February 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm #36795
Note: Tao is mostly about basics of keeping the body in harmony. This doctor is pretty natural, but also modern scientist. – Michael
The list is in order of what I think is most important for your health, and it’s based mostly on science and a touch of my own personal experiences. I drew these items from a list I keep for myself. Each year, I juggle the order a bit to reflect discoveries about what helps keep us healthy. My personal list actually goes out to about 20 items, and I’ll share some of the others later this year.
One more thing… If you’re busy and can only afford a little bit of time toward the top 12… please focus on the first six.
Sleep: The most critical thing to focus on is sleep. I try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. It’s hard to do this time of year. With the cold outside, people tend to stay inside, which throws off our biorhythms. Plus, around the holidays, people are stressed, partying, eating sweets, and drinking alcohol. These all mess up our sleep cycles and immune systems.
Great research from Stanford suggests poor sleep leads to heart disease. Also, without sleep, our immune systems don’t work well. They need sleep to “recharge” at night and fight disease and cancers.
So do what I do and try to sleep at least eight hours a day (include naps in the total). Also practice good sleep hygiene by keeping your bedroom dark (curtains), quiet (no television or radio in the background), and maintain a set time of day you wake up or fall asleep.
Sun: The older I get, the more I’m convinced getting sun on your skin is one of the most important health habits you can have. The body makes vitamin D from sun exposure, and vitamin D is critical in fighting cancer, regulating mood, and even sleeping at night. The vitamin D produced by the body from sunlight is probably critical in preventing diseases like multiple sclerosis, too. I make sure to get sun on my body all year long, especially during the winter.
But avoid getting burned. Burning leads to leathery skin and slow-growing skin lesions that can eventually turn into cancers. The key to avoiding burns is adapting your skin to the sun slowly over days or even weeks. Don’t go out during prime burning times of 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. If I have to go out midday, I wear a long-sleeved shirt and a hat.
And stay away from sunscreens: They contain known carcinogens. Some of them are also known to slow sperm and reduce count. I rarely put on anything stronger than SPF4. Anything stronger and you risk poisoning yourself with chemicals.
The sun’s important, but you don’t need more than 30-45 minutes a day. And if I can’t get outside for a few days, I’ll take vitamin D3, which is the active form of vitamin D produced by our bodies when the skin gets sun.
Movement: I think it is so critical to move at least 30 minutes daily. Walking is probably the best movement there is. Chemicals are released that improve mood and increase bone density (lowering your fracture risks). And weight-bearing exercises, like walking, also improve your immune system when done in moderation. One family I know walks five miles every day in all sorts of weather. A visit to them for the weekend is a great workout!
You can count stretching as movement. (In the past, I’ve even labeled this category “stretching,” but this year, I’ve broadened it to “movement.”) I lie down on a soft floor and stretch several times a week. On other days, I run or walk. And when I travel, I love to visit local yoga studios and check out one of the simpler yoga classes… It’s a great way to uncover healthy restaurants in the area, too. (The folks in yoga classes tend to be hooked into restaurants that specialize in things like locally grown produce and healthy menus.)
Massage: If you’ve never had a professional massage before, make 2010 your year to try it. I try to go once a month. Yes, it’s expensive. But if you find the right person, the energy flow and “recharging” can change your outlook on life for a day or two.
Getting a massage clears toxins from your body. Ask for a “Swedish-style” massage; that’s where the masseuse applies longer, deeper pressure to your tissues to get your lymph system moving again.
And, of course, you can save a little money by exchanging massages with a partner. Foot and hand rubs with lotions and oils are incredibly powerful. They help the body relax, getting rid of aches and pains and stimulating the immune system, too.
Fruit: This seems to creep up higher and higher every year on the list. A few years back, I listed eating fruit at No. 8. But I am more and more convinced of the benefits of fruit. Micronutrients in fruits, especially those with darker colors, are powerful antioxidants. The more research I see, the better fruit looks. Fruits fight cancers, lower blood pressure, reduce joint pain, and more. And fruit seems to be good for the bowels, too.
My favorites are cherries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. But it’s not just berries. Remember the old adage about an apple a day keeping the doctor away? Nutrients in apples keeps the bowels moving and the skin healthy.
Meditate: I meditate two or three times a week, usually in the morning. Mediation is well-studied in science and religion, and the health benefits are well-known. Many religious traditions include forms of meditation or longer sessions of prayer. But regardless of your religious convictions, simply meditating provides the physiologic equivalent of working out. In fact, for physical health, this is probably better than aerobic exercise. And taking time to meditate also creates peacefulness and mindfulness within yourself. It’s a wonderful way to find happiness and answers to your questions about life.
As I get older, it becomes clearer meditation provides these benefits and more. People who meditate have lower blood pressure, less heart disease, and better oxygen uptake which is a measure of physical fitness.
Do what I do and sit quietly in a chair or bed for 15-20 minutes. Concentrate on a word, noise, or sound… and your breathing… Let your mind go where it wants, but slowly try to bring it back to your original focus. You’ll notice the benefits immediately. You’ll feel relaxed and peaceful… Often while I meditate, solutions to life’s problems come into my “mind’s eye” in a peaceful way. Go try it right now.
If you want to know more about the science, you can read a book called The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson… click here to find it on Amazon.
Stimulate Your Sense of Smell: Did you know Cleopatra loved the smell of roses so much that she had 15 inches of rose petals covering the floor of her bedroom?
