Thursday, April 2, 2020

Don't Wait Until Your Sick to Get Healthy

by Dr. Iva Lloyd, ND

This current health crisis is affecting our lives in ways that we could have never imagined a month ago. We have the uncertainty surrounding the virus, the economic impact, the self-isolation, the
reality of the death toll around the world and the concern for family and friends, to name a few.

At times like this, it is important to approach the problem from as many perspectives as possible. The guidelines set by Public Health and Ministries of Health are essential and need to be followed. The government's aims to the protect the public and to make decisions that are the best for the population at large. Healthcare practitioners are there to ensure that you have the support and care that you need when you need it.

It is important to recognize that there are a lot of things that you can do as well to support your mental, emotional and physical health. Health crises have a way of reminding us that lifestyle and self-care are  important. They determine our ability to handle something that threatens us. The best you can do for your family and friends right now is to focus on your individual self-care and that of your family and loved ones.

Don't Wait Until You're Sick

Health is a accumulation of your life. Starting with your genetic makeup and your exposures during pregnancy to your present health status. It includes the accidents, injuries, lifestyle choices and decisions that you have made throughout your life and how you have handled them. It is based on the
balance encompassing the food and drink that you have consumed, the experiences and choices that have added positively to the strength of your resiliency and those that have deterred from it.  The body was designed with a tremendous ability to heal and recover, especially in early and mid-life. As you get older, the body's innate functioning is more on maintaining health which is one of the reasons that chronic diseases are diagnosed more so after the age of 60. Remaining healthy throughout life is about making choices - throughout your life - with health in mind.

The impact of any threat on the body is a balancing act. Which is stronger and has more "power"?  The question is whether or not the threat is greater that the a person's resiliency?  Who or what is going to "win"?  The threat can be a stressful situation - like the loss of a job, the death of someone that we love, or a sense of despair.  It can be a diet that is lacking in nutrients, excess of smoking or alcohol, or a chronic lack of sleep. The threat can be exposure to heavy metals or chemicals, a sensitivity to wireless technology or it can be a virus or pathogen that threatens health. Everyone is unique and has their own specific susceptibilities. Some are more sensitive to food, others to environmental toxins and wireless technology, some tend to get more emotionally overwhelmed and others are more impacted by pathogens such as viruses, bacteria or mold.

In this current crisis, it should not surprise anyone that there is so much confusing information. The human factor is too often missing and when included can shed a lot of light. We have seen this same situation repeatedly in the past. Different people respond differently to the same "threat".  If we try to make sense of this virus, any virus, by only considering the virus and not the human factor, it will unlikely never make sense.

Focus On What You Can Control

There are so many factors that affect health. Trying to focus on all of them at the same time is overwhelming. It is important to be aware of those factors that are out of our daily control - unless you have chosen to be an advocate for a specific cause - and to focus on those that you can influence more readily.

Ubiquitous Health Factors are those that are all around us. They are created by manufacturing, technology, climate change and other global issues. The include things such as acid rain; pollution and destruction of the water, air and soil, natural disasters; pathogens; plastic, wireless technology and the additives and chemicals that are put in the food that we eat. It is important to be aware of these and we all need to do our part, but they are not factors that you can have control over in a crisis.

Controllable Health Factors are those healthy habits that you can influence. They are the ones that you can choose to do or not do. From a naturopathic perspective, they are an essential aspect of health. They include the food you choose to eat, your lifestyle habits, sleep hygiene, how you manage your stress; your posture; whether or not you breath properly; your movement and exercise; the time you spend in nature and the limitations you put on your wireless exposure. There are so many ways that you can improve the status of your health and that of your family and loved ones.

The following provides an overview of the main health factors that you can influence on your own.

Nutrition

One of the tenets of naturopathic practice is that health starts with a healthy diet and healthy digestion.

What you eat and your ability to digest your food determines the water and nutrients that your body has to work with. There are numerous biochemical pathways that control how the body functions. Those pathways and the building and maintenance of every structure (bone, muscle, tissues, blood, etc) depends on nutrients.

In my blog, Food and Immune Health I go over the link between food and immunity, highlighting the need to have a whole foods diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and nuts and seeds. The aim is have food from every food group every day.

