals where possible.

Why the Mediterranean Diet? Because numerous nutrition research studies show the antioxidant protective benefit of many foods regularly consumed by people in the Mediterranean region. Further, in studies examining the health status of people consuming a traditional American, so called “cosmopolitan diet” (e.g., lots of red meat, blood-clotting fats/oils, blood pressure raising sugars/salts, few fruits and veggies) in comparison to people regularly consuming foods in the Mediterranean Diet, research results show consistently less chronic disease among the latter group.

We understand it’s unlikely that you will be able to make a wholesale change to a pure Mediterranean Diet (kudos to you if you do!), so we suggest that you seek to start off by substituting one Mediterranean Diet food staple into each meal. While this approach may not maximize the health benefits you could achieve by full conversion to a Mediterranean Diet, the substitution of antioxidant-rich, protective foods for ones in your diet that are unhealthy is an excellent step in the right direction.

What Are the Core Elements of the Mediterranean Diet?

Whole Wheat BreadWhole grain breads, pastas and cereals
Many of the breads, pastas and cereals we consume have had the outer layers of grains stripped from them when processed. Unfortunately, this removes much of the nutritional content. In the Mediterranean Diet, the breads, pastas and cereals most often consumed are ones in which the whole grains have been retained during processing. So instead of cutting out breads, pastas and cereals altogether, look to incorporate ones that are clearly identified as whole grain products. Most Mediterranean Diets include some whole grain product as part of every meal.

Olive OilOlive oil
Whether for cooking, dipping or dressing, the Mediterranean Diet includes a heavy dose of olive oil (and/or olives) instead of butter, margarine and vegetable oil. Olive oil is considered a monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats provide antioxidant protection through omega-3 fatty acids (i.e., they reduce oxidative stress). By comparison, butter, margarine and vegetable oil are considered saturated fats and hydrogenated oils, and they have been shown to increase heart disease risk and promote oxidative stress. Most Mediterranean Diets include olive oil/olives in the preparation, dipping or dressing of at least one food in every meal.

fruits & vegetablesFresh vegetables and fruits
No surprise here. In fact, most Mediterranean Diets include eight servings of raw fruits or vegetables per day. The fruits and vegetables provide two incredibly useful services: 1. They supply you with a good amount of antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals; 2. They promote healthy digestion given the fiber content of raw fruits and vegetables. If you can’t commit to eight servings a day, at least consider substituting carrot sticks for chips, a banana for candy, a mixed green salad for french fries, or a bowl of red grapes for ice cream. The Mediterranean Diet typically includes lots of fresh, unprocessed, raw fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

Raw Salmon on a Cutting BoardFish and seafood
One of the big differences between a “cosmopolitan diet” and Mediterranean Diet is the disparity in the types of meats consumed by people following the respective diets. The Mediterranean Diet contains far more fish and seafood than red meat or poultry. The cosmopolitan diet is reversed. Many fish and other forms of seafood contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (a powerful antioxidant) and are considered monounsaturated fats. Salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are particularly nutrient-rich fish. Most Mediterranean Diets include fish or seafood as part of three or more meals a week. When not eating fish or seafood as the primary meat in a meal, people following a Mediterranean Diet consume more poultry than red meat.

Red WineWine
Wine, particularly red wine, accompanies most evening meals in the Mediterranean Diet (one to two glasses). The grapes from which wine is made contain powerful antioxidant compounds known as polyphenols. One of the most well-known polyphenols associated with red wine is resveratrol. Researchers have long puzzled at how Mediterranean Diet followers, who eat fair amounts of carbohydrates and fats (albeit healthier fats and carbohydrates than are typically found in a cosmopolitan diet), have such low incidence of heart disease. When examining the Mediterranean Diet in greater depth, researchers concluded that a key reason for this paradox was the regular consumption of red wine and its polyphenols.

WalnutsNuts and seeds
Another unique element of the Mediterranean Diet is the wide array of nuts and seeds that are included in most meals. Almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, sesame seeds and the like contain monounsaturated fats — the same type of healthy fats found in olive oil and fish. They are quick and easy snack foods that are also convenient to transport and store.



Step 5: Pursed-Lips Breathing

breathingRecommendation: Practice pursed-lips breathing technique before, during and after heavy physical exertion, when you feel stressed/anxious and when preparing for bed.

Have you ever had a moment when you couldn’t seem to catch your breath? Or felt like your heart was pounding way too fast? These are common reactions to physical exertion and anxiety, and both are visceral, uncomfortable sensations that can make you feel like you’re not in control of your body.

When exercising, such sensations can lead you to stop your workout (or quit working out altogether). When anxious, these physiological reactions can fuel panic. When getting ready for bed, they can prevent you from drifting off quickly.

