Health Hacks I’ve Learnt as a Health Writer
I have written a lot of article about health over the past few years. This is what it’s taught me.
I don’t know about you but opening WebMD, you become afraid of your own shadow. There are so many health conditions one could end up suffering from. As a health writer though, I’ve read so much research about the things that prevent those very diseases. I’ve seen so many studies about how, seemingly simple measures, can completely alter our health.
In this article, I will share some of these measures. I haven’t filled this article with references to studies — you can look those up on your own. I promise you, there are plenty of studies out there. No, this is just a summary of the things I’ve learned that I share with you.
Nature Makes a Difference
I actually wrote an article for Vigyaa about this recently, but science has proven that spending time in nature is good for you. For children, it appears to help develop the eyes and results in better eyesight. It can lessen the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. What’s more, it can have an effect on the “killer” cells in your body. In Japan, they found that if people went to the forest for a couple of days, it had a positive impact on these cells that help protect your body. In other words, it boosts your immune system. It can also help lower your blood pressure.
Also, when you spend time outdoors you get exposed to natural sunlight, which is needed to give you vitamin D. Vitamin D has been linked to an array of health benefits and a shocking amount of people are suffering from a deficiency.
The takeaway? Spend time in nature — if you live in the city, try to go for country walks, or hikes, as often as you can. At the very least, get outdoors for twenty minutes a day to catch some rays.
Sleep Is Important
Another thing that affects our immune system is sleep. It also affects our metabolism. Good quality sleep on regular hours, is crucial for our body to operate optimally. The better you sleep, the better you perform everyday tasks, as well as athletic challenges.
It’s easy to think that constantly changing our bedtime is nothing, but actually, it makes you feel constantly jet lagged.
The takeaway? If you want to stay healthy, it’s not all about food and exercise — sleep and time in the outdoors is important too.
The Longest Living People Are Social
I wrote an article about the diet for longevity here on Vigyaa a few weeks ago — in it I mentioned the Blue Zones; places on Earth where people live longer. One thing these places have in common is that people socialize more and stress less.
Being social and focusing on spending time with friends and family is important. In big cities, which many of us locate to without knowing anyone, it’s important to find your “tribe.” Thanks to Meet Up groups and organizations like InterNations, it’s becoming easier to meet people, even when you’re new in town. And thanks to coaches, psychologists and programs to learn confidence and people skills, people who had unfortunate childhoods can also learn to overcome their fears and be more social.
No matter where you’re at in life, you have choice to reach out. To get to know people. It may feel like a tall order as it takes time and effort and you’ll probably meet sixty people you don’t gel with for every forty that you do gel with. But it is worth it.
The takeaway? Social people live longer.
A Whole Foods Diet Is a Recipe for Success
When I was confused about what the healthiest diet is a couple of years back I actually when I learned about the Blue Zones. The diet varies from place to place, but what they all have in common is that they eat diets consisting of whole foods — home cooked foods made with real ingredients, lots of veggies and pulses and no, or little, meat.
Pretty much any other successful diet appears to consist of whole foods, whether it includes pulses, or meat, or not.
A whole foods diet generally cuts out processed grains (i.e. white bread and such), refined sugars and any other processed food. However, most diets include small amounts of those foods. It’s just not something you eat a lot of.
What I found when researching various foods, is also that pretty much any vegetable you look up is full of things that do wonders for your health. As are nuts, seeds, fruits and berries. It’s actually incredible reading about what different plants can do for your health.
The takeaway? The most important thing is not to follow a specific diet, but eat whole foods and include a lot of vegetables.
Herbs and Spices Are Great
Just as veggies and fruits have many beneficial properties, so do herbs and spices. Often in much more concentrated forms. Getting just small amounts of herbs and spices in your diet can help fight inflammation in the body. As inflammation has been linked to many diseases, this is important.
Some of the spices that stand out include ginger and turmeric as they are great at fighting inflammation — I’ve read studies that showed they were as effective as over the counter anti-inflammatories, like Ibuprofen. And that’s not all — if you look up the health benefits of turmeric (or the active ingredient: curcumin) you will find a very long list.
