Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Balanced View

The current healthcare dialog may have many of us thinking about what it really means to be “healthy”. For example, does “good health” mean making frequent visits to your doctor or taking medicine regularly? Perhaps your idea of being healthy is simply eating well and exercising every day. The truth is that there is no "one size fits all” solution. It’s true that we all share a similar biological make-up, but each of us has diverse needs and responds differently to treatment. With such a vast landscape of healthcare options available, it's difficult to know where to begin. While traditional medicine certainly has its place in modern day healthcare, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is gaining popularity. When combined with traditional practices, CAM is proving for many, to be just what the doctor ordered!

Although not taught in most conventional medical schools, what we consider to be CAM is quite common in other parts of the world and can be an effective addition to an overall treatment plan. For thousands of years, eastern practitioners employed CAM therapies to treat anything from back pain to depression or the common cold. As Americans embrace a more holistic mindset, we are seeing an increased interest in CAM. In fact, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Americans spent nearly 33.9 billion on CAM in 2007 alone. Below are some common treatments/therapies used throughout the world:

Massage therapy
Yoga, Qi-Gong
Hypnosis, guided imagery
Herbal, supplemental treatments

Let’s focus on some of the most popular treatments:

Massage therapy. With over 80 different types, massage therapy can be used for a variety of purposes including, but not limited to, pain relief and stress reduction. Massage uses therapeutic touch that includes pressing, rubbing or manipulating the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. This is done with varying technique and is individually tailored to address the needs of the recipient. Benefits of massage therapy can include:

  • Relaxation

  • Decreased anxiety

  • Decreased feelings of depression

  • Improved blood flow

  • Decreased fatigue

  • Increased body awareness

*The risks of massage therapy are minimal but it’s important to check with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about the process.

Acupuncture involves the use of very fine needles that are placed in specific areas of the body. The idea is that energy, called “qi” or “chi” flows through pathways called "meridians". The belief is that if the flow of qi is hindered in any way, the body will experience illness. The goal is to promote the free flow of qi throughout the body in order to alleviate blockage and allow the body to heal.

Like Acupuncture, Qi-gong promotes the increase of energy flow. It differs in that specific slow body movements, instead of needles, are used to increase the flow of qi. Qi-gong is thought to promote the natural healing process of the body and has often been used to detoxify and decrease anxiety and depression. Believed to build strength and lower Cortisol (stress hormone) levels, Qi-gong has been around for over 5000 years and is currently practiced by over 200 million people world wide.

*As with any exercise program, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting.

Energy body work such as Reiki involves the access of universal energy by the practitioner to support the patients own healing response. Essentially, the practitioner places their hands lightly on or just above the person receiving the treatment. The idea is to facilitate healing and promote relaxation. There are a number of reasons why people use Reiki including to reduce anxiety, chronic pain, recover from surgery and even compliment traditional cancer treatments. Younger than other CAM therapies, Reiki has been traced to Japan in the early 20th century.

*Risks to practicing Reiki are essentially non-existent but it’s important to speak with your doctor if you have any concerns.

We’ve touched briefly on just a few complementary and alternative medical treatments. It's important to discern which will be most beneficial to you. Start by speaking with your healthcare practitioner. Some mainstream providers are embracing CAM as an adjunct to traditional medicine and can likely point you in the right direction. You may even consider contacting an alternative practitioner such as a Naturopath, Homeopath or Herbalist. In addition, it’s helpful to ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What are your needs?

  • What is available in your area?

  • What fits into your budget?

  • What suits your schedule?

In many cases, a combination of both CAM and traditional therapies will be most beneficial. For example, you may work with an Acupuncturist to treat anxiety who might suggest that you incorporate massage and some basic lifestyle changes. At the same time, you may see your medical doctor to evaluate the need for medication. Keep in mind it’s not likely that any single CAM therapy will completely eliminate illness. Just like when seeing a doctor, you’ll probably need to commit to several visits and be willing to follow the recommendations of your practitioner.

Remember, the overall goal of CAM is the prevention of illness through balance of the mind, body and spirit. It engages the whole person and encourages the body to heal itself. Our bodies have an impressive ability to heal when the conditions are right. With time and commitment, CAM can offer us the added balance that we need!

Relax and Take a Deep Breath: Techniques to Manage Your Stress

Last month we explored ways that stress can negatively impact our health and suggested some positive steps we can take. This month we take a look at some helpful relaxation techniques that can lessen the impact of stress in our lives.