If you want to enjoy a healthier and happier way of life, then an additional step you can take is to learn and practice a proven breathing technique that can help reduce the sensation of breathlessness, improve your control over your breathing rhythm, and relax your mind.

Let us introduce you to pursed-lips breathing…

Pursed-lips breathing is like carrying a handy-dandy Swiss Army knife — it’s a little “just in case” tool for the occasional emergency that pops up. And it’s a lifesaver when you find yourself unexpectedly out of breath.

Pursed-lips breathing (PLB) is a highly effective breathing technique taught by respiratory therapists and other pulmonology professionals in rehabilitation programs to help people with advanced lung disease reduce the sensation of breathlessness before, during or after exercise or other strenuous activities. Despite its effectiveness, it is remarkable how few people have even heard of it.

Pursed-lips breathing works like this: First, with your mouth closed you breathe in through your nose for two to three seconds. Then, you purse your lips (like you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake or blowing bubbles through a bubble wand) and blow air out through your pursed lips for about twice as long as you inhaled through your nose (approximately four to six seconds).

Here’s a simple example to demonstrate how PLB works: Face the palm of one of your hands a few inches from the opening of your mouth and exhale for three seconds without pursing your lips. Now, exhale again on the palm of your hand using the pursed-lips breathing technique for three seconds. If you’ve executed PLB correctly, you should have noticed a significant difference in the force of air hitting your hand when using PLB versus exhaling normally from your mouth.

This technique works because narrowing the opening of your mouth when you exhale creates back pressure. Back pressure helps you blow out more used air from your lungs. And that’s the real issue when you feel short of breath. While it feels like you can’t breathe in enough fresh air, in actuality it is that you have too much used air trapped in your lungs. Until you can get the used air out, it doesn’t matter how hard you try to breathe in. Your lungs don’t have the capacity to accept a large volume of fresh air when you have used air dominating your airway passages. PLB helps clear out the used air more quickly so that more fresh air (and hence, more oxygen) can be taken in by your lungs. In turn, PLB helps reduce shortness of breath related to walking, climbing stairs, exercising and other vigorous activities. It is also helps reduce anxiety because the deep/slow breathing pattern used to consciously reset your breathing rhythm provides a sensation of greater control over your respiration rate. This breathing rhythm also has been shown to help people relax.

For maximum benefit, practice this technique for three to five minutes before beginning an exercise session, before pursuing a stressful physical or mental activity, and before turning off the lights and climbing into bed each night. When feeling short of breath during exercise or other strenuous activities, use PLB liberally until you feel you’ve regained a manageable, less anxiety producing breathing pattern. At the end of an exercise session or other strenuous activities, use PLB again for three to five minutes to help your body slow down, relax and return to a normal, resting respiration level.

So the next time you are confronted with a six-story climb up a parking garage, carrying a heavy load in from your car, running around in the backyard with your kids or grandkids, or simply staring at the ceiling with your thoughts and heart racing out of control, try pursed-lips breathing. This simple breathing technique can make a tremendous difference in how you manage physically and emotionally demanding activities. In so doing, pursed-lips breathing can help you get more out of your exercise program (by allowing you to work harder without feeling out of breath as quickly) and assist you in falling asleep more easily.

Step 6: Antioxidant Supplementation to Beat Back Oxidative Stress

Fish Oil SupplementsRecommendation: Add an antioxidant-rich, high-potency multi-nutrient to your daily diet.

Each act the human body engages in requires energy at a cellular level. One side effect of the cellular process to create energy is the splitting of oxygen molecules. The splitting of naturally bound oxygen molecules results in the creation of free-floating unstable oxygen particles known as “free radicals” (also referred to as “pro-oxidants”). Free radicals are like tiny shards of glass flowing through the blood vessels, airways and other pathways of your body. As they bounce off the walls of these passageways, free radicals nick up the smooth, protective lining along the walls (known as epithelial tissue) exposing the underlying tissue to toxins being cleared by the body through respiration and digestion.

Over time, these toxins degrade the integrity and function of the tissue cells exposed by free radical damage leading to depressed immunity and premature aging of the tissues, as well as setting the conditions for chronic diseases to develop.

In fact, pro-oxidative cell damage is believed by many scientists to lie at the core of nearly all major chronic health conditions.

Thankfully, our bodies can consume and produce protective molecules known as antioxidants that bind to free radicals and neutralize their ability to nick up the lining of the body’s passageways. One way to view antioxidants is as 3-D puzzle pieces that turn jagged-edged free radicals into harmless, round, bouncing balls.

But here’s the problem: The average American adult does not consume enough antioxidants through diet to offset the ravaging effects of pro-oxidative free radicals.

Further, many of the behaviors we demonstrate on a daily basis actually increase the number of free radicals in our bodies or decrease the available supply of neutralizing antioxidants (poor sleep, lack of sunlight, lack of physical activity, smoking, drinking, prescription drug consumption, and fat/sugar-centric diets to name a few).

