Updated: Nov 10, 2022
As any physician will tell you, building a healthy lifestyle is a delicate construction that requires many different blocks. Getting fit is more than just eating healthy and exercising (although those are important too). While often neglected, stress management and sleep hygiene are equally crucial to healthy aging and longevity. Longevity, or life expectancy, is something almost everyone wants to maximize. It means more time spent with people we love and doing what we’re passionate about. Luckily, it’s primarily up to us. Recently, the Cleveland Clinic noted that 80% of what kills us prematurely is within our control. So- what changes can you make today to give yourself more tomorrows? Read on for some tips from our Director of Integrative and Functional Cardiology at Case Integrative Health, Dr. Trent Orfanos. He’ll take us through what steps he’s taking and how you can try it at home.
Ultimately, there is no perfect diet for everyone. However, there are modifications that most (if not all) individuals can take to maximize their nutrition and gut health. Firstly, most people consume too many carbohydrates, particularly refined and simple carbohydrates like sugar and heavily processed foods. Switching to a low-carbohydrate diet is a great way to avoid weight gain and insulin resistance. I try to stick to the Mediterranean diet. This diet concentrates on vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs, nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil, other healthy fats, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed pastured meats. Further, I always recommend eating organic whenever possible. Conventional foods contain many toxins, making extra work for your body to eliminate and process. Lastly, I’d suggest looking into intermittent fasting, which limits the food you eat to a 6 to 8-hour window per day. Studies show that it can boost cardiovascular health and your memory to boot! Each of these recommendations is a significant step individually. Together? They have the potential to add years to your life!
Movement can be one of the harder to implement lifestyle changes, but the payoffs are huge. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated- there’s no need to run a marathon tomorrow (or ever)! If you can, get up and walk around every hour or so in your workday. If you can walk outside, all the better. If you work in a big building, you can walk indoors, sometimes long distances. If not, stand up and stretch. Any movement is good. You don’t have to go to the gym and work out vigorously for an hour to get the benefit. Even short, 10-minute walks add up to better health. I’d also recommend resistance training to help your muscles stay strong and maintain lead body strength and mass. Higher muscle mass equals longer life expectancy. My personal goals are to exercise five days a week, including walks, getting on the bike, elliptical or stair master, and strength training.
Sleep hygiene is becoming more and more challenging to manage in the era of technology and social media. However, building a healthy routine to quiet your mind and give your body the rest it deserves is imperative. One of the rules I try to follow is not to eat within three hours of bedtime. Additionally, I make an effort to go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Keep your bedroom dark and cool- preferably close to 65°. If the room isn’t completely dark, wear a sleep mask at night. Even a little bit of extraneous light can disturb your sleep. Most importantly- keep all electronics out of the bedroom! As tempting as it is, screen time will keep you alert and unable to recognize tiredness, preventing you from getting the rest you need. If you need a wind-down activity, keep your mind quiet with a chapter from a good book. Your brain will thank you too!
Stress management is complex, particularly when juggling work, health, household tasks, and a social life! Luckily, there are simple and easy-to-incorporate steps you can take to reduce stress. Try a short prayer or meditation that you can repeat to yourself at the beginning of each day or endeavor. Personally, I also love this Heartmath exercise. First, take slow, deep breaths. Bring your attention down into your chest around your heart. Then bring to mind and remember or recall a situation, person, or thing, where you felt a positive emotion such as gratitude, appreciation, and love. Try to really remember exactly how it felt in your body and mind. In turn, your heart will generate a healthy rhythmic pattern that reduces blood pressure, decreases stress hormones, and increases bonding hormones. This takes less than a minute. Practice this regularly, and you’ll notice positive changes in your mind and body.
Lifestyle changes are one of the most important steps you can take to maximize your longevity. While it may seem overwhelming initially, these modifications can have a massive payoff. Start small, and you’ll be feeling better before you know it. Additionally, if you’re struggling, inquire about a health coach. They can be a great addition to your treatment team and help you set achievable goals, take manageable steps, and cheer you on along the way!