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  • Writer's pictureKim Smolders

The Secrets to Health & Wellbeing.

Health & wellbeing are two things we all strive for at any age or stage in our lives. Being healthy does not only mean the absence of disease, but that there is positive cellular equilibrium in the interconnected mind & body of balance, wholeness & resilience. Health means we are able to thrive mentally & physically & face any challenges that life throws at us.

Health does not get made in the doctor's office, but is formed & maintained by you & your daily choices, behaviours & habits. It is empowering to know that you have control over your health & resilience with a variety of different practices that are decided upon entirely by you.

The list below is not particularly scientific or sexy, but that is the beauty of it - it is naturally essential. A combination of all of them is incredibly effective at maximising the body's ability yo get healthy & stay healthy, or to prevent disease in the first place. Sustainable & consistent health naturally repels disease, so let us start focusing on incorporating these & optimising our biology.

The secrets.

1. Sleep & circadian rhythm.

Sleep* does not get the health-boosting recognition that it deserves. Sleep is so crucial to health & wellbeing that you can do everything else right but still be unhealthy if you are sleep-deprived. It regulates our circadian rhythm which is the foundation to biological wellbeing, & allows the body to rest, repair, heal & regenerate physically & mentally. Both quantity & quality of sleep matters, Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night & practice good sleep hygiene to ensure that your sleep is optimal: get early morning sun exposure, stop eating at least 2 hours before bed, try to limit screen time to minimise blue light exposure, dim the lights after sunset & wear blue & green blocking glasses, sleep in a cold, dark room, do some meditation or journalling before going to bed, take an Epsom salt bath, & definitely no coffee or alcohol in the evening.

2. Buy organic.

Eating organic* is not a fad. It is in fact a non-negotiable. The amount of toxins that get sprayed on conventional produce is adding to the overload of toxin exposure we face every day. Most pesticides & herbicides are endocrine disruptors which interfere with your hormone balance as they mimic estrogen in the body. Buy your produce as often as possible from your local farmer or at your local farmer's market, & if buying organic is too expensive or difficult for you, check out The Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen from The Environmental Working Group here to know what products are most important to buy organic.

3. Eat real, whole foods.

Each cell, tissue & organ in your body is made up of what you consume, so make sure what you consume is nourishing, healing, building & contributing to a healthy internal foundation. The best food plan is a consistent intake of whole, natural, unrefined foods. Foods like organic vegetables & fruits, high quality fats & protein & complex carbohydrates, should make up the majority of your diet. In fact, a Mediterranean diet* is a great one to follow! The phytonutrients, vitamins & minerals in vegetables & fruits help detoxification, gene expression, reduce inflammation & prevent disease; healthy fats protect your brain, keep your cell membranes flexible, promote healthy cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation & support heart health; protein is the building blocks of cells, tissues & muscles, maintains muscle mass, prevents sarcopenia, & boosts metabolism; & complex carbohydrates provide you with energy & fiber, support your gastrointestinal system & microbiome & help support body composition.

3. Practice meditation & mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the conscious practise of being present with all your senses, in a non-judgemental way & with compassion, letting your thoughts pass through your mind like clouds in the sky. Research has shown that meditation* has profound physiological benefits. Even just 15 minutes a day done consistently can boost your immune system, reduce stress & anxiety, increase resilience, decrease blood pressure, reduce inflammation, help to manage pain, improve sleep & encourage neuroplasticity, learning & memory, and enhance your relationships. Other ways to incorporate mindfulness in your day can be breathing exercises, bringing awareness to your body / environment, journalling, getting into your 'flow' state ..

4. Have lots of movement & play.

Our bodies were made to move, not to be sitting as much as we are. Lean muscle is also anti-aging & key to metabolic* & mental health. It increases brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)* & ensures the body is supported as we age. Mix it up by doing resistance & strength training, some HIIT & cardio, & make sure to get enough walking in every day. Besides exercise, bring play, joy & laughter into your life - dance to great music whilst you are cooking, tap into your inner child with your kids or grandkids, go play mini golf with your friends, & have wild sex! People that incorporate play into their lives tend to be younger mentally & physically.

5. Take cold showers.

Cryotherapy & cold exposure* are forms of hormesis, which is all about idea that short, intermittent bursts of certain hormetic stressors will trigger a cascade of cellular processes that enhance overall health, slow aging, & make you more resilient to future stress, both physical & mental. Besides resilience it can also boost your energy as in increases the number & activity of your mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of your cells, which in turn enhances your body's antioxidant systems*, increasing your body's capacity to detox, manage oxidative stress & heal itself. Starting the morning with a cold shower is thus a better way to start the day than your shot of espresso!