Scientists refer to the resulting imbalance between pro-oxidative molecules (bad guys) and antioxidant molecules (good guys) as oxidative stress, and Americans have a huge dose of oxidative stress going on!

Now, some doctors may try to convince you that all you need to do to relieve oxidative stress is add a salad here, an orange there, and a one-a-day multi-nutrient that delivers the minimum recommended daily allowance of various antioxidant vitamins and minerals. They’ll say that taking a high-potency, antioxidant-rich multi-nutrient just creates expensive urine.

No offense, but if your doctor has offered you such advice, he or she is smoking something funny. In a perfect world, they’d be right. In the real world, such advice is misguided at best.

The stark reality is that a majority of Americans suffer from oxidative stress and the “apple and one-a-day to keep trouble away” isn’t working.

Don’t believe us? Then do the following: Sign onto the National Institute of Health’s medical research database called PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) and type in the keywords “oxidative stress.” You will be presented with over 83,000 published research study abstracts accumulated over the past 50 years examining the role of oxidative stress as a main or contributing cause to nearly every major disease. Over 43,000 of these studies (more than 50%) have been published in the past five years! So, if an apple a day and a one-a-day “minimum daily requirement” multi-nutrient is adequate, then why is there so much recent research regarding the impact of oxidative stress on humans and so much recent investigation into new ways to reduce oxidative stress?

The truth is that most of us are deficient in antioxidants because of our lifestyle behaviors, and adding an extra apple or two a day is NOT enough to relieve the level of oxidative stress we are experiencing. This is especially true if you:

  1. Have one or more chronic conditions already (e.g., hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease)
  2. Engage in one or more addictive, free radical multiplying behavior (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, narcotic drug use)
  3. Use one or more prescription medication on a regular basis
  4. Eat a high-fat, high-sugar, low-fiber, low-fruit/vegetable diet
  5. Have poor digestive function (e.g., infrequent bowel movements, persistent gas/bloating/constipation)
  6. Routinely get poor sleep
  7. Are largely sedentary
  8. Spend the vast majority of time indoors without direct sunlight

If you have one or more of these oxidative-stress-inducing health factors, we strongly recommend adding an antioxidant-rich, high-potency multi-nutrient to your daily diet.

blood workUnsure Whether You Are Antioxidant Deficient?

Ask your doctor to order a vitamin profile blood test. Most reputable blood diagnostic test services offer physicians the ability to order blood profiles for a range of key nutrients.

For example, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, two of the leading nationwide diagnostic services, offer individual blood tests to detect deficiencies in antioxidants such as vitamin B12, vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate, coenzyme Q10, zinc and selenium.

The results of these tests will provide your blood level concentrations and reference values for what are considered to be normal or acceptable ranges. Your physician can review your test results with you and determine whether your blood level concentrations fall below the reference ranges and whether supplementing one or more of these antioxidants is appropriate for you.

Increasing your blood serum antioxidant levels can help improve your energy and exercise performance/tolerance in addition to helping to fight off the ravaging effects of oxidative stress. This is not to say that adding antioxidant-rich food to your diet is a waste of time. Quite the contrary, adding colorful fruits and vegetables and other antioxidant-rich foods to your diet is highly advisable (as we said in the Mediterranean Diet section of this report). It’s just that you are unlikely to add enough daily antioxidants through diet to significantly reduce oxidative stress if you have one or more of the above oxidative stress inducers.

So what antioxidant-rich multi-nutrient do we recommend? Well, unfortunately, there is no “optimum” formulation. Further, there is no scientific consensus regarding which specific antioxidants are the best or what dosage levels are the most efficacious. And doctors are right to point out there are safety concerns associated with taking too high a dosage of certain vitamins and minerals.

But there are some basic principles that we think you can use to select a good antioxidant-rich multi-nutrient. First, avoid multi-nutrients that provide only the basic “minimum daily requirements.” It’s not that these products are bad for you — it’s that they don’t deliver anywhere near the level of antioxidant protection that you need. In our opinion, they create inexpensive urine!

Second, rather than load up on massive doses of individual antioxidants (such as vitamin C), we suggest selecting a multi-nutrient that includes a broad array of antioxidants. Why? Because, in our opinion, it is safer to consume lower doses of a broad array of antioxidants than a mega dose of one or two. In addition, each antioxidant is absorbed and used differently by the human body. Taking a massive dose of one antioxidant might be very helpful for some body functions and not very effective for others. By consuming a wider array of antioxidants, you improve the chances of getting more of the free radical scavenging molecules to a broader range of cells within your body.

What Antioxidants Should You Look for in a High-Potency Multi-Nutrient?

