By Dr. Mercola
New Year's resolutions are notoriously apt to fail. It's been estimated that only eight percent of people who make a New Year's resolution actually keeps it. As stated in the featured article:1
"The annual tradition of breaking a New Year's resolution is observed perhaps just as strictly, if regretfully, as that of making one. Research into motivation, for instance, knows that for a task to be accomplished, the actor must genuinely want to complete it — wanting it to be completed isn't enough."
Losing weight is a popular New Year's resolution. According to recent research, your age may have something to do with your level of success in this venture. But as I'll discuss below, dieting isn't really the answer to achieve the health and wellbeing you seek.
Instead of vowing to lose a set amount of weight, you'd be far better off making a decision to improve your overall lifestyle. Normalizing your weight and improving your health will come as natural outgrowths of this.
Why Weight Loss May Become More Difficult with Age
But before we get into that, a recent study published in the FASEB Journal2 claims that age-related fat storage may be part and parcel of a biological phenomenon related to the amount of "white" versus "brown" fat you have.
So-called "brown" fat is a heat-generating type of fat that burns energy instead of storing it, and this may have implications when it comes to weight loss. (It is colored brown because it is loaded with mitochondria that convert the fat directly to energy to produce heat.)
The brown fat (located primarily behind your neck and around your shoulders) is considered "good," in the sense that it actually helps your body burn off the "bad" white fat that accumulates primarily on your stomach and thighs.
However, with age, the amount of brown fat in your body tends to diminish, making it more difficult to rid your body of that excess white fat. As explained in the featured article:3
"The exercise needed to burn a sufficient number of calories begins to increase because a slower, less industrious metabolism replaces the heavy lifting once performed by the brown fat. Fortunately, the team's new research suggests the existence of a metabolic on/off switch that may help delay this process."
Two groups of mice were observed in this study. The control group was made up of normal mice, while the treatment group consisted of mice in which a specific gene had been silenced. This gene, called platelet-activating factor receptor (PAFR), encodes a protein that is responsible for inflammation and lipid transfer.
The mice whose PAFR gene was silenced became far more obese than the control group. Over the course of the study, their body mass increased by about 25 percent, compared to controls. The researchers concluded that the increased obesity was due to impaired function in the brown adipose tissue. According to the featured article:
"The upshot to this is a newly forged path for research. If future experiments can better target the specific molecular pathway that deactivates the PAFR gene, scientists may be able to develop pharmacological approaches to treat many of today's common ailments, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, infertility, and ulcers."
The Top 10 Lifestyle Changes to Implement for a New You
Waiting for a pill that knocks out your PAFR gene in order to improve brown fat functionality is clearly NOT the way to go. Maintaining a healthy weight doesn't boil down to just one thing. And popping a pill to alter your genetic function is not going to do anything at all for your overall fitness, nutrition, or sleep, for example.
Most New Year's resolutions do fail, for one reason or another. So how about making a commitment to simply live healthier from here on? Little changes, across the board, can make a huge overall difference in your health.
And when you commit to a lifestyle, it's no longer about meeting a particular goal, like losing 10 pounds. It's about making (usually small) alterations in how you live and go about your daily life that build upon each other as time goes on.
One of the key points that many people fail to appreciate for any goal, not just a New Year's goal, is to write that goal down on paper or on your computer. That simple yet widely neglected principle will dramatically increase your chances of success. With respect to health goals I thought I would give you a jump start by reviewing some possible ones to consider.
# 1: Drink Pure Water
Making clean, pure water your primary beverage is among the most positive lifestyle changes you can make. This means steering clear of all sweetened and/or flavored beverages. Also, limit your alcohol consumption.
Unfortunately, most tap water is far from pure, containing a vast array of disinfection byproducts, chemicals, radiation, heavy metals, and even pharmaceutical drugs. I strongly recommend using a high-quality water filtration system unless you can verify the purity of your water. You can read more about water filtration in this previous article to help you make a decision about what type of water filtration system will be best for you and your family.
Fluoride, which is still being added to many municipal water supplies, is yet another factor that can make the water you drink each day more harmful than healing. It is important to remember that once added, fluoride is very difficult to remove from water. The best way to remove fluoride from your water supply is to never put it in there is the first place. This is one of the reasons we are actively collaborating.