While it’s important to identify and eliminate unnecessary stress, we also need to recognize that there are things we can’t change. We still need to clean our house, pay our bills, take care of our children, and tend to that thing we call “life”.

It’s not uncommon to feel a sense of helplessness about your ability to handle life’s challenges. Believe it or not, you do have the power to take control! In fact, the very act of recognizing that you are “in control” of your thoughts and reactions is an important first step. When we take charge of our thoughts, we’re less re-active and can choose healthier ways of coping that rely less on external sources and more on our inherent strengths.

There is no shortage of information out there on how to cope with stress. All you need to do is log onto the internet and you’ll find a variety of techniques designed to promote relaxation and cultivate peacefulness. Done regularly, these techniques can serve not only as coping strategies during stressful times, but can also improve our overall feeling of well being. Below are just a few ideas:

Try Meditating: Contrary to what many believe, meditation is not a discipline of eliminating all thought from your mind. In reality, it is a practice that involves focusing all of your attention on one thing and continually coming back to it every time your mind wanders. Some people think of a word and repeat it frequently, while others say a phrase or mantra. All you need is a quite space and about 20 minutes. There are many excellent websites available that teach techniques for meditation such as http://www.learningmeditation.com/.

It’s all in the breath: Breathing is a bodily function that most of us take for granted, but the way we do it can offer valuable insight into how we are feeling. Shallow, fast breathing can indicate a high level of stress while slow, deep breathing suggests calmness and serenity.
Begin to pay attention to how you breathe. Are you a shallow breather or do you take long and deep inhalations? When we get anxious or stressed we have a tendency to breathe more quickly and erratically. When we are relaxed, breathing tends to be deeper and slower.
Try inhaling for 4 seconds and then exhaling for 4 seconds. Continue practicing this technique. Learning to control our breath when we’re calm will train us to do so when we’re in stressful situations. It takes practice, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Progressive Relaxation: This is a great way to remind your body to release built up tension. Lie on your back and focus attention on each body part. Starting from the toes all the way up to your head, flex or squeeze each muscle tightly for 2-3 seconds and then release. Do your muscles suddenly feel relaxed? With time, you will begin to recognize the feelings associated with muscle tension. It takes practice, but keep with it! It may help to use a progressive relaxation audio tape that can walk you through the exercises.

Guided Imagery: Remember, it’s often our thoughts about stress that make it unbearable. Sometimes, imagining a serene or peaceful place can help take your mind off of a stressful situation. Create a place in your mind of complete surrender and security. This will remind you that you are safe in the moment and that stress does not need to overwhelm you. This technique works best when someone leads you through the process so that you can focus on your thoughts. Try downloading a podcast from Depak Chopra at:http://www.chopra.com/librarygclid=CK6M_L_s0JwCFQog2godWBuwKg

Stress does not need to be overwhelming. We’ve learned that it's possible to reduce the impact of stress by relaxing our thoughts, muscles and breathing. In addition, there is a great deal of evidence supporting the health benefits of alternative treatments. Stay tuned for next month’s article where we discuss Massage Therapy, Reiki, Acupressure and more.

Responding Positively to Everyday Stress

“I’m so stressed!” For many of us, these three words conjure up feelings of being overwhelmed, ill, anxious and even chronically depressed. We all experience some kind of stress on a daily basis and it can affect each of us very differently. Stress is "out there" - it’s a reality of modern life. The good news is that while no one is immune to stress, we can learn to decrease its impact on the body, mind and spirit.

So, what is stress anyway?

If you’re like most people, you can probably identify the effect of stress in your life. Are sleepless nights a regular occurrence? Do headaches interrupt your ability to function? These are some of the ways that stress can pervade our lives.

But do you really understand what is happening to your body? We tend to refer to the idea of stress frequently but the truth is that many of us have little understanding of the process that occurs when a stressful event happens.

Simply put, stress is the body’s response to physical, psychological or environmental changes or stimuli. The change or stimuli is what we refer to as a “stressor.” Stressors can be as simple as a deadline at work or as dangerous as being in a major car accident. The response that our body has to a stressor ranges from mild and relatively harmless to severe and life altering. Often, the longer the stress is present in our lives, the more detrimental it is to our health and well-being.

