10 Tips to Look Younger, Feel Better and Live Longer
By: Bill Reddy, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.
1. Manage Your Stress
Living in and around the beltway will raise your blood pressure. Chronic stress will also lead to elevated cortisol levels causing excess belly fat, anxiety, fatigue, forgetfulness, depression, insomnia and digestive issues, just to name a few health problems. Both Tai Chi and Yoga are exceptional ways to combat stress, and studies show they can lead to improvements in sleep, digestion, excess weight and sense of well-being. Meditation is also a wonderful way to quiet your mind in a fast-paced world of mayhem. My standard response to a patient asking whether they should practice Tai Qi, Yoga or Meditation is an emphatic "YES!" Any one of the three is exceptional for you - it's just trying to find the particular practice that is the most fun and the one from which you receive the greatest benefit.
Walking is an underrated pastime. It encourages blood circulation, burns calories, and uplifts your spirit. I walk a mile when I get home from work every day. Walking helps me clear my head, generate a bit of an appetite for dinner, and gain energy to tackle my evening projects. When you walk, focus on your breathing. This will promote positive life energy (qi) to flow through your body.
Speaking of breathing, Americans are typically shallow breathers, yet every cell in your body is demanding oxygen (among other things) to survive. People who breathe deeply live longer, enjoy better relationships, and have lower cortisol levels compared to those who do not.
The oxygen supply to your brain slows down when you sit at a desk. Jumping up and doing laps around the office will be good, but your co-workers may look at you funny. So instead, practice deep breathing to provide additional oxygen to your brain when you feel fatigued at work. If you have Outlook or another calendar program on your computer, I recommend that you schedule two "appointments" per day with the key words "breathe" and "posture." Do not schedule them for the same times each day.
When the reminder pops up on the screen, take a moment to evaluate your posture: are your shoulders held high? Is there tension in your neck, forearms or back? If you sense tension, take a deep breath and let it out slowly, while visualizing all the stress held in your body draining out the bottoms of your feet. I promise you will have more energy at the end of the day.
4. Limit or eliminate soda consumption.
The sugar found in one cola can shut down the production of white blood cells in your body in half for the next 24 hours. What do white blood cells do? They are the center of your immune system. They protect you from micro-organisms such as bacteria. Have you noticed that your friends that drink sodas often have the greatest incidence of bronchitis, sinusitis, gastritis and fatigue? I wonder if there's a connection?
Your response to that information may be "well I drink DIET coke....no sugar!" If you google "Aspartame" and "Side Effects," you'll see an incredible list of symptoms associated with ingesting that substance. If you've been feeling anxious, have been having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, I invite you to stop drinking soda for 4 weeks and see how you feel. EVERY one of my patients who took me up on that challenge felt better afterwards.
5. Drink water
Every cell in your body demands three things: food (in the form of glucose), water and oxygen. Most Americans deprive their cells of two out of three. Since soda is a diuretic (dehydrates you through urination), it makes matters worse for your health.
Your brain is 85% water, your muscles are 75% water, cartilage 85% (but decreases to 70% as we age). Proper hydration provides you with more energy, protects your joints from arthritis, and gives your skin a healthy glow as well as reducing wrinkles. Chronic constipation is a direct result of dehydration. Instead of stool softeners, try drinking the equivalent of half your weight in ounces of water per day. Also, people suffering from constipation tend to be deficient in vitamin D and/or Magnesium.
6. Forgive someone - anyone!
We all have someone in our lives who may have wronged us. Maybe someone who said something malicious, or abused your trust. Picture that every time this happens in your life, you pick up a rock and put it in your backpack. Over the years this can add up, and drag you down. Researchers have found that if you can let go of your hard feelings toward these people, the very act of letting go will reduce your blood pressure, improve your digestion, eliminate your headaches, and generally make you feel better emotionally and physically.
One approach they recommend is to write a short note saying "I forgive you for...." whatever they did to you, to whatever detail you wish. Put it in an envelope, and burn it, watching it turn to ashes, and letting that feeling you've been holding onto for years go with the smoke.
7. Identify something harmless that brings joy into your life... And DO IT...
I see so many people who are working 12 hour plus days and aren't enjoying much of anything these days. Mothers–who always put their family's needs first–should find ways to recharge their batteries. It may be something as simple as reading a favorite magazine, getting a massage, or lighting some candles and taking a bubble bath. Whatever activity it is, you should seek out and do something like it every day. When you do something positive for yourself, you will have more energy to do something good for others.
8. Stop smoking
Since a number of my patients smoke and ask me what they can do to feel better more often, I suggest that they quit smoking. Everyone knows about the cardiovascular risks of smoking. It also creates more wrinkles (look at the original Marlboro Man), reduces blood flow to the brain (who wants dementia?), puts you at higher risk for any type of surgery, and seriously reduces libido (you've watched too many movies where they smoke after a vigorous activity - that's Hollywood).
Still, the risk of disease and shortened lifespan is the most important issue. If you have children or grandchildren, wouldn't you like to see them graduate from high school or college? My grandfather smoked and he died when I was a junior. He never made it to my graduation. My grandmother, who didn't smoke, is still around and enjoying life at 94 years old.
9. Improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Do you sleep well? Sleep is the glue that holds us together. Lack of sleep is a huge factor in a number of serious chronic illnesses. Many folks have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. If you find yourself not being able to fall asleep, reduce stimulants such as coffee or chocolate. If you fall asleep fine, but find yourself waking up at a particular time, it may be hypoglycemia where your blood sugar drops. Try eating some protein such as some raw nuts or some almond butter before you go to sleep.
If you’re perimenopausal and having trouble with sleep, consider bio-identical hormones. They can do wonders for your sleep as well as your hot flashes and mood swings. Acupuncture is also quite effective at balancing hormones and promoting a good night's sleep as well as reducing the intensity and frequency of hot flashes.
The "common knowledge" of sleeping is that people require 8 hours per day. That's actually incorrect based on the latest research. Apparently, 9 hours a day is most beneficial. So if you're only getting 7 1/2 hours, consider going to bed a 1/2 hour earlier for a week and see how you feel. You'd be surprised what 30 minutes more sleep will do for your energy level, ability to focus, and general sense of well-being.
10. Choose to have a great day Sure. This sounds too good to be true. But try it anyway. When you wake up in the morning, take a few deep breaths and picture going to work with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
Visualize all of the people responding to you in a positive way, and you taking the time to listen to them with all your attention. Think about having lunch and enjoying the food as something nourishing to your body, mind and spirit allowing you to return to work, refreshed and rejuvenated. You've undoubtedly heard the maxim that "you create your own reality." The Taoists have a saying "You are what you eat, think and do, and become what you ate, thought and did." Please try this for a few days, and remember - smiles are free, give a few away today.
Bill Reddy is a nationally board-certified licensed acupuncturist who studied under graduates and professors from Beijing and Shanghai medical schools. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium. He is the former President of the Acupuncture Society of Virginia and professor at the Virginia University of Oriental Medicine. He is the author of over 60 publications, lecturer, an avid practitioner of Qi Gong and Tai Chi, and practices at the Pinecrest Wellness Center in Annandale, Virginia.