|Dr. Kendall Ritz, MD
Functional Medicine Doctor
Lifestyle Medicine Expert
While we can’t change our genetics, we can control how our genes impact our health. The study of Epigenetics has shown us that certain lifestyle choices can “turn off” disease-causing genes and activate protective and health-promoting genes.
Lifestyle medicine focuses on creating daily habits that are beneficial to your physical health and well-being and help you to manage those that are harmful for you. When lifestyle is seen as medicine, it can shift, change, and improve your physical and emotional health.
In this article, I will share four of the key fundamental aspects of Lifestyle Medicine you can apply to your life as soon as today. You don’t have to do everything all at once. Start by picking the one thing you feel most connected with and make it a part of your daily life.
1: Food & Nourishment
Food and nourishment go beyond just following a certain diet or eating specific foods while limiting others.
We have to take into account our relationship with food and eating. How eating (or not eating) certain foods makes you feel. Are you happy? Do you have enough energy and motivation to fuel your day? Or are you feeling that something is always missing? Or that you are making too many sacrifices and your diet is overly restrictive?
Eating delicious food is one of the most enjoyable things we can do as human beings. There’s no reason to give up that joy. There is a lot of benefit to enjoying all types of food.
I am often asked what the best diet for good health is. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to nutrition. There are personal preferences that come into play, as well as individualized food sensitivities we must consider. The beauty of the global world we live in today, is that we have access to infinite possibilities of foods to support our nutritional and emotional needs. We just need to choose the ones that are right for us.
So, while everyone may need a very personal diet plan and should focus on creating a diet that is best for them as individuals, there are still some basics of nutrition that hold true for most. Most people benefit from including more whole, nutrient-dense, brightly colored fruits, vegetables and dark leafy greens in their diets.
The Elimination Diet & Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities are common. They are not, however, a lifelong sentence of plain meals and boring diets. We need to identify the reason your body reacts to certain foods so we can address the root cause.
In most food sensitivity cases, there’s an issue in the gut that is causing the immune system to overreact to certain foods. Once the gut is healed, many of the foods that previously caused a negative reaction can be introduced back to the diet without issues.
Identifying individual food sensitivities is an important part of the process to calm down the reaction that causes inflammation and gut irritation.
The elimination diet is an effective tool that can help with this. Following the diet correctly with the help of a trained doctor or dietitian can help to heal the gut and may allow you to enjoy a broader variety of foods.
For a period of time, you eliminate foods you suspect you are sensitive to, and see how you feel. If you feel better, you are likely sensitive to some of the foods you eliminated. At this point, you add the foods back, one food at a time, and see how your body responds.
It’s Not About Perfection, It’s About Balance
We can’t ignore the impact of pleasure around eating, so I like to steer clear of the good food vs. bad food notion.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we should eat sweets and ice cream all day. But we do need to leave enough room in our lives for pleasurable foods, even if they are not the most nutrient-dense. If you truly enjoy any food without guilt, it’s going to have a much better impact on your physiology than consuming that food and feeling guilty about it afterwards.
Just like your diet, the supplements you take should be tailored to your needs. You don’t want to waste your money on supplements you don’t need, or even worse, take too many and cause imbalances. The best thing to do is to take the guesswork out of the equation and work with your doctor to identify nutritional deficiencies.
With that said, there are a few supplements I find that most people can benefit from:
- Vitamin D, a common deficiency in North America. Low levels can impact our physical health and well-being. Vitamin D can also play a significant role in autoimmune disease.
- Magnesium, an important mineral that is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Yet it is another common deficiency in modern diets and lifestyles.
- A high-quality probiotic to promote gut health. As a reminder, 80% of our immune system resides in the gut.
- Antioxidant support is often needed due to high stress levels, unbalanced diets, or excessive oxidative stress. Curcumin, Vitamin C, Alpha-lipoic acid, and colorful fruits and vegetables are great ways to boost your antioxidant intake.