Short-term (acute) stress is situational and usually subsides once the event is over. We can experience symptoms such as increased heart rate or blood pressure, feelings of anxiety and even an inability to be rational. Many people have difficulty sleeping, experience gastro-intestinal disturbances or even frequent headaches. Examples of short-term (acute) stress are: deadlines at work or school, a sick child or being caught in a traffic jam. In other words, these are common and unavoidable, every day events.

Long-term (chronic) stress is more harmful to our bodies. Sometimes an acute stressor continues long term. Maybe the deadlines at work become the norm or your child is sick more often. The idea is that the body is always in “response mode.” This constant state of “responding” can have a serious impact on the body.

Initially, symptoms are relatively mild and include things like headaches, body aches and increased susceptibility to colds. If left un-checked, over time the body may begin to lose its ability to digest food and defend against illness. Conditions such as depression, diabetes, hair loss, obesity, cancer and even obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorder have all been linked to long-term stress.

This is not the time for “sympathy”

Constant external stress (stimuli) or the perception of stress can overload our bodies.

Stressors are perceived (or interpreted) by the entire body and the “stress response” begins, causing an increase in pulse rate, a burst of adrenaline, the pooling of blood away from our internal organs and the release of the stress hormone Cortisol.

When a threatening situation or stressor is present, the sympathetic nervous system is engaged and prepares the body for either “fight,” “flight” or “freeze.” This means you will either stay and deal with the situation, run away from it or stop in your tracks and do nothing (which can sometimes be a good thing). At the same exact time, the parasympathetic nervous system gets turned off, suppressing the immune system, digestion, metabolism, tissue building and the production of certain hormones.

This response is both helpful and effective when the body truly needs to respond to a dangerous situation. For example, if we are walking in the woods and come face-to-face with a bear, our sympathetic nervous system should and will kick-in to help. We want this response in acute situations. The problem occurs when this begins to happen frequently, in response to ongoing stressors in our lives. The sympathetic/parasympathetic response systems are not designed for the kinds of everyday stressors that we encounter.

To complicate things even more, our adrenal glands release a stress hormone called Cortisol. This hormone is helpful and necessary in extreme situations, but when released in relation to chronic stress it will suppress immunity and deposit fat around the mid-section. This begins the “spare-tire” or “beach-ball” effect. Basically, the fat deposited around the mid-section can make you feel lethargic and increase the likelihood that you’ll turn to unhealthy substances such as sugar, caffeine, tobacco and fast food to get through the day! This leads to more stress, which triggers the production of more Cortisol, leading to the consumption of more unhealthy substances! The longer a person relies on sugar for quick energy, the greater the chance they will develop obesity and type II diabetes. Clearly, this vicious cycle is not a healthy option for our bodies.

How do we deal with stress?

It’s important to understand that we all have different stresses, in varying amounts that affect us in different ways. And we all manage our stress differently. There is no easy answer, but there are several small steps we can take to reduce and manage our stress.

Step One: Get organized!

Begin by thinking about what is causing your stress. Most of the time what we're feeling is the result of our reaction to the stressor and not necessarily the stressor itself.

It may help to make a list of all of the stresses in your life. Cross out the ones that you have no control over. For example, we all need to do things like go to work, get our kids ready for school in the morning, etc. Those things are not likely to change. Instead, circle the ones that you have a reasonable ability to control. Pick one or two of those and devise a plan to improve them. Sometimes the act of just writing your stresses on paper can help eliminate the anxiety you feel about them.

It’s important to take baby steps here. Taking on too many changes at once may actually serve to make you feel more stressed!

Step Two: Stop the stimulants!

Our lives tend to revolve around stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, suspenseful television shows, daily news reports, loud music and even bright lights. Look at the stimulants that trigger stress in your life. Pick one or two and try eliminating them for a few weeks. Pay close attention to how you feel.

Keep in mind that sometimes we feel worse before we feel better. In time you’ll begin to notice that reducing stimulants will have a positive impact on how you feel.

Life happens fast and we tend to move through it without paying attention to our stress levels until we feel overwhelmed. Increasing our awareness of the ways that stress can make its way into our lives is the first step.

Stay tuned for next month’s article on how to change our reaction to stress, featuring techniques for relaxation.

Nutritional Balance: Fueling a Happier You

Ever notice how you feel when you skip a meal or consume too much sugar? Are you grumpy, irritable or unable to focus? How about the splitting headache that comes from missing your first cup of morning Joe? If you can relate to these examples, you’re not alone! Poor nutrition can drastically affect the way we feel. Many of us give very little thought to the food we put in our mouths. Meals often consist of whatever is most readily available at the time. Unfortunately, the food we choose is often processed and lacking in the essential nutrients needed to fuel our bodies and brains.