Smells can be uplifting and stimulating to the soul, body, and mind. I regularly place a few drops or sprays of my favorite scents around the house lavender in the bedroom, inside of pillow cases; orange on the side of the air cleaner; pine on the bathroom rug; bergamot or patchouli on the papers in the trash can in my study…
Scents have a powerful effect on your mood and wellbeing. Here’s a test: Close your eyes and start thinking about roses, onions, hot cocoa, cinnamon, baking bread, and wet cement. What happened? Of course, you smiled, you laughed… and that’s because memory and feelings are tightly connected to scents.
Aromatherapy is a luxury to be afforded it is one of my favorites. Like “fruit,” it keeps moving up every year, and I suspect it will be No. 6 next year. And it’s easy to do too. Just go to a Whole Foods or any health food store and ask for the essential oils. Buy one small bottle. Don’t be put off by the high price for such a small bottle the stuff lasts for months. Just sprinkle a drop or two near you on a rug or small dish and enjoy. (For more stories about smell, read A Natural History of the Senses… click here to find it on Amazon.)
Aspirin: This drug is perhaps the most powerful drug known to mankind… so powerful the FDA would not approve it today. Aspirin reduces the risk of colon cancer and heart disease for those taking it regularly. In fact, just one baby aspirin (81 milligrams) a day does the trick.
I take one 325 milligram aspirin every week. The simple but miraculous effects last about seven to 10 days. The cost to do this is a couple of dollars a year, pennies a week.
Keep in mind, too much aspirin can sometimes lead to a little bleeding in your nose or even your stomach… But in low doses, it’s nearly harmless and the long-term benefits far outweigh the risks for those over the age of 50. Also, I take aspirin with an enteric coating that keeps it from sitting in my stomach as the drug is released. This helps avoid that minor side effect…
Wine: I drink at least one four-ounce glass of wine each day. The health benefits of drinking wine (and other alcoholic drinks) are unquestioned in the medical literature. The problem is, alcohol presents a small risk of addiction and drunk driving that have politicized its use. If we spent more time encouraging responsible use, we’d get rid of the other problems, too.
Look, the regular consumption of wine improves digestion and decreases the risk of diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease. I prefer red wine, and it is more powerful than white wine (although whites have plenty of benefit) because it contains more antioxidants from the dark grape skins.
By the way, one of my favorite sayings is: “There are more old German wine drinkers than there are old German doctors.” So don’t hesitate to enjoy the science-approved medicine that goes well with food.
Don’t Share Food: Avoid sharing or tasting from other people’s food and drinks. This practically guarantees you’ll never get a cold again. I figured this out years ago… You see, around holidays, I’d share spoons, forks, and glasses with friends and family. And like clockwork, everyone would get sick in late November through January. The year I didn’t do it, I avoided the usual colds, sore throat, and GI distress!
So next time someone says “May I try it?” just get him or her another glass, fork, or spoon. This is truly one of my favorite Retirement Millionaire secrets of all time. Try it this year, and you’ll cut your winter colds and sniffles down to nearly nothing.
Music: Studies show regularly listening to music improves health and overall feelings of happiness. And if you’re a student, tons of research shows how Baroque music improves memory. Researchers suspect that music with 60 beats per minute creates the benefit. Baroque music and much of Mozart’s music has this beat. In fact, I almost always study and read to 60-beat-per-minute music.
But it really doesn’t matter what music you choose. I’ve been touched recently seeing my dad, who’s in a nursing home, smile and laugh when we put some of his old music from the ’50s and ’60s on for him. I don’t exactly know what’s going on inside his brain when he hears the notes, but I do know how primal music can be. And it’s clear it brings him great joy. I often write to soft classical guitar and read to jazz. If I’m relaxing with friends around a fire, I’ll go with R&B… But if I’m running, I love rock and occasionally hip-hop. And with iTunes on my computer, I can make a playlist in minutes for almost any situation.
By the way… even plants thrive with music nearby. One study showed plants grow 50% faster while listening to music.
Clean Air: This is new to the list this year. It bumped antibiotics off the top 12 just last month, after a Retirement Millionaire subscriber convinced me of the benefits. You see, human health is greatly affected by air quality. Be sure and do whatever you can to breathe clean air.
We bring tons of dirt and dust into our homes every day. They get stirred up into the air along with other chemical pollutants and make their way into our bodies as we breathe. The good news is, our lungs are specially equipped to handle it using moving hair-like cilia to clear stuff from our lungs out and up to our noses. But these things in large quantities lead to chronic inflammation and diseases like bronchitis. Amazingly, smokers don’t usually die from cancer. They die from chronic lung inflammation.
So do what I do and keep the air clean. In fact, I’ve had an air filter/cleaner in my bedroom for years. Since I spend a third of my life there, I want to breathe fresh and clean air. And when I’ve suggested it to people with lifelong asthma and breathing problems, they immediately notice the difference. Change your air filters regularly. And remove your shoes when you enter your house. That greatly reduces the amount of dirt, dust, and small particulate matter (read poisons) which make their way inside.
Also, avoid breathing chemicals whenever you can. This includes spray cans of oil, paint, hairspray, even disinfectants. Be careful when using cleaning solutions as well… The long-term effects of breathing this stuff is terrible.
These 12 steps are so simple to enjoy they may not seem important. But that’s the secret for Retirement Millionaire readers: I look for simple, cheap, and safe things to do that are guaranteed to improve the long-term quality of our lives. You can, too.
Just paste this list on your refrigerator or tape it to your desk to remind you over the next months about the simple habits that lead to health and happiness.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and happy retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig Jr. M.D., M.B.A.
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