2: Movement as a Lifestyle
The benefits from even mild physical activity are very well documented. Regular exercise can significantly improve your health and quality of life. On the flip side, there are many health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
So, what’s the best type of exercise? Simply put, the one you enjoy doing. The power of movement comes from consistency over time. For many people, these are the simple things like walking, playing outside with their kids, walking their dog, or spending more time in nature.
That’s the beauty of movement. It doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Just five minutes a day is a great place to start. You may get inspired to do more after you notice the benefits. Physical activity has been shown to improve mood, increase energy, and boost brain function.
So, choose an activity that is appealing to you, that matches your fitness level and lifestyle, but most importantly allows you to be consistent.
3: Get Enough Sleep
We live in a society where we value productivity and hustle over everything, so we often do not give sleep enough priority.
Not getting enough sleep, however, has been shown to reduce our productivity and compromise our health. In fact, sleep plays such a critical role in our well-being, it is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity.
Despite what you may think, the body is quite active while you sleep. During sleep there are multiple maintenance activities happening “in the background”. Just to give you a few examples, every night when you go to sleep, your body processes excess stress hormones, repairs damaged cells and tissues, and detoxifies. These processes are critical so you can function at your highest level every day.
As a general rule of thumb, research suggests that most people need at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night. Getting any less than that has been linked to increased risk of disease. Some people may need more sleep, though.
Quality, not just quantity
There’s much more to sleep than just the hours you are lying in bed. The quality of your sleep is extremely important as well. For many people, having a good nighttime ritual can make a big difference in improving sleep duration and quality.
Try to create a relaxing environment and calming habits around your sleep:
- Turn off electronic devices at night as these can stimulate your brain, making it difficult to fall asleep
- Go to sleep at the same time every day so your body becomes used to it
- Watch out for caffeine or other stimulants you consume during the day, particularly later in the day. Some of these may still be in your system at night, keeping you awake, or disrupting your sleep
- Unwind from daily stress. Consider meditation, deep breathing and other relaxing activities.
4: Stress Management
In our fast-paced world, there is often so much going on around us, it is hard not to be affected by it. All day, we are bombarded with more and more information: news, emails, social media, phone calls, text messages, the list just goes on and on. Coupled with our busy lives, endless lists of responsibilities, challenges and opportunities, it is not surprising we often find ourselves overwhelmed and stressed.
In fact, for most people, the truth is that it is not realistic to live a completely stress-free life. What we can do, however, is manage stress effectively. It is extremely important to actively minimize the negative impact stress has on our health and well-being.
If you wonder where to even start with so many sources of stress you are facing day to day, you are not alone. Just the thought of trying to do more can create more stress! With that said, becoming aware of the biggest stressors can make a big difference:
We are all familiar with the inner critical voice that runs in the background throughout the day, judging us or driving us to seek perfection in everything we do. Very often, it is our own perception of stress that causes us to feel stressed, not the actual event itself- fascinating, right?
In fact, it is common for different people to respond completely differently to the exact same event. Some may get stressed, some may feel threatened, while others may not. Becoming more aware of the unique way you see stressful situations in your life and how you choose to respond to them can be a powerful stress management tool on its own.
The news, our communication with the people around us, or events that happen in our life can cause us to feel stressed. While we can’t control external events, we can control how we respond to them.
Certain tools and techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, guided visualization, and EFT tapping can help mitigate the stress response and have a positive effect on both our physical and emotional wellness. And the good news? Many of these stress management practices only take a few minutes every day, but still, can be very effective in helping you actively manage your stress.
Empower your health and well-being with the power of Lifestyle Medicine
With so many opportunities to improve our health and well-being, we have much more control over our health than many people realize. Just a few small daily habits can make a big difference in our physical health and well-being.
When we know our choices can make such an impact, we feel more empowered as individuals to create the best life experience for ourselves. It is then, when we can inspire and benefit everyone else around us.
So, I encourage you to start today by choosing one lifestyle aspect we covered and make it a part of your daily life. Sharing with your family and friends can help not only for you to be more committed, but also to inspire them to make healthy choices as well. I hope you find this information helpful in your journey for better health and well-being- here’s to your Vibrant Health!
- Creating Vibrant Health & Wellness with Lifestyle Medicine - April 9, 2020