Besides purification, I also believe it's critical to drink living water. In my interview with Dr. Gerald Pollack, author of The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor, he discusses the importance of "structured water," which is the type of water found in your cells. This water has healing properties, and is naturally created in a variety of ways. Water from a deep spring is one excellent source of structured water. You can also promote structured water through vortexing. I personally drink vortexed water nearly exclusively unless I am travelling.
# 2: Eat High-Quality Protein
Agricultural drug use has become a major health concern for animals and humans alike, courtesy of factory farming methods in so-called "confined animal feeding operations" (CAFOs), where efficiency and low cost is the primary objective. It's important to understand that you're essentially getting a concoction of drugs, including hormones and antibiotics, in every piece of CAFO-raised meat you eat. It's now a well-established fact that routine use of antibiotics poses a threat to human health, as it has spawned a dramatic rise in antibiotic-resistant disease.
Instead of their natural diet, which is plain grass, CAFO livestock are also fed a wholly unnatural diet consisting of pesticide-laden and oftentimes genetically engineered (GE) grains—primarily GE corn and soy. In my view, organic, grass-fed meat that is humanely raised and butchered is really the only type of meat worth eating, if you want to maintain good health. The same goes for chicken, eggs, and dairy. Another source of high-quality protein, as well as healthful fat, is wild-caught Alaskan salmon. You'll want to avoid farm-raised salmon (and other farm-raised fish), as their nutritional makeup is altered by their unnatural diet, just like other CAFO animals.
# 3: Get Plenty of Healthy Fats in Your Diet
If you care about your health, you'd be wise to reconsider the advice to follow a strict low-fat diet. For the past 60 years, saturated animal fats have been wrongfully accused of causing heart disease, despite mounting evidence showing that saturated fat is actually critical for optimal health while trans fat is the dietary fat causing heart disease. Fortunately, on November 7, 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it is now considering removing partially hydrogenated oils—the primary source of trans fats—from the list of "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) ingredients.4
Mounting scientific evidence supports saturated fat as a necessary part of a heart healthy diet, and firmly debunks the myth that saturated fat promotes heart disease. The science is equally clear when it comes to omega-3 fats, found in abundance in fish. Omega-3 deficiency can contribute to serious health problems, both mental and physical, and is thought to be an underlying factor of up to 96,000 premature deaths each year.
Unfortunately, most fish commercially available today are polluted with mercury, PCBs, and other toxic substances, which is why I recommend you take a supplement like krill oil instead of getting your omega-3 requirement solely from your food. As mentioned above, wild-caught Alaskan salmon is one exception, as I believe it still provides more benefits than risks. Healthful fats to add to your diet include:
Avocados Coconuts and coconut oil (Note: coconut oil is one of the best oils for cooking and baking, as it will not be damaged by high heat)
Olives and olive oil. (Note: make sure to use olive oil COLD, as it will get damaged by heat)
Unheated organic nut oils
Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, and other raw dairy products
Organic pastured egg yolks
Raw nuts such as macadamia, and seeds
Grass-fed meats and wild-caught salmon
# 4: Move Your Body as Much as Possible Throughout Each Day
Exercise affects your entire body—from head to toe—in beneficial ways. This includes changes in your muscles, lungs, heart, joints, bones, and brain. In fact, researchers recently suggested that exercise is "the best preventive drug" for many common ailments, from psychiatric disorders to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.5 Ideally, you want a comprehensive fitness regimen that includes stretching, high intensity interval training, core strengthening exercises, and strength training. That said, one of the most important aspects of exercise may actually be non-exercise movements, or what I like to call intermittent movement.
Compelling evidence actually suggests that even if you exercise regularly, prolonged sitting is itself a risk factor for chronic disease. My interview with NASA scientist Dr. Joan Vernikos goes into great detail why this is so, and what you can do about it.
So, please, don't get discouraged because your resolution to join the gym has already petered out. Instead, perhaps you may be better off focusing your attention on simple everyday movements instead. The key is to frequently move your body, throughout the entire day. Simply standing up from a seated position has been found particularly effective at counteracting the ill effects of sitting. This is something I seek to do every 15 minutes while I am sitting—I even set a timer to remind me.