6. Keep a gratitude journal.

In positive psychology, the practice of feeling gratitude & journaling has been linked to increased health & happiness. It helps you feel more positive emotions, savour good experiences, improve health, deal with adversity, & build strong relationships. As an energy organ, your heart is also positively impacted through improved heart rate variability & reduced inflammation*. The process of journaling, putting thoughts, feelings, emotions & experiences to paper, is also therapeutic as it reduces stress & anxiety as well as the build up of stress chemicals in your body. Combining this with gratitude is a wonderful way to boost mental, emotional & physical wellbeing.

7. Do intermittent fasting.

This is another powerful way of incorporating hormesis into your day. Intermittent fasting*, or time-restricted feeding, gives your digestive system & other body systems the opportunity to rest & repair. It enhances your metabolic health, reduces inflammation, improves cognitive function, activates autophagy (the process of the body getting rid of weak & unwanted cells), and supports longevity & healthy aging. When we eat, our body is busy digesting & responding to what you are ingesting, raising cortisol levels & using a lot of energy & resources in this process. This takes resources away from other vital body functions like thinking, repair, energy & detox. There are different ways to fast, but start with doing an overnight fast of at least 12 hours, slowly going up to 16 hours (or more) per day a couple of times a week. Listen to your body, see how it feels & adjust accordingly. Menstruating women & those with stress-related symptoms will need to be careful when starting a fasting ritual, so best to check with your doctor!

8. Get out in nature.

Nature is healing*. Mother Nature, free from technology, artificial light & indoor toxins, is our natural habitat, where our bodies feel connected & energised. Studies have consistently shown that immersing yourself in nature for even just 120 minutes a week has positive mental & physical health effects - it can lower blood pressure & stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, &

improve mood. Any outdoor space will have positive effect - city parks, forests, mountains, beach - but the more natural the better as it is thought the fresh air we breathe adds to the benefits. Japanese researchers have studied “forest bathing”, a poetic name for walking in the woods, & suspect aerosols from the forests, inhaled during a walk, are behind elevated levels of natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors & infections.

9. Get morning sunlight.

This ties into the first secret of optimising your circadian rhythm, the master internal biological clock that regulates all the processes that happen in your body. Setting your circadian rhythm start in the morning with getting direct sunlight into your eyes & onto your skin (always be safe & use your judgement when doing this!). This process tells your pituitary gland & your cells that it is morning, energising them & setting your body's systems up for the day. It will also help you sleep better at night by regulating melatonin & cortisol secretion. Morning light stimulates serotonin, your happy hormone, & boosts your immune system. Take a morning stroll after waking up, or enjoy your tea or coffee outdoors to get your morning light fix.

10. Stay hydrated.

Hydration. Hydration. Hydration. This can not be emphasized enough as we are made up of 60% water, the brain even 75%! Studies have shown that even very mild dehydration can cause health & cognitive issues, so be sure to get at least 1.5 to 2 liters of water a day (herbal tea or vegetable- & water-infused water included). Amongst other things, water helps transport nutrients around the body, keeps vital organs healthy, increases energy & cognition, supports digestion & detoxification pathways, lubricates joints & balances electrolytes. It also keeps you satiated & supports weight loss. Add in your favourite fruits & vegetables to add a light flavour to the water & get the added benefit of their nutrients also.

11. Find your tribe.

Strong, nourishing relationships are an essential pillars of health in Functional Medicine; without them, optimal health is hard to achieve.* Human beings are social animals, craving a sense of belonging, love, & safety. Surrounding yourself with a diverse community of people you care about can lower rates of anxiety & depression, cultivate higher self-esteem & greater empathy, & develop more trusting & cooperative relationships. Strong, healthy relationships can also help to strengthen your immune system, help you recover from disease, & may even lengthen your life.

12. Listen to your meaning & purpose.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl is a powerful book with an even more powerful message about finding strength & meaning in your adversity. He also developed logotherapy, a successful therapeutic approach to healing that focuses on helping people find their meaning & purpose in life. What is beautiful about this approach is that each one of us has our own life purpose that we need to pursue. Studies have shown that having a higher sense of purpose improves your physical & mental health* - decreased stress levels, less cardiovascular risk, longer health- & lifespan, better health choices overall,


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