As the new year begins, take some simple, easy steps that will help make it a healthy one, filled with energy and positivity.
1. It’s All About Your Gut!
To get your digestion back on track after the holiday indulgences—and keep it that way—add prebiotics and probiotics to your daily diet. Probiotics are supplements of beneficial bacteria; prebiotics are the plant compounds that nourish them in your gut.
Think of prebiotics as fertilizer for the good bacteria. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics can help get your microbiome into a healthy balance, with a good diversity of intestinal bacteria in your gut.
When you have plenty of good bacteria, the harmful ones get crowded out and have a much harder time making you sick. Your digestion improves because your ability to absorb macronutrients and micronutrients is better when your beneficial bacteria are diverse and balanced. Less obvious but perhaps even more important is that your overall immunity improves—you can fend off colds and minor illnesses more efficiently.
High-quality probiotics have a good mix of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Buy them only from a company that uses good manufacturing practices (check the label). In your diet, fiber-rich plant foods, in general, are excellent prebiotics. Garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, beans, and asparagus are particularly good choices. It’s hard to eat enough of these foods consistently to be helpful, though, so consider prebiotic supplements.
2. Inflammation Nation
Inflammation is part of the body’s complex biological immune response to illness, infections, and wounds. Up to a point, inflammation is normal and even desirable. But inflammation can go on too long and become chronic, creating joint pain, digestive issues, brain fog, and other long-term problems.
Inflammation is made worse by a poor diet. Reducing chronic inflammation takes dietary changes. Try my GPS plan: no gluten, processed foods, or sugar. When you do, you’ll find yourself feeling better, with more energy and a clearer outlook. Why? Because once you get your GPS system calibrated, you’re eating real food, not chemicals. Your body knows the difference.
The next step in stamping out inflammation is to move toward a ketogenic diet—in other words, a diet that makes your body burn fat for energy.
The keto diet is based on the idea that eating mostly good fats, high-quality protein in moderation, and restricting carbohydrates, gives you the fuel you need to lose body fat without hunger, weakness, and fatigue while improving your energy level.
To do this, you’ll need to get most of your calories from healthy fats such as MCT oil, coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, some nuts (almonds and walnuts, for example), and seeds (chia and flaxseed, for example). You also eat protein in moderation in the form of grass-fed meats, pasture-raised poultry, cage-free eggs, and wild-caught fish.
And you can eat all the non-starchy vegetables you want. If it’s a leaf, you can eat it. You can also enjoy broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, cucumber, zucchini, and plenty of other choices. However, limit fruit consumption as it is higher in sugar content.
3. Drink Up!
Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is one the simplest and least expensive steps you can take to give yourself plenty of energy, suppress your appetite, improve your skin tone, and improve your digestion. When you’re well hydrated, you also improve your mental performance, with better focus and concentration.
I recommend aiming for eight to ten eight-ounce glasses daily—more if the weather is very hot or you’re very active. That sounds like a lot until you visualize it as the equivalent of a half-gallon container of juice or milk. Spread over the day, that’s easy to drink up.
Plain water is best, but unsweetened tea, herbal tea, coffee, and club soda are fine. Just avoid anything sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners and stay away from fruit juice.
4. Get Functionally Fit
Functional practices prepare your muscles to cooperate and strengthen them for day by day errands by recreating basic developments you may do at home, at work or in sports. The emphasis is on core stability and using muscles in combination.
When you’re functionally fit, you get through the activities of daily living more easily, with less fatigue and fewer problems with back pain or sore joints and muscles. There’s also a bonus: Your balance improves, so the risk of injury from falling is reduced.
A functional exercise program includes exercises that make muscle groups work together, instead of exercising them singly (as you would with leg presses in the gym, for example). You want to work on movement, not just muscles.
Good exercises for functional fitness include squats, push-ups, step-ups, lunges, and core-strengthening exercises such as planks. Start doing exercises like these on a regular basis and you’ll soon feel the difference as you carry a briefcase, lug sacks of groceries, pick up a toddler, and do all the physical activity your busy life requires. At the end of the day, you’ll have more energy leftover for yourself.
5. Brain Health
Your lifestyle habits have a profound impact on your brain health. These habits—physical health and exercise, diet and nutrition, cognitive activity, and social engagement—help keep your brain fit and potentially reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
Staying physically active and fit is key to brain health. Study after study has shown that aerobic exercise (the kind that raises your heart rate) helps maintain memory, verbal skills, and executive function (the ability to plan, focus, and handle multiple tasks at once).
Feeding your brain is as important as exercising it. I strongly recommend a diet that has very little or no processed or refined carbohydrates but plenty of high-quality protein, good fats, and lots of vegetables of every color.
You can measure your exercise and count your calories, but intangible factors also play a substantial role in brain health. Intellectual activity turns out to be just as important as physical activity. Keep your brain engaged by reading, doing crosswords and other puzzles, playing cards—anything that makes you think and gets you off the sofa and away from the TV.
Social engagement matters a lot, too. When you don’t actively engage with other people positively on a regular basis, your risk of dementia rises. Stay fit and active in every sense of the word and your body and brain both benefit.
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Inpost Image Credit: shutterstock.com