One of the risks of both stress and self-isolation is the tendency to eat unhealthy foods and to snack more often. I encourage you to focus on diet as a staple for health. Ensure you get adequate water, eat according to your activity level.  If you are less active it is often helpful to eat less so that you don't put on unwanted weight.

Stress can also results in an increase in "comfort" food and drink, such as sugary desserts, pop, alcohol, chips and junk food. It is best to limit these during a time when the focus needs to be on optimizing immune health.

Check out our other blogs on nutrition for more tips:

Sleep

Sleep is essential to health. It is the time when the body heals, repairs and recovers from the stress of the day. Getting adequate sleep is associated with better overall health and vitality. It decreases the rate of aging and improves mental and cognitive function. 

Those with adequate sleep generally have a strong immune system and a stronger immune response. Ideally, at the first sign of not feeling well you want to slow down and allow the body time to heal. Turn off the alarm and let the body sleep as much as it desires. If you struggle with getting good quality sleep, talk to your naturopathic doctor to figure out the best strategy for you.

For more information, check out our blog on Sleep - Top 5 Things to Remember.

Movement

Daily movement is essential to optimal immune health, especially when we are talking about immune and respiratory health. Regular exercise or movement is associated with a decreased risk of respiratory infections and a decrease risk of infections becoming severe. Anyone who has specific health concerns is always best to talk to their naturopathic doctor, but some general guidelines to follow include:
  • Walk. Aim for a twenty minute walk once or twice a day.  If you are in self-isolation, than it is helpful to walk around your house or room a couple of minutes every hour.
  • Stretching. If you want to maintain flexibility throughout your life it is important to stretch on a daily basis.  If you already have some limitations in flexibility than start by stretching while sitting in a chair.
  • Swimming. If you access to pool, swimming is a great exercise and it is one of the best for those people that have joint problems.
  • Releasing stress. Movement is a great way to help release stress. A short burst of activity, such as hitting a tennis ball against a wall, punching bags or kick boxing can be helpful in releasing stress.
The most important thing is to stay active.  For more information, check out our blog on Movement - Top 5 Things to Remember.

Breathing

Breathing is essential to life. It is linked to every function in the body. The ability to take a deep full breath is an indicator of overall respiratory function. There are so many different ways that you can use breath to improve your overall state of health and well being. For example,
  • Cleansing breath.
  • Exaggerated exhalation.
  • Alternate nostril breathing.
I recommend that you take a few minutes to really feel and listen to your breath. Are you breathing deeply?  Holding your breath is very common in times of uncertainty and fear.  If you are holding your breath practice the cleansing breath or the exaggerated exhalation (details on the Breathing blog).  If you are having difficulty sleeping, the alternate nostril breathing can be helpful to settle the mind. Mastering breath work will help improve your physical and mental state of well being.

For more information, check out our blogs on Breathing - Top 5 Things to Remember and Breathe Better With Self Care Techniques.

Stress Management

Stress is not always bad. There is "good" stress which has to do with being busier or having a lot to do.

Stress impacts health negatively when it is intense, recurring or unrelenting, Stress has the greatest impact when your body goes "on hold", when you feel trapped or there is a sense of despair or uncertainty. Your stress management skills determine the impact that stress and traumatic events have on the body.

It is helpful when under times of "bad stress" that you focus on what you can control. For example:

  • Practice breathing exercises every day. When you feel uptight do some exaggerated exhalations or cleansing breaths.
  • Be sure to stay active. If possible, walk outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.
  • Avoid binge watching movies or spending hours on your laptop or computer.
  • Limit how much time you spend listening to the news.  Give you mind a break and focus on something enjoyable or productive.
  • Now would be a good time to read up on mindfulness or meditation.
  • Finish the story!  Don't block the mind from thinking things. Allow the mind some time to plan out what will happen if this current situation continues for another month, or two, or three.  One of the worst things for the mind is spinning on a topic, that is thinking the same thing over and over and never coming to a resolution. It is helpful if you can guide the mind to think through problems.
  • Be productive. Recognize that you can't change the current situation and focus on something productive that you can do.
For more information, check out our blog on The Power of the Mind - Top 5 Things to Remember.

Other blogs that you might find helpful during this time of physical distancing:

When this current crisis is over the question will be "What were you doing during the COVID-19 crisis".  What do you want your answer to be?