By Dr. John Gannage, MD
A New Year represents a chance to make renewed commitments to one's health. A fresh start, or a continuing journey. New Year's resolutions abound, so I've decided to toss my New Year's hat into the ring. I have compiled a list of resolutions related to therapeutic lifestyle change, steps one can take to improve general health. The compilation is by no means exhaustive, just meant to jog the memory and provide some focus. The idea is to choose one, a few, or all to incorporate into one's daily life. There are 12, one for each month, so that each healthy habit can be implemented monthly in a gradual fashion. They are also intended to cover a spectrum, to address the foundations of health in a meaningful and balanced way - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
1. DRINK WATER. There is not a more important, or inexpensive, endeavor physically than replenishing our bodies of clean water. All of our systems require water to function optimally - our cells bathe in it, wastes and nutrients flow because of it, our detoxification systems rely on it, digestion is impaired without it. At times chronic headaches and low back pain are related to water deficiency. We are 80 % water in our physical makeup. Two litres per day for most people is required. I suggest avoidance of chlorinated drinking water. Re-mineralized reverse osmosis is best. Say: “I resolve to drink 2 litres of clean water every day.”
2. A SALAD A DAY. In my office I routinely conduct a diet review with all new patients. I consistently find, especially in patients that are chronically fatigued, chronically pained and/or chronically constipated that, not only is their water intake diminished, consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is much reduced. North American diets are horribly inundated with refined, packaged, nutrient poor foods replete with trans fatty acids, white flour and refined sugar. Eliminate these, and replace them with fiber, nutrient dense leafy greens and other vegetables. For those that have a challenge with gas and bloating from fruits and vegetables, a reasonable approach is to start with steamed vegetables. A useful intervention is digestive support, as with enzymes, during meals, and avoidance of food sensitivities. Say: “I resolve to have a fresh salad a least once daily with my meals.”
3. CHOOSE ORGANIC. Organic food has made its way into the marketplace for healthy reasons. Foods high on the food chain concentrate chemicals and hormones in their tissues, and yet we require many such foods for optimal nutrition balance. The dominance of hormones in our food supply accumulates progressively in our own tissues, leading to problems with reproductive tissue structure and function, and ultimately to the worst kind of pathology: cancer. Antibiotic use in livestock takes place at a huge cost to human health, affecting bowel flora balance and contributing to reduced effectiveness of antibiotics when required to fight life-threatening infections (i.e. antibiotic resistance). Organic food has been shown to possess 40% more nutrients than non-organic counterparts, since chemicals negatively impact soil richness. In Canada, our largest exposure to pesticides comes from our standard diet. One's greatest defense against environmental toxicity in general is nutrients. Our diets, therefore, must be sources of nutrients, not chemicals. Say: “I resolve to incorporate organically grown food more regularly into my diet, and I am worth the extra cost.”
4. PAY ATTENTION TO SYMPTOMS. Ignore, or worse suppress, symptoms at your own peril. Headaches, bloating, gas, fatigue, muscle pain, frequent colds, skin rashes and so on are all signs of an underlying disturbance calling out for correction, not mere suppression. Track symptoms, listen to your body, and learn to describe them in detail to a health provider who will listen. The greatest amount of information about one's health comes not from lab tests or scans, but from symptoms interpreted meaningfully. Say: “I resolve to give my body the justice it deserves, and therefore to listen to what it is telling me, and act accordingly with a desire to determine cause.”
5. BE KIND TO YOUR LIVER. Sub-optimal liver function lies at the core of many medical symptoms. It is an organ with multiple roles, from detoxification, to digestion, to hormone metabolism, to regulator of circulation. Being kind to the liver means avoiding undue exposure to chemicals, both in the diet and around the household. It means paying attention to healthy intestinal function, thereby reducing bowel toxicity and autointoxication. It means using probiotics routinely, and other supplements, particularly antioxidants and herbs, that are therapeutically supportive to liver functions. It means understanding Eastern medicine concepts detailing the liver as an emotional organ, and its connection to anger. Say: “I will develop an awareness of what it takes to keep my liver functioning as healthy as possible despite the chemicalized world in which I live.”
6. PRACTISE ACTIVE LIVING. Exercise has innumerable health benefits, for mood and sleep, for immune system strength, for cardiovascular function, for sweating and detoxification. A sedentary lifestyle is a choice for chronic medical conditions, and the options for inactive living are far too accessible. Computers, television and video games, combined with unhealthy snack foods and drinks, have assisted the development of our current pediatric obesity epidemic. Close to 50 % of adult Ontarians are overweight and obesity is now recognized by experts as the second-leading preventable cause of death after cigarette smoking. For most of us, overweight or not, active living can also mean taking the stairs, raking the leaves, parking further away, or not driving at all. It is time to get back to active living, to get off the couch or desk chair, and to breathe some fresh air outdoors. Say: “I resolve to make a conscious choice to sit less and become more active on a day after day basis, and to role model for my kids in this regard as well.”
The resolutions detailed above for the most part cover physicality. The subjects to follow in a subsequent issue involve the deeper aspects of ourselves. Here is a sneak preview, an opportunity to think about the details using your own commentary as opposed to mine.
7. BREATHE DEEPLY.
8. LEARN A NEW SKILL.
9. SMILE AND LAUGH MORE.
10. SPEND QUALITY TIME WITH LOVED ONES.
11. BECOME MORE COMPLIMENTARY.
12. PRACTISE GRATEFULNESS.
Thanks for reading, and all the best to you and yours for a fulfilling, health and happy New Year.
Dr. Gannage practices Integrative Medicine in Markham, Ontario