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!