In spite of our busy and complicated schedules, there is a way to eat that will leave you feeling satisfied, alert and clear headed. Consuming three healthy, well-balanced meals and two small snacks each day can provide the physical and mental fuel you need to stay alert and feel well. Simply put, good food can have a significant impact on your mood!

What does it really mean to eat a “healthy” meal?

Healthy refers to foods that are high in nutritional value. Each of us needs macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), plenty of water and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Healthy refers to “whole” as opposed to “processed” foods.
What is the difference? It’s helpful to think about where the food came from. Did it come from the farm? Whole foods that are closest to their natural state contain the highest nutritional value. For example, a strawberry right from the farm is considered a carbohydrate and contains vitamins, minerals and fiber. A strawberry toaster pastry, while also a carbohydrate, is full of unhealthy sugar and lacks most of the good nutrients of the strawberry itself. The strawberry is a “whole” food but the toaster pastry has been modified and is considered “processed.”

Eating “whole” foods is actually less expensive than consuming processed items. A diet rich in fruits, veggies, meat, eggs, dairy and whole grains is far less expensive than one that includes items in a box or a bag. Think about it- the whole food doesn’t have all of the fillers in the middle. A fresh chicken breast is cheaper than frozen processed chicken fingers. Oh, and by the way, chickens do not have fingers!

What is the importance of a “well-balanced” meal?

Well-balanced meals
will help to sustain energy. This means that we can avoid the “crashes” that come from consuming items like simple carbohydrates (white bread, cake, cookies and candy) and caffeine. Limiting or even avoiding sugar and caffeine can have a dramatic effect on your mood. It seems counter-intuitive, but the truth is that any initial energy derived from these foods will quickly go away and leave you feeling tired and sluggish.

A balanced meal should contain:

  • Protein (meats, eggs, dairy, or beans)

  • Carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)

  • Healthy Fat(nuts, avocado, olive oil)

It’s important to understand that every meal (including snacks) should be balanced in this way to keep blood sugar levels consistent. Eating a balanced diet will keep you feeling energized and help to avoid “crashing.”

A good way to gauge whether or not you’re eating a well balanced meal is to pay close attention to how you feel an hour or two after a meal. If you feel groggy or hungry you may need to increase the amount of protein and lighten up on the carbohydrates. The feedback is almost immediate, so pay close attention. Adjust the balance until you find the right combination of healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Healthy, well-balanced eating is far from easy. It takes commitment and may require some time to figure out what works best for your body. With some practice you’ll soon learn to get off of the emotional roller coaster of unhealthy fueling and wake up to a happier, healthier you! Bon Appetite!

Exercise: It's Just What the Doctor Ordered

What if your doctor could write a prescription that would help you to avoid a heart attack or stroke, manage your diabetes and ward off future osteoporosis? And what if the prescription had no negative side effects when followed correctly? Would you take it?

Of course there is no “magic pill”. But there is a way to significantly improve health and reduce your risk of many diseases. The secret is simply good old fashioned exercise! That’s right, exercise is an excellent way to maintain optimal health and increase the likelihood of living longer.

What is good for the body is good for the mind:

Exercise has long been known for its ability to increase energy and maintain overall mobility. We now know that exercise can help us to sleep better and even improve our mood. But did you know that healthy bouts of regular activity are associated with improved self-esteem and an increased ability to respond to stress? Studies have even shown that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication for some who suffer from major depression[i].

Movement is the key:

So, you don’t like to exercise? Feeling apprehensive about the idea of “working out” at the gym? Fear not! Exercise need not be formal and it certainly doesn’t need to be difficult. The secret is movement- anytime, anywhere. That might mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Even parking your car a block or two away from your destination will help. You could try stretching for 5 minutes 2-3 times a day. Any type of movement counts!

Do something you enjoy:

Find an activity that you like to do. Maybe you enjoy yoga or dancing in your living room. Do you love walking but can’t seem to find 30-45 minutes of free time? Try splitting it up into three, 10-to-15 minute segments and do it at least three times a week. You’ll reap the same benefits and may even be more likely to fit exercise into your day. A general rule of thumb is if you move more today than you did yesterday, you’re ahead of the game! Keep building momentum little by little each day!