Herbs can have various side effects that you do need to beware of — I read somewhere you shouldn’t eat ginger daily two weeks prior to surgery, for example. Licorice root isn’t good for those with hypertension, on the other hand. But as a general rule, herbs and spices are great and very easy to incorporate in your everyday life through supplements, herbal teas (my personal favorite) and spicy dishes. Personally, I pour turmeric and chai spices in my coffee every morning.
Tea and Coffee Are Filled with Antioxidants
You may not think of tea and coffee as something important for your health, but they are. A lot of Americans, for example, get more antioxidants from coffee than anything else they consume. This is proof of an overall diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, but nonetheless: coffee has a lot of antioxidants (antioxidants fight free radicals and thereby help protect your cells from disease, aging and other such nuisances).
Tea, both red, green, white and black teas, are filled with other antioxidants. In fact, I recently wrote an article about the health benefits of matcha (powdered green tea that you mix with water) and there were so many it was shocking.
Living in South Africa I’ve also heard on the news when there are findings about the health benefits of rooibos (red) tea.
As tea comes from plants it makes sense — just as eating vegetables and herbs, it’s good for us. Well, of course, so long as it’s made from the right plants!
It’s important with tea to choose ones that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and are in organic teabags, as the bags themselves appear to come with various toxins. Likewise, bleached coffee filters aren’t the best. Filtering your coffee, on the other hand, is great as it removes acrylamide — a toxin.
Then there’s the thing about stress. We tend to become caught up in things that don’t matter. By the end of the day, is it worth risking your health stressing about something? Or could you just let it go?
We think we don’t have time to meditate. Don’t have time to breathe deeply. But what do we have time for? Going crazy over something? Stressing about better grades, better work results, better anything…for what? Do your best. The rest doesn’t matter. Enjoy the moment.
The takeaway? You live now. Possibly only once. What are the things that are truly important in your life? And can you do something about the situation, or are you just fretting unnecessarily? Why not enjoy what you can and let go of what you can’t?
Look After Your Mental Health
The majority of people will face depression at some point in their lives. Some more severe than others.
You have to take charge of your mind. You have to shift your focus to what’s working in your life, what you like about yourself and what you are thankful for. Then you have to create more of that.
It’s hard to shift our focus sometimes. But practice makes perfect. Face the pain. Then move through it. You can’t dodge it. That will only make you suppress it, which means you hold onto it. But you can face it and then let it go. Focus on something else. Keep shifting your attention to the good things. And if you can't, seek help. There are professionals out there who can teach you how to manage it. Even if you aren't depressed, learning tools for mental health and happiness is always a good thing. You don't have to wait till you get depressed to learn about self-help and see a psychologist, or life coach.
The food you eat, the amount of time you spend in nature, the quality of your sleep, the amount of exercise you get, the quality of your social life — all those things affect mental as well as physical health. So take care of yourself.
Grief, shock, trauma — most people get to experience it. Know it will get better. Also, know it’s part of life. Don’t allow it to make you bitter. If you don’t accept it, you don’t accept life for what it is. Life is many things. Our ticket to ride includes some unpleasantries. Don’t get stuck in those. Focus on the beautiful things. The ones you also get to experience.
If you can’t handle your emotions, then see someone. A psychologist, or life coach, or friend. Read books. Seek help. Call a helpline. Just do something and keep doing something until you find some alleviation from your pain. But don’t stop there. Keep walking. Know that you’re not alone.
The takeaway? Your mental health will affect your physical health and vice versa, so take care of it.
The Importance of Exercising
Lifting weights and doing strength exercises in general can slow down the onset of dementia. Cardio can take years off your physical age. Overall health is improved by both. It also releases endorphins that make you feel good.
The takeaway? Exercising is simply something that can help keep you healthy and live longer.
Health isn't about just food, or just exercise. Health is about sleep, socializing, enjoying your life, spending time in nature, as well as food and exercise.