By Dr. Mercola
Making a commitment to live healthier is an ongoing process. It's virtually impossible to make all the needed changes in one fell swoop. To assist you with this process, I've created a plan you can implement little by little, one step at a time.
Perhaps you made a New Year's resolution to live healthier. The following list consisting of nine general categories will give you an indication of how far you've actually come.
If you're still missing a few pieces, make the commitment to address one item at a time going forward. I've created a helpful Health Check Tip Sheet you can print out and post in a conspicuous location to keep you motivated.
For more in-depth information on any given topic, please follow the hyperlinks provided.
#1 Replace Soda With Water, Tea and Black Organic Coffee
Making the commitment to swap your soda for healthier beverages like water, sparkling water and the occasional cup of tea and/or organic black coffee can go a long way toward improving your health.
Remember, the only beverage your body really needs is clean, pure water. In fact, many common health complaints are simply due to dehydration, including tiredness, headache, irritability, confusion, constipation, dry skin and more.
Unfortunately, most water supplies are heavily polluted these days, even in the United States, so a high-quality water filtration system is a wise investment. Most water supplies contain a number of potentially hazardous contaminants, including fluoride, drugs and disinfection byproducts (DBPs), just to name a few.
How much water do you need each day for optimal health? While many still recommend drinking eight glasses of water a day, individual water needs vary so widely, your best bet is to:
- Use your thirst as a guide. Once your body has lost 1 to 2 percent of its water content, you will feel thirsty. This is a sign that you need to replenish the lost liquids
- Look at the color of your urine. Drink enough water to turn your urine a light-colored yellow (keep in mind certain vitamin supplements can affect the color of your urine)
- Monitor the frequency of urination. If your urine is scant or if you haven't urinated in several hours, that too is an indication you need to drink more
Besides water, tea and coffee also have their place if you enjoy them. According to the 2015 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you can safely consume up to five cups of coffee a day without detrimental effects.1
Tea and Coffee Caveats
Both coffee and tea contain caffeine (provided it's not decaffeinated), which has been linked to adverse health effects such as elevated blood pressure, gastric upset and anxiety. However, both coffee and tea contain other health-promoting ingredients that appear to outweigh the drawbacks of caffeine.
Among them are beneficial antioxidants, and according to researchers, coffee, (because of the volume consumed, not because of its high amount) is the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet.7 As with water, quality and purity is not a given though. You need to use discernment with these beverages.
Most coffee is heavily contaminated with pesticides, so when we speak about the benefits of coffee, let it be understood that we're talking about coffee that is:
- Organic (ideally fair trade), to avoid pesticides
- Freshly ground. Once ground, coffee quickly goes stale and rancid, so for optimal freshness grind your own coffee beans
- Dark roast, such as French Roast, espresso or Turkish coffee tends to have the highest amounts of beneficial antioxidants. Dark roast coffee also produces more of a chemical that helps prevent the production of excess stomach acid, so it may be easier on your stomach8
- Served black, meaning without milk or sugar. Adding dairy may interfere with your body's absorption of beneficial chlorogenic acids, while the added sugar will contribute to insulin resistance, which is at the heart of most chronic disease
- Brewed with non-bleached filters to avoid chlorine and DBPs such as dioxin
As for tea, both black and green teas tend to be naturally high in fluoride, even if organically grown without pesticides. This is because the plant readily absorbs fluoride thorough its root system, including naturally occurring fluoride in the soil.
So, as with coffee, when selecting tea, opt for organic (to avoid pesticides), grown in a pristine environment (to avoid fluoride, heavy metals, and other toxins from contaminated soil and water).
#2 Eat 2 Meals a Day Within an 8-Hour Window
The average American adult spends nine to 10 hours each day sitting, which is so much inactivity that even a 30- or 60-minute workout cannot counteract its adverse effects on your health. While it might seem natural to sit this long since you've probably grown used to it (physically and mentally), it's actually quite contrary to nature.
Studies looking at life in agriculture environments show that people in agrarian villages sit for about three hours a day. Your body is designed to move around and be active the majority of the day, and significant negative changes occur when you spend the majority of the day sedentary instead. To get more movement into your daily life, consider implementing the following:
• Set a goal to walk about 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day (which is just over three to five U.S. miles, or six to nine kilometers). This should be over and above any exercise regimen you may have. Daily walking has been shown to provide anti-aging benefits that could add an additional three to seven years to your life.