Other simple everyday activities such as housecleaning, cooking, gardening, doing laundry, and reaching for an item on a high shelf, also fall within the spectrum of movements you would ideally engage in—more or less continuously—from morning until night. You can encourage more movement in your work day simply by moving items you use frequently so that they're NOT within immediate reach, for example. To learn more about this important aspect of health, please see this previous article.
# 5: Prioritize Your Emotional Health
The connections between stress and physical health are being explored at greater frequency these days. For example, recent news items have reported the links between emotional distress and physical pain6 and chronic inflammation.7 Because inflammation plays a role in most diseases, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well. Happy people are also known to live longer—by 35 percent, according to one study.8 Another study found that happiness and contentment increases health and longevity.9
A major part of the puzzle is to be able to effectively address your stress. Centenarians—those who have crossed the threshold of 100 years of age—overwhelmingly cite stress as the most important thing to avoid. Their lives are marked by as many stressful events as the rest of us, but, they differ in how well they manage their stress. Rather than dwelling on it, they've learned to let it go.
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be very helpful here. It's the largest and most popular version of energy psychology, and is akin to acupuncture, which is based on the concept that a vital energy flows through your body along invisible pathways known as meridians. EFT stimulates different energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips, while simultaneously using custom-made verbal affirmations. For a demonstration of how to perform EFT, please see the following video featuring EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman.
# 6: Fine-Tune Your Wake/Sleep Cycle
Sleep is another often ignored lifestyle factor that has a tremendous impact on your health—physically, mentally, and emotionally. The other side of sleep is related to light. It's actually crucial to get enough light during daytime hours in order to sleep well. I recently interviewed Dan Pardi on this topic.
The quality of your sleep has a lot to do with light—both outdoor and indoor lighting. Light actually serves as the major synchronizer of something called your master clock. This master clock is a group of cells in your brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). As a group, these nuclei synchronize to the light-dark cycle of your environment when light enters the eye. You also have other biological clocks throughout your body, and those clocks subsequently synchronize to your master clock.
To maintain healthy master clock timing, you want to get bright light exposure during the day. Going outside for half an hour at lunch time can provide you with the majority of light you need to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. The ideal time to go outdoors is right around solar noon but any time during daylight hours is useful.
In the evening, you want to dim environmental lights and avoid the blue light wavelength. Use blue-blocking light bulbs, dimming your lights with dimmer switches, and turn off unneeded lights, and if using a computer in the evening, consider installing blue light-blocking software like f.lux.10 When it's time to go to sleep, make sure your bedroom is very dark. For even more helpful tips, please see my previous article "33 Tips for a Good Night's Sleep."
# 7: Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels
Getting sun exposure is equally important for optimizing your vitamin D levels. (UV exposure also has additional health benefits beyond vitamin D production and maintaining the timing of your master clock...) A robust and growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for your health. (More than 33,800 scientific studies have been published on vitamin D so far.11)
This isn't so surprising when you consider that vitamin D, which your body produces in response to UVB rays striking your bare skin, affects your DNA. You have vitamin D receptors throughout your body, which in turn bind to specific locations of your genome. Scientists have identified nearly 3,000 genes that are influenced by your vitamin D levels, which explains its impact on such a wide variety of health conditions, including:
- Type 1 and 2 diabetes
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Cardiovascular disease
- All-cause mortality
The D*Action project was initiated by GrassrootsHealth along with 42 leading vitamin D researchers to demonstrate how health can be achieved right now with what's already known about vitamin D. The project uses a combination of vitamin D measurement and health outcome tracking to do this. To learn more, please see this previous article.
Measuring your vitamin D performance and taking steps to optimize your level is one of the easiest and least expensive things you can do for your health, and could help you rein in out-of-control health care expenses. So, I encourage you to participate in the D*Action Project, which has multiple concurrent vitamin D programs going on. Simply purchase the D*Action Measurement Kit and follow the registration instructions included. This is one of the most cost-effective ways to get your vitamin D levels tested on a regular basis, and allows you to participate in a truly extraordinary public health project at the same time.
# 8: Tend to Your Gut
As with vitamin D, it's become crystal clear that beneficial bacteria plays an enormous role in your physical and mental health. Probiotics are in fact so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to "a newly recognized organ," suggesting we really should consider ourselves a type of "meta-organism" -- in acknowledgment of the fact that we cannot be whole and healthy without the participation of a vast array of friendly bacterial species and strains.
