At Plum Spring Clinic, our holistic approach to healing chronic illness is grounded in the conviction that our well-being arises from our self-care in five major domains: happiness and resilience to stress; nutrition; exercise and movement; rest and sleep; and toxin avoidance and elimination. This article provides holistic health tips and features a brief discussion of each pillar.
Happiness and Stress Resilience
The first pillar, happiness, may seem to be simple; however, it takes no less attention or practice to achieve and is certainly no less important than the other four. Many of our patients are surprised at the role that happiness and stress resilience play in their overall wellness. The reason for this is straightforward: our regular daily dose of happiness fortifies our complex physiological systems against the corrosive effects of stress. We are all too familiar with the steady press of stressors created by our cultural set of drive, speed, and demand. Cultivating contentment, ease, and positivity gives us the resilience our bodies and minds need to handle it, and perhaps even thrive. What does this have to do with our health? When we are stressed for prolonged periods of time, our systems are bombarded by a steady stream of the stress hormones which characterize our physiological stress response. This exposure is very hard on sensitive tissues and physiological processes!
Picture it this way: stress is our body’s natural gas pedal. We count on it to keep us out of harm’s way. However, if we are constantly stepping on our car’s gas pedal, eventually the car will break down. The body is like this. Too much stress will begin to take an increasingly large toll on our physiological systems, making them more susceptible to illness and dysfunction.
Learn, cultivate, and practice stress resilience techniques to build calming habits into your daily routine. These include breathing techniques, movement, and exercise, meditation, and don’t forget your daily dose of happiness. These practices help to keep your stress levels in the healthy range and your systems running smoothly for your health and well-being!
Did you know that there are around ten times as many bacteria in your gut as there are cells in your body? Despite bacteria’s bad reputation, the healthy gut microbiome is essential to help your body do its everyday processes like digestion, absorption, immune function, and nutrient synthesis. However, these friendly bacteria need to eat as well and must be fed through proper nutrition. By far the greatest nutritional need of our microbiome is fiber, and the standard American diet is woefully short in meeting our microbiome’s needs. Insufficient nutrition for our gut microbiome can result in a number of deficiencies, autoimmune conditions, chronic diseases, and digestive disorders. A poor diet may also contribute to the accumulation of toxins within our body and can even contribute to problems controlling our weight.
The unfortunate reality is that the standard American diet is very unhealthy. Instead of focusing primarily on convenience, focus on a diet primarily composed of whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and beans. This will provide lots of fiber to nourish your microbiome. Fresh meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, nuts, and seeds can complement these whole plant foods to provide a complete and healthy diet. With all of these options, a healthy diet does not have to be boring! We invite you to explore the world of healthy recipes out there that are bursting with flavor, healthy ingredients and can be convenient. Rediscover food as one of the essential pillars of your health today!
Movement and Exercise
With the amount of attention we pay to our bodies, it is astounding how commonly they aren’t adequately exercised. When a body isn’t moved regularly, it quickly begins to break down, especially as we get older. Within a week of being in bed with the flu, muscles go from strong and toned to weak and flaccid, and must be reconditioned with no small effort when exercise is resumed.
Multiple large-scale studies have linked regular exercise with a number of health benefits, including:
- Lower risk of depression; other studies show that exercise often lessens the length or severity of bouts of depression.
- The right kind of exercise may reduce dementia risk and boost memory.
- Among middle-aged men and women who take about 7,000 steps a day, covering even a little extra ground is tied to better sleep.
Did you know that the minimum amount of exercise for adults is 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week with each session lasting at least 10 minutes? The good news is that you don’t have to be an athlete to achieve this. For most of us there are many choices of movement that fit the bill AND are fun and enjoyable. The challenge is making the choice to make it a priority.
Begin with an activity that you are comfortable with and then slowly progress. We recommend starting with something you already do everyday — walking! Walking is an easy way to get some exercise while taking in the fresh air and connecting with nature or a friend. It can even be a relaxing stress resilience tool. Adding just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, like a brisk walk, five times per week actually results in a greater reduction in mortality than quitting smoking does among older adults!
We all know we need 7-8 hours of sleep. We know it’s good for our brains. We know if we are chronically deprived of the quantity OR quality of sleep we need, our risk of developing serious chronic illness increases. Possibly more persuasive, a case for good sleep is the negative effect on mood, mental performance, and relationships when we are chronically under-rested. We know this: quality sleep helps us feel good, think well, be more intentional, learn better, and get along with others.
What’s in the way? Do you belong to the well-populated group of folks who tell us their minds race during wakeful periods at night, who lie awake and can’t get their minds to turn off. Think about your day. Is it possible you charged through it, attending to a myriad of things on the to-do list, and never once gave your mind a break to daydream, imagine, and disengage from the press of Doing? Maybe your mind races at night because it’s trying to do what it never got the chance to do during the day…process.
A good prescription for this challenge is The Pause, regular mini-vacations for your mind. We recommend 5-10 minutes. Put your work aside. Stand and stretch. Take 3 rounds of deep breaths, with the exhale lasting a little longer than the inhale. For extra credit with your nervous system, walk outside for a stretch and breath. Soften your gaze and look at the trees and sky until you notice something pretty, or funny. Let you mind wonder, imagine, process, and formulate new ideas and intentionally savor the moment before returning your mind to duty.
Try this daily for 30 days and see if your sleep has improved. We are confident that even if your nights have not improved, your days certainly will.
In this section, we address the realities of an ever-increasing load of toxic elements affecting our health and well-being via the foods we eat (and feed our families), the air we breathe, the water we drink, and many of the products we depend on in daily life. This is a big topic and one which is sidestepped at one’s peril. It is important for you to be informed of the best ways currently available to minimize exposure to toxic substances and protect your health.
In 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was intended to ensure the safety of industrial chemicals. However, the law was toothless from the start and quickly became obsolete. New chemicals were allowed to be introduced with minimal testing and the 62,000 chemicals already on the market when the bill was adopted were given a free pass. In fact, the law made taking a chemical off the market so difficult that the EPA has not tried to do it in over twenty years and even well-known toxic substances, such as asbestos, which kills an estimated 10,000 Americans every year, cannot be banned.
Today, there are over 80,000 chemicals registered for use, even though fewer than 10% of these have ever been tested for their effects on human health. Worse yet, those that were tested were still never properly evaluated and only tested in isolation. No consideration was given to how these chemicals may interact with each other to affect our health. In addition, as the world becomes more industrialized, levels of air, water, and soil contamination with known toxins are rising.
Given this, it is not surprising that diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, learning disabilities, and other health conditions have increased. Our world has been turned into a toxic soup of carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and other disease-causing agents. As new chemicals continue to flood the market and pollution levels rise, it is beginning to feel as if we have to be a superhero to dodge all the toxic bullets being shot at us.
Our bodies are not entirely defenseless, however, and we have innate defenses against many toxins. While avoiding all exposures is impossible, if we limit our exposure and increase our intake of detoxifying agents, the risk that environmental toxins have on our lives can be minimized.