While not an exhaustive list, the most studied antioxidants and ones that show the most promise in relieving oxidative stress include:

Vitamin A
B vitamins, particularly folic acid, B-6 and B-12
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Vitamin E
Coenzyme Q-10
N-acetylcysteine  (NAC)
Alpha lipoic acid

It is unlikely you will find any one multi-nutrient with every one of these ingredients, and you will likely find varying dosage levels of these ingredients from one multi-nutrient to the next. It matters less what specific high-potency multi-nutrient you take. What matters more is that you have a regular, broad array of antioxidants supplementing your daily diet. So look for multi-nutrients that have a preponderance of the above ingredients, preferably at levels higher than the minimum recommended daily allowance. (Note: A number of the above ingredients do not have minimum recommended daily allowances established.)

If you desire to live a healthier and happier life, adding an antioxidant-rich, high-potency multi-nutrient to your daily diet is a simple but powerful step to increase your energy, improve exercise tolerance/performance and fight off the long-term ravaging effects of oxidative stress.

Step 7: Better Digestion — Clearing a Stable Pathway

stomachRecommendation: Add probiotic foods and/or a probiotic supplement to your daily diet.

Poor digestive health is a major problem in America. Fueled by poor diets, the side effects of prescription drugs, sedentary lifestyles and the normal decline of digestive system efficiency associated with aging, many people suffer from uncomfortable gastric issues.

Such issues run the gamut of: infrequent bowel movements, persistent gas buildup/bloating/constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, diarrhea.

Most often these sensations/conditions occur because either we are not clearing the food we consume through our digestive systems quickly enough, or because we have upset the proper balance of digestive bacteria in our gastric tract.

When you are suffering from one or more of these conditions, you don’t feel very good, do you? You restrict your activities, feel lethargic and irritable and struggle to sleep. Sound familiar?

To relieve bloating and constipation, many people take laxatives. But honestly, laxatives are really just a short-term band-aid. They do nothing to address the core issues.

If you follow our recommendations for daily physical activity and substituting foods common in Mediterranean Diets, you stand a much stronger chance of making a meaningful difference in moving food more quickly and less painfully through your gut.

But this is only half of the solution to a healthy digestive system. The other big problem most people with gastric issues face is an imbalance of the bacteria in the intestines that assist in breaking down food and removing unfriendly toxins. These “body friendly” bacteria are known as probiotics.

Certain lifestyle behaviors, bacteria, fungi, diseases, prescription medications and other foreign substances absorbed by the body can reduce the number of probiotic organisms or overwhelm them with a greater number of unfriendly organisms. When this happens, it can either slow down your system (blocking you up) or send food racing through partially digested (diarrhea).

So a second valuable step you can take to improve your digestive health is to add probiotic foods and/or a probiotic dietary supplement to your daily diet. By providing your body with a refreshed source of digestive-system-friendly bacteria, you can help offset lifestyle behaviors and other influences that disrupt how your body absorbs, processes and clears food.

For those interested in trying a probiotic dietary supplement, look for products that contain live cultures of the three most common strains of gut-friendly bacteria: lactobacillus acidophilus, bifidobacterium longum and bifidobacterium bifidum. The supplement facts box on the bottle should identify the bacteria strains in any reputable probiotic product.

Don’t discount how much of a difference improving your digestive system performance can make in how you feel and live each day. A healthy digestive system that has balanced bacteria levels, and absorbs/processes and clears food quickly can provide you with greater energy, help you sleep better, and improve your disposition – mentally, emotionally and physically!

Good probiotic food sources include: yogurt (with live or active bacteria cultures), sauerkraut, miso soup, Gouda cheese and buttermilk.

Putting It All Together

We believe you can make a meaningful difference in how you feel each and every day by employing these seven simple steps:

Step 1: Increase your daily exposure to direct sunlight and/or add supplemental vitamin D.
Step 2: Engage in fun, moderate-intensity physical activity for 30-60 minutes a day, like tai chi and Nordic Walking, three to five days a week.
Step 3: Improve how you prepare for sleep each night by practicing good sleep hygiene.
Step 4: Substitute “Mediterranean Diet” foods into your daily meals.
Step 5: Learn, practice and employ pursed-lips breathing when under physical stress or anxiety.
Step 6: Supplement your daily diet with an antioxidant-rich, high-potency multi-nutrient.
Step 7: Add a probiotic supplement or probiotic foods to your daily diet.

The combination of these steps will help you break the unhealthy behavior cycle that contributes not only to feeling unhealthy, but also to the development of chronic health conditions.

They may even help you gain the confidence you need to tackle some of the addictive behaviors you currently rely on to artificially feel better!

Disclaimer: Statements on this page have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Information found on www.peakhealthadvocate.com regarding dietary supplements is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Further, the information found on www.peakhealthadvocate.com is not intended to replace professional medical advice or treatment. Please consult your physician before ingesting any dietary supplement to ensure there are no counter-indications with your particular medical status.

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