Dr. Jennifer Prabhu, M.D. (Internal Medicine and Pediatrics), Co-Founder & CEO, Circee Health- a disease-reversal and prevention platform
If you’re like me, ringing in the new year, especially after the past two very difficult years, brings along with it a sense of positivity and hope. As a doctor, I also aspire for better health- both physical and mental. Unfortunately though, as the new year looms, many people plan to begin drastic diets or exercise regimens, only to see them fail after a few weeks. In this article, I will share with you a few simple tips to help you achieve those seemingly elusive long-lasting results.
Tip #1: Eat more plants
This will always be my favourite piece of advice. Don’t underestimate the power of plants as preventative medicine! There are so many seemingly innocent fruits, veggies, nuts, grains and legumes that pack quite a punch of immunity boosting nutrients. Is there a better way to start out a new year than with a stronger immune system? Just a few examples- for a natural vitamin C and E kick, make sure you pile on the palak (and other leafy greens like methi, sarson ka saag, laal bhaji) and bring home the broccoli (and gobi and cabbage). Zap those viruses away with zinc— found in all mushrooms, nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (til), and of course lentils and beans. And finally, delight in more vitamin D to reduce inflammation- found in most fortified cereals and all plant based milks (soya, almond, oat, rice).
Tip #2: Reduce the inflammation-producing foods in your diet
Many people don’t realise that what you put in your mouth ultimately affects the rest of your body, not just your digestive system. If you suffer from knee pain, acne or headaches (to name a few), it might just be a result of what you eat. Unfortunately- one of the most pro-inflammatory foods is actually milk and milk products (dahi, butter, cheese, paneer and yes, even ghee). I am not asking you to completely give up all your dairy, but- try just 1-2 dairy free days a week, and notice how your body feels the following day! I promise you will feel lighter, more energized, and over time, less aches and pains! In our practice, we constantly analyze patient data and seek these gems (of pain or inflammation reduction) and present it back to the patient so they see that each time they avoided dairy, something positive happened to their bodies. These days, it is not tough to avoid dairy. Thankfully, there are a plethora of plant-based dairy substitutes out there to help when a craving strikes. If you look in my freezer, you’ll see a few vegan ice creams hiding out, waiting for such an occasion…
Tip#3: Move it! No really- get up and go
You don’t have to join a fancy gym to reap all the incredible benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Did you know that incorporating just 30-45min a day of heart pumping activity three days a week has a 2-fold impact on heart disease for example! Increased heart rate means more blood and oxygen supply to all your vital organs including brain (better mood and concentration), intestines (less bloating and acidity) and skin (less oil and acne). A simple rule of thumb to make sure you are putting in the ‘right amount’ of exertion is if you can hold a full conversation while exercising (without feeling breathless). If you can, you need to push harder! Walking fast will do the trick- no need to run a marathon. If you can’t get outside, there are plenty of free videos on the internet to choose from, for every age and skill level.
Tip# 4: Sleep on it
Another simple lifestyle change that can make a huge impact, is working towards increasing your sleep quality and duration. Poor sleep has been linked to depression and anxiety, obesity, high BP, even a higher risk of infections (i.e.- suppressed immunity). In the new year, set a goal to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ and I promise you’ll notice a surprising positive impact on many aspects of your life. How to achieve this? I already mentioned many benefits of exercise, but did you know if you move your exercise to the evening or night, your sleep will likely be longer and deeper. Even if you just do this 1-2 days a week. Turn off your ‘devices’ at least one hour before bed. Choose a good book, some calming music, a warm bath or even better – meditate! There are also safe, non-habit forming and natural supplements that can help retrain your body to sleep more efficiently. Melatonin, Ashwagandha and L-theanine have been proven to have these benefits in many clinical trials. Of course, always consult your doctor before starting any supplement.
Tip #5: Teach an old dog a new trick
It seems almost silly, but learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby, or even just setting a different long term goal (at home, at work, with family) can start a snowball effect of positive changes. Create a goal and move towards it. Having something to look forward to and be proud of is an enormous mood booster. In fact, many research studies have found that those people without a hobby are significantly more likely to develop a mood disorder in their lifetime (anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD to name a few). We at Circee Health, for example, have incorporated this key element in our discussions with our patients. Having something to work on makes one feel positive. Another remarkable benefit of hobbies is in finding like-minded people that share your passion. Building your friend and community support circle is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. So, try something new and different this year- you never know where it might lead you!