Don’t overdo it:

It’s a good idea to speak with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Too much exercise can cause stress and decrease our immune response so be sure to ask if there are any restrictions. He or she may suggest that you start out slow. This might include simply bending or swaying slowly to music. With practice you will begin to build more strength and your energy should begin to increase. Pretty soon you’ll be working your way up to 30-60 minutes of moderate activity every day.

Exercise can be a life long practice:

Exercise is not just for the young at heart! Our bodies can reap the benefits of movement throughout our entire lives. In addition to improving strength, flexibility and balance, exercise can actually help to avoid injury and combat disease, which can be very important as we age.

It takes approximately 6 weeks for something to become a habit and exercise is no different. Be patient! If you get bored, try something new. The “end goal” is to make exercise a daily practice that you will enjoy and maybe even begin to cherish. Remember that this is an investment in your future. The more you move now, the easier it will be to move later!


[i] Duke University (1999, October 27). Exercise May Be Just As Effective As Medication For Treating Major Depression. ScienceDaily

Tobacco-Free for Life: Take the Next Step

woman walking up a hillThe idea that tobacco use is harmful to our health is nothing new to many of us. From anti-smoking advertisements to the passing of clean indoor air laws, most of us are well aware of the dangers that tobacco poses to its users and those around them.

As the number one most preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, tobacco use is responsible for over 440,000 deaths each year. But did you know that nearly 44% of all cigarettes consumed in the US are by individuals with an addiction or mental illness?[1] And that tobacco use among those struggling with mental illness is responsible for a 26 year reduction in lifespan?[2]

Given all of the information we have about the dangers of tobacco, you might wonder why anyone would continue to use it. But it is important to be aware that tobacco use is not simply just a “lifestyle choice”.

The nicotine in tobacco is rewarding. From the moment that a person smokes their first cigarette or chews their first pouch, the rewards of nicotine are present. Nicotine can decrease appetite, improve cognition, improve mood and may even decrease fatigue and other difficult symptoms of mental illness.

Nicotine is addictive, period. One in three people who try just one cigarette will go on to become dependent on nicotine. Compare that to opiate use which addicts one in four individuals.[3]

What are the benefits of quitting?

In spite of some temporary rewards derived from tobacco use, the long term health benefits of quitting are far greater. Below are just some of the many benefits:
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased stamina
  • Improved taste and smell
  • Decreased incidence of respiratory infections
  • Reduction of heart attack risk after 1 year
  • Reduced risk of cancer after 10 years
I’m ready to quit, now what?

As with any attempt to end an addiction, it is important to check with your doctor and your psychologist first. He or she may want to help you develop a plan that makes sense for your individual circumstances. When you are ready, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Write a list of the reasons why you want to quit. Keep this list close for support and motivation.
  2. Get rid of any tobacco products in your home, car, office, etc. They can distract you from your efforts to remain tobacco-free.
  3. Tell your friends and family about your plans to quit. Your efforts will be much easier if others can support your decision.
  4. Schedule a quit day. Put it on your calendar and commit to it.
  5. Consider using Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). There are several options available including patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers and nose sprays. These will significantly improve your chances of success.
  6. Take advantage of counseling resources. Many states have Quit Lines or websites dedicated to helping people just like you.
  7. Change your daily routine. If you used to go outside with your friends or co-workers for a smoke break, you may want to stop. Find alternative ways of connecting with others that do not revolve around smoking.
  8. Get active and drink lots of water. It’s important to stay as healthy as possible while your body is working to rid itself of the toxic effects of tobacco.
  9. Try meditation or yoga to help relax your body and mind.
  10. If you feel the urge to smoke, wait at least 10 minutes. Often, the immediate urge will dissipate with time.
Don’t get discouraged

Be prepared for relapse. If you do slip up you’ll be ready with a game plan. Think about what you can learn from the situation: What helped you? What didn’t work? It may be necessary to revise your quit plan and increase your support network before starting again. Consider joining a smoking cessation group at your local hospital or attending a 12-step group like Nicotine Anonymous.

Remember, each attempt at quitting will bring you one step closer to success. Nearly half of all people who have ever smoked are now tobacco- free. You could be one of them.