• Walk barefoot more often. Your body is finely tuned to "work" with the Earth in the sense that there's a constant flow of energy between your body and the Earth. When you put your feet on the ground, you absorb large amounts of negative electrons through the soles of your feet.
The effect is sufficient to maintain your body at the same negatively charged electrical potential as the Earth. This simple process of grounding is one of the most potent antioxidants we know of. Grounding has been shown to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, enhance well being and much more
• Stand up at work if you can, rather than sitting at your desk. A stand-up desk is certainly a worthwhile investment if you have an office job.
• Work on your flexibility. Also make it a point to gain flexibility, which will help keep you functional well into old age. Pilates, yoga, and whole body vibration training are just some of your options.
#7 Get Your Vitamin D Level Tested
I recommend testing your vitamin D twice a year: around January, when your level will be at its lowest, and June or July, when it'll be at its peak. This will help guide you as to how much vitamin D you may need to take in order to maintain a clinically relevant level of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter year-round. Testing your vitamin D is easy. You don't even need a doctor's prescription.
As a service that is part of GrassrootsHealth's vitamin D education efforts, I offer vitamin D testing kits in my online shop. I make no profit from these kits. It's the same price you would pay were you to enroll in the GrassrootsHealth D*Action project.
#8 Make Stress Reduction a Daily Priority
Stress-related problems, including back pain, insomnia, acid reflux and exacerbations to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may account for up to 70 percent of the average American physician's caseload.12 Such health-care expenditures are the third highest in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer. Research suggests these costs could be drastically cut simply by learning how to relax.13
There are many options here, so try a few to determine which works best. Here are just a few suggestions. For more tips and tricks, check out my "23 (Scientific) Happiness Hacks" article:
• Daily meditation or mindfulness training: both are excellent for stress relief and relaxation. One simple way to incorporate these techniques into your life is to meditate for five or 10 minutes first thing in the morning, even before you get out of bed, to take advantage of your mind being in a quiet zone.
• Yoga: regular yoga practice has been shown to have a positive effect on both sleep and stress. It's also been shown to alleviate mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and attention-deficit, hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
• Keep a gratitude journal: people who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, are happier, and better able to reach their goals, and studies show that those who keep a gratitude journal typically end up exercising more and have fewer health complaints. Studies have also linked gratitude to improved sleep, reduced stress, enhanced well-being, improved heart health.
• Learn EFT: one of the most effective tools against anxiety is EFT, which helps correct the biochemical short-circuiting that occurs with chronic anxiety. You can think of EFT as a tool for "reprogramming" your circuitry, and it works on both real and imagined stressors.
• Start a garden: gardening is an excellent "blues buster," helping relieve acute stress and attention fatigue associated with a fast-paced life. Many gardeners start out gardening because they want to sample some homegrown food but end up sticking with gardening because of how it feeds their mind and soul.
That said, anyone who's really serious about improving their health will eventually conclude that growing your own food is an important part of the answer. For helpful tips on making your garden a success, please review my previous articles on using wood chips and biochar to optimize your soil quality.
#9 Help Others and Be Active in Your Community
Volunteering is a simple way to help others, but it's also a powerful way to help yourself. Beyond the good feelings you'll get from donating your time, and the potential to develop new, meaningful relationships with people in your community, volunteering has a significant impact on your physical health, including a boost to your heart health.
In one study, people who volunteered for at least 200 hours a year were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who didn't.14 People who volunteer for altruistic reasons, i.e. to help others rather than themselves, may even live longer than those who volunteer for more self-centered reasons.15
The benefits of being active in your community are particularly pronounced among older adults, a population that tends to slow down once retirement hits. There's a definite social aspect, as if you're socially isolated you may experience poorer health and a shorter lifespan.
Volunteering also gives you a sense of purpose and can even lead to a so-called "helper's high," which may occur because doing good releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin in your body while lowering levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Giving back is about so much more than even that, though, as it will help you to connect with your community and contribute your time and/or talents to promoting the greater good.