10 Steps Towards a Healthier Life
Updated: May 29
Avoid simple sugars and carbohydrates! Sugar is public enemy number one in the battle to get and stay healthy. It is all around us. Go ahead, walk down the aisle of any grocery store and pick up any processed food item. Most items will have some form of sugar or some simple carbohydrate that gets converted to sugar in our bodies. Artificial sweeteners are also bad, but in a different way. If you're like me you may have to work your way through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) as you say goodbye to your love affair with sugar.
Eat lots of green leafy vegetables. Nobody is going to look you straight in face and say green leafy vegetables are their favorite food - myself included. We are programmed to crave sweet foods and most green leafy vegetables are on the bitter side. But our bodies were not designed for an abundance of good tasting food; they were designed for a time when these foods were scarce (indeed, food itself was often scarce). Our taste buds are trainable so start the process of getting them used to learning to like food that is less sweet. After a few months what was bitter before will taste less bitter and sweet stuff will taste way too sweet.
Eat lots of root vegetables. Better tasting than green leaves but still not top of the list of most peoples' favorite foods. But, again, this is what our bodies were designed to digest and this is what the good bugs in our gut need to thrive (more on this below). White potatoes should be avoided because they convert too easily to sugar. Most root vegetables have a low glycemic index, which means they don't convert easily to sugar in your body. Per our first step: Sugar is public enemy #1!
Avoid processed foods. Over 90% of the processed foods sitting on the shelves at the grocery store did not exist 50 years ago. Those of us born in the post World War II era have been part of massive experiment on what these "foods" do to our bodies. The jury is still out but the evidence is increasingly pointing to an unhappy ending for those of us that have been eating them and continue to eat them. It's not too late. Opt out of this experiment before the evidence confirms, once and for all, your body has been damaged by these "foods". Or you can continue to support both the processed food industry and the pharmaceutical industry at the same time.
Take a probiotic and eat prebiotics. Our guts used to be populated with a large number and variety of probiotics but our modern diet and lifestyle have reduced the population significantly hence the need to supplement. Prebiotics are the types of foods (garlic, onions, and leeks fall into this category as well as certain root vegetables) that the probiotic bugs like to eat. You need both. The idea that a healthy gut is the foundation for a healthy life is not new ("All disease begins in the gut." Hypocrites, around 2000 years ago!) but we are just beginning to rediscover its importance.
Limit grain intake and carefully prepare grains when you do eat them. This is controversial. Humans have been eating grains for around 10,000 years (which is actually a small slice of human evolution) and they have been a key element in the flourishing of civilizations. On the other side of the coin, we are eating far more grains - often in the form of processed foods - than any previous generations. And these grains are being made and processed in ways that have never been done before (GMO anyone?). As I mentioned in number 5 above, we are part of an experiment that started after World War II. In our house, we are opting out of this experiment and choosing our grains - and how we prepare them - carefully.
Exercise regularly and moderately. You don't have be a triathlete to be be healthy. In fact, some evidence suggests that extreme athletes might be shortening their life. Or another way to view it, most long lived populations around the world are active all through their lives (into their 90s and beyond!) but don't participate in extreme sports. Long walks (which also help us relax) are great but we also benefit from some form of weight bearing exercise which might be as simple as gardening or doing physical tasks around the house. I do that but I also like to go to my local YMCA a few days a week for a more well rounded set of exercises.
Develop and maintain loving relationships. Hopefully one of our readers will weigh in on this with some evidence because all I know is that it has worked for me, my parents, and everyone I know who has close friends and family. We all know laughter is a stress reliever and we are more likely to laugh when we are in social gatherings. And this one is a little easier to "swallow" than eating green leaves!
Meditate and/or participate in some spiritual activity. This is a "do what I say, not what I do" one. I believe this is a good thing. I bought Dan Harris' book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics but I'm so fidgety I can't get through it! :) More seriously, I do practice some breathing exercises which I got from Dan's book and believe they help me relax. My next step is to take it to the next level. And for those that are actively involved in a religion then I believe you get similar benefits. Spirituality, however you practice it, benefits the soul as well as the body.
Limit your caloric intake and/or fast. I saved this one for last because it is the one we are all a bit wary about. It goes against our instincts (and what our bodies are telling us!) to not eat when food is available. I don't practice fasting (unless I get sick!) but I believe, if done properly, it is beneficial. My understanding is that it helps reset our bodily functions and maybe also helps cleanse some of the bad stuff that has built up (particularly in our gut). As for limiting calorie intake this comes naturally if we follow commandments 1-6.
Do you agree with this list? What would you add or delete? Please share your thoughts and experiences.