Mounting research shows that the type and quantity of organisms in your gut interact with your body in ways that can either prevent or encourage the development of many diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Beneficial gut bacteria even appear to have a key role in successful weight management.12
Since virtually all of us are exposed to factors that destroy beneficial bacteria in your gut, such as antibiotics (whether you take them for an illness or get them from contaminated animal products), chlorinated water, antibacterial soap, agricultural chemicals, and pollution, ensuring your gut bacteria remain balanced should be considered an ongoing process. To do so, I recommend the following strategies:
- Avoid processed, refined foods in your diet.
- Eat traditionally fermented, unpasteurized foods: Fermented foods are the best route to optimal digestive health, as long as you eat the traditionally made, unpasteurized versions. Fermented vegetables tend to be among the most delicious. Some of the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods are also excellent chelators of heavy metals and pesticides, which will also have a beneficial health effect by reducing your toxic load.
- Take a high-quality probiotic supplement. Although I'm not a major proponent of taking many supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics is an exception if you don't eat fermented foods on a regular basis.
# 9: Take Control of Your Nutrition by Growing Your Own Food
Growing your own food has many rewards, from providing you with fresher, uncontaminated produce and cutting your grocery bill, to increasing your sense of wellbeing and slashing your risk of depression. One of the simplest and most inexpensive alternatives is to grow sprouts.
Sprouts are actually among the most nutrient-dense foods out there. Topping the list are sunflower seed and pea sprouts, which are typically about 30 times more nutritious than organic vegetables. Both also provide very high-quality protein. Sunflower and pea sprouts are among my own favorites. Broccoli sprouts, known for their anti-cancer activity, are another excellent choice.
Sprouts are also a perfect complement to fermented vegetables discussed above, which are also easy and inexpensive to make at home, from scratch. For more tips on starting your own garden—whether large or small, indoors or outside, for winter or spring—please see my previous articles on the following topics. To browse through all the gardening articles on my site, see my Organic Gardening page:
# 10: Eliminate Toxins
The number of toxic chemicals and their sources is so large, addressing them all could easily require an entire library, but I believe you can help you keep your toxic load as low as possible by becoming an informed and vigilant consumer. This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives. Two offenders that I want to place particular emphasis on though are:
- Artificial sweeteners: Research13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 has repeatedly demonstrated that artificial sweeteners actually make you gain equal or more weight than regular sugar. In fact, studies have shown that diet sodas may actually double your risk of obesity.
Recent research has also demonstrated that aspartame worsens insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar, making it a hidden threat to those trying to manage their diabetes.
Of the various artificial sweeteners on the market, aspartame is perhaps one of the most problematic. At least, it has the most reported adverse effects, including a potential risk of blood cancer. That said, none of them will do your health any good. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, your best, most cost effective choice of beverage is filtered tap water.
- Pesticides and other agricultural chemicals: Herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides are designed to kill the things that threaten a farmer's bottom line. Some of the more well-known offenders include nicotinoids (implicated in worldwide bee die-offs), and glyphosate (Roundup), which researchers now say may be one of the most important factors in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions.
To avoid these, and countless other toxic chemicals, your best bet is to stick to organically grown produce, as organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic chemicals. Contrary to popular belief, animal products tend to be the most contaminated (courtesy of the grain feed they're raised on, not to mention all the drugs they're given), so if you cannot afford to switch all your food groups to organic, getting organically raised, grass-fed or pastured meats might have the greatest impact. You could then add fresh produce grown in your own (hopefully organic) garden, which could easily offset the extra price you pay for grass-fed meats.
Make 2014 the Year You Take Control of Your Health
Rather than making and breaking your New Year resolutions, I recommend simply committing yourself to living as healthy as you can, from here on. Remember, these are lifestyle changes that, once made, will become automatic and stick with you for the remainder of your life.
Most of these changes are simple, and many go hand-in-hand, such as making sure you're getting at least half an hour's worth of bright outdoor sun during the middle of the day and optimizing your vitamin D levels. Ditto for switching to grass-fed meats and avoiding toxins. Do that one thing—switch to organic meats only—and you've already made a dent in your toxic exposure. Please also remember to write down your goals as that will dramatically increase your chance of achieving them. I hope this list will inspire you to make some changes in your life that can make a big difference in your health and happiness.