Health = Resilience
As we enter 2015 I hope that you are all reveling in the wishes from friends and family for a Healthy New Year. What do we really intend for one another when we wish them health? Is it the ability to stay out of the emergency room for a full 12 months, relief from pain and suffering, the experience of optimal vitality, or some combination of all of these? When I think about health I think about resilience. Most of us won’t get through 2015 without some bumps and bruises. Some of us will suffer losses and others will be burdened with an inordinate amount of stress from personal and professional responsibilities. The Healthy Person doesn’t avoid these things – it would require abstaining from daily life and the rhythms that make life worth living. The Healthy Person is able to face these challenges with grace and fortitude. They have the physical, biochemical, spiritual and emotional energy to navigate the challenges that create this experience we call life. This is what we at Hygeia wish for you in 2015!!
Ah, but how to get to this place of ultimate resilience, where challenges are overcome and strength is gained for having tackled them? At Hygeia we focus on three major areas through which resilience can be gained and maintained: diet, exercise and stress management.
Let’s talk about diet first. Every bite we take sends our bodies two distinct entities, both of which are necessary for survival. The first is energy. This comes to us in the form of calories which, along with the help of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients get converted into ATP – the super-fuel on which the human body runs. The second is information. The food we consume contains millions of messages which inform our cells about the environment in which they are currently residing. As you might imagine the information your cells obtain from a decadent piece of chocolate cake is quite different from that it receives from a plate full of colorful fruits and vegetables. The former will generate inflammatory signals, preparing the cells to stabilize against blood sugar swings and instructing them to package the torrent of calories into fat cell. On the other hand, the latter reassures your cells that the environment has what is needed for sustenance. As you move into the New Year take some time to ask yourself what are my chosen foods saying to my cells?
Increasing consistency with exercise is a common New Year’s resolution. Exercise is critical for our mental and physical health. When done appropriately it stresses our bodies just enough that we respond by getting stronger and more efficient. While most of my patients present with a need to increase exercise, some struggle with the challenges of over-exercise. Both under- and over-exercise leave the body improperly challenged and unable to get stronger. Finding the right exercise program is highly individualized and must take into account one’s current fitness status, goals and the time and energy available to devote to an exercise plan. It should also be something that one enjoys doing as a daily chore is unlikely to develop into a habit. The great news about exercise is that there are an endless number of ways to get physical activity into your day. Take some time to think about ways you enjoy moving and, if you tend to be sedentary, challenge yourself to move your body daily. If you tend to over-exercise, focus on supporting yourself through nutrition and stress management to meet the demands you are putting on your body.
Finally, and likely most challenging, is stress management. The stressors that we face today are incredible. The world is moving at a faster pace than ever before and while the “information age” has brought us unprecedented access to the world, it has also truncated our interactions to sound bites and tweets. Unplugging from the fast pace of our modern life can seem like an impossible task but it is critical to our emotional well-being. There are many tools and techniques to help with stress management. These include meditation practices such as mindfulness, taking a “Sabbath” once per week when normal activities such as driving, working or using electronic devices are avoided, or scheduling some time with the people who energize you. One of my favorite stress management techniques is the Quick Coherence Technique (see box) developed by HeartMath ®. This is a quick technique that alters heart rate variability, which in turn decreases chaos in the brain and improves focus and energy.
Finding the right balance between stress and relaxation, moving in meaningful and appropriately challenging ways, and consuming foods which nourish and sustain ourselves provides for our physical and emotional needs. When our needs are met we have the energy and vitality to meet the challenges that life inevitably hands to us.
Here’s to a year of health, abundance and resilience!
Robyn W. Jacobs, MD