If you live in a place where there are four seasons, the onset of summer brings a welcome change of pace. We go on vacation, spend more time outdoors, hang out with friends and, in general, have more time for reflection and recalibration.
And if your summer reflections include elevating your health and fitness, here are six simple improvements that, based on personal experience, will enhance your energy, improve your well-being, and help you feel more alive and present regardless of the season.
1. Spend more time standing than sitting. In one of my previous posts, I shared some of the growing research linking sitting with increased risks of cancer as well as heart disease, depression, and premature death. Despite the plethora of exercise and other recreation options out there, most of us still spend too much time on our butts–so much so that some health experts have coined the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking.” This summer, be deliberate about spending more of your day standing than you do sitting. From getting a stand up desk to tracking your steps through a fitness app on your phone, spending even an hour or so more on your feet can have a huge impact on your health, especially as you age.
2. Clean up your sleep hygiene. Like sitting, the research on the health implications of sleep are enormous. Over the last several decades, the average amount of sleep has steadily declined (it is currently around 6 1/2 hours). Although digital distractions play a part, the biggest contributor is the myth of sacrificing sleep for productivity. Many people, especially leaders, view sleeping more than 6 hours as being a luxury verses a necessity; for others, the lack of a consistent sleep ritual makes it hard for them to fall asleep after a busy, demanding day. Regardless, if you struggle with sleep, take some deliberate steps this summer to examine your sleep hygiene and create a consistent habit of getting to sleep and waking up at the same time.
3. Breathe through your nose. Sure, the idea of improving your breathing sounds overly simplistic. Yet research once again shows that the majority of Americans have poor breathing habits. The most common bad breathing habit, breathing too much through the mouth, leads to shallow over-breathing, which reduces carbon dioxide levels, causes poor circulation, narrows airways, and builds up toxins in the bloodstream. Committing to a daily practice of deep breathing through your nose stimulates the release of nitric oxide which opens up blood vessels and sterilizes the air in your sinuses, among many other benefits. For a simple, stimulating breathing exercise, revisit this previous post.
4. Eat nutrient dense foods. Together with sleep and stress level, what you eat has the biggest impact on your health and well-being. Unfortunately, much of what the average American consumes today has little resemblance to real food, which is part of why we’re so crippled by chronic disease. The good news is, even small changes in your diet can have a dramatic impact on your wellness, especially if your food choices include nutrient dense foods. In a previous post, I reported on four superfoods that, based on volumes of nutrition research, have a dramatic impact not only on your health, but on your energy as well. Commit to incorporating just one of these nutrient dense foods into your daily diet and watch your energy soar.
5. Avoid sugar. According to research, American’s consumption of sugar has reached staggering levels, explaining why chronic disease is so prevalent despite volumes of information and billions of dollars spent on health care in this country. Consider this: The amount of sugar contained in one can of soda is, by some estimates, more than our 18th century ancestors consumed in an entire year! What’s more, volumes of research has shown that sugar is addictive; the cravings caused by sugar are the similar to those induced by nicotine or cocaine. Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism and nearly every known source of chronic disease. And it’s everywhere–just check the ingredient labels on salad dressings, Gatorade, peanut butter and many other unsuspecting food sources. For a complete guide to quitting sugar that also includes inspiring testimonials and practical strategies, check out Sarah Wilson’s blog, I Quit Sugar.
6. Smile more. Like breathing, the act of smiling seems too simple, too reflexive to have any impact on our health. But surprising research has shown otherwise. A 2010 Wayne State University study, for example, found a direct connection between the length of the smiles of pre-1950’s baseball players (on their baseball cards) and their life spans. Those who smiled brightly in their photos lived an average of eight years longer than those who didn’t smile. Similarly, British researchers postulated that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate. The problems is that, while children smile as many as 400 times a day, by the time they reach adulthood, many report smiling less than 14 times a day, providing other unsuspecting inroads to chronic disease: depression and low energy.
Today, the amount of choices we have in what we consume and how we spend our time is far beyond what our ancestors could have ever imagined. But, as the wise saying goes, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Failing to make good choices for our health can have serious consequences, which is why following these six simple strategies can add years to your life… and life to your years!
Questions: Which one of these resonate with you the most? Why do you think that is? What are some other strategies you have employed to improve your health and well being? I’d love to hear your feedback!