American Cancer Society


American Legacy Foundation

Great Start (for pregnant women)

American Lung Association

National Cancer Institute

Nicotine Anonymous

Pennsylvania Quit Line
1-877-228-4327 (Hearing Impaired)

[1] Masry, MD, A., & Seward ,MSHCA, G. (2008, January) Why Address Tobacco in Mental Health Treatment. Presented at the Bucks County Tobacco Cessation Training.
[2] Masry, MD, A., & Seward, MSHCA, G. (2008, January) Why Address Tobacco in Mental Health Treatment. Presented at the Bucks County Tobacco Cessation Training.
[3] Masry, MD, A., & Seward, MSHCA, G. (2008, January) Why Address Tobacco in Mental Health Treatment, Presented at the Bucks County Tobacco Cessation Training.

New Vitality for a New Year

For many of us, January marks a time for new beginnings. The season offers us an opportunity to let go of the old and say “hello” to the new. Maybe you’ve thought about quitting smoking, losing some weight or simply laughing more often. Perhaps you’ve committed to walking every day or giving up junk food. While making changes to improve ourselves can be positive, there are some simple steps that we can all take (regardless of the time of year) that will lead us to a more vibrant and energetic way of life.

According to the CHEK Institute of Holistic Exercise Physiology (http://www.chekinstitute.com/), there are six “foundations” for vibrant health. We can think of these foundations as the “basics” for caring and feeding of a human being.

1. Thoughts
When we think positively we often feel positive. For example, reading something inspirational or funny can change our perspective and remind us to smile. Prayer, meditation, or calling a good friend can offer hope in difficult times. Making a list of things you are thankful for can improve your mood. Find reasons to laugh and commit to doing one thing that will bring you joy each day!

2. Breath
Taking long, deep and quiet breaths is a wonderful way to relax. Start by finding a quiet place and taking a few minutes just to notice your breath. Focus on each breath as you inhale and exhale. Pay attention to how this makes you feel. It’s important to note that smoking can hinder our ability to take full breaths. Speak to your healthcare practitioner for advice on quitting. There are many resources available to help you. The PA Quit line at 1-800-QUITNOW offers free 24/7 counseling and support.

3. Hydrate
Plants aren’t the only things that need water to survive! Almost 2/3 of our body weight is water. Human beings need to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day. It is important to avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol which actually have a dehydrating effect. Among many other benefits, water gives our skin a healthy glow and can even relieve headaches and muscle cramps.

4. Nutrition
Eating at least 3 healthy, well-balanced meals a day will fuel your body and help to prevent illness. Think about how you feel when you’re hungry. Without enough fuel we feel grumpy and tired. In addition, the quality of the food we eat really matters. Poor nutrition leaves us feeling tired and anxious and increases our risk for many illnesses.

Healthy food refers to fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oils. Eating a healthy, balanced meal means eating a variety of these foods (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) at each meal. For example a piece of chicken (protein), cooked in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil (fat), with a side of green beans (carbohydrate), is a balanced, healthy meal.

It’s best to stay away from processed foods. A good way to think about this is to ask yourself “did it grow or come from something that grows”? In other words, there are no “TV dinner trees” on a farm! We need the nutrients (vitamins and minerals) of “whole” or unprocessed food, not food that comes out of a box. We don’t have to be perfect. A general guideline is to choose “whole” unprocessed foods at least 80% of the time.

5. Movement
Moderate exercise produces endorphins which are responsible for reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. Any movement will work, but it helps to pick something you enjoy doing such as walking, gardening, yoga or dancing. Make sure you work at a perceived exertion rate of “somewhat hard” for 30-60 minutes daily. You’ll increase heart health and reap the benefits of improved overall health. Whatever you do, have fun!

6. Sleep
You need about 8 hours of sleep each night. When possible, sleep should occur when it’s dark outside. Have you ever noticed that if you miss several nights of sleep your brain and body don’t work properly? During sleep our bodies rest and restore both physical and psychological functioning. Establish a routine, try to stay on a schedule and get the rest you need. You’ll feel more alert and prepared to embrace the day.

It’s helpful to choose just one “foundation” at first and set a realistic goal. Maybe you decide to increase your water consumption by 2 glasses a day, gradually working your way up to 8. Pick something that feels realistic for your lifestyle and stick with it for about 6 weeks.

When you’re comfortable that you’ve successfully incorporated a change into your everyday life, try moving on to another challenge. Be patient with yourself. If it takes longer than you expected, that’s ok. Any step you take toward letting go of the “old” and embracing the “new” is something to celebrate! Soon you’ll be on your way to building a stronger foundation with new vitality for the New Year!