The step-by-step guide to a stronger, calmer and happier you
By Elizabeth Kane |Photography by Beth Mann
Lately, you’re feeling just a little bit … off. Maybe you’re drained by the afternoon and feeling the urge to drink that extra cup of coffee. Perhaps small things get to you more easily than they should. Or maybe, you’re feeling more worn down and burnt out than you’d like to admit.
You’re not alone.
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to wake you up to strive for better health. The frightening effects of COVID-19 are giving us all a reality check on how resilient we really are. Of course, the journey to better health is a process. You can’t transform your body overnight, but you can make better decisions that will drastically improve your health and happiness over time. Starting now.
Reset Your Diet
The secret to improving your skin, sleep and energy levels? It’s all about good digestion. “If your gut’s not healthy, you’re not healthy,” says Deborah Ann Ballard, M.D., M.P.H., with Duke Integrative Medicine. “So, when you eat, if you feel bloated, if you’re having a lot of reflux, or if your bowel function isn’t regular, it’s a sign that your gut is not balanced.”
To improve digestion, Dr. Ballard sets down a few basic guidelines: Chew your food well, eat until you’re about 80% full, and don’t drink a lot of liquids with meals, especially ice-cold liquids, which can “stun your digestion.”
Also, add in foods with fiber. When it comes to good nutrition, Dr. Ballard says, “sometimes I give my patients this motto: ‘Greens, beans and lean proteins.’” She recommends that folks include more vegetables and fruits in their diet, as well as beans and lentils, to increase their fiber intake.
To strengthen your body and sustain your energy, “it’s always important to have a big variety of foods,” Dr. Ballard stresses. She also suggests incorporating foods that give you a boost of vitamin C – opt for fruits like oranges and tangerines. Also, use lots of lemon juice in your cooking.
Rework Your Fitness Routine
The gym closures that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic have made keeping up with regular fitness routines all the more difficult. “You’ve got to go easy on yourself,” says Tracy S. Q. Hill of Bikram Yoga Durham, an independently owned and operated yoga studio that Tracy co-owns with her husband, Terry B. Hill. “We’re living with more pressure.”
Terry explains that people can also struggle when they’ve become reliant on the gym to stay fit (using treadmills, weights and machines), and suddenly these facilities are unavailable for them to use. “You don’t have to go to a gym to have good health,” he says.
Both state the importance of starting where you are and committing to a routine that works for you, right now. If you’re trying to get back into an exercise regimen, “you don’t have to jump in on day one with a full workout,” Terry says. Tracy and Terry explain that maintaining a regular fitness routine doesn’t have to be difficult – it just has to be consistent. “You do something small today, then you do something small tomorrow,” Tracy adds.
If you’re starting to work out again after a long hiatus, or you’re coming back after suffering from an injury, Terry recommends being safe and practicing proper form. When teaching, Terry tells his students that “one good pushup is better than 10 bad ones.”
Rethink Your Sleep
Longing for a good night’s sleep? Dr. Ballard says that to sleep well, you need to be active during the day. “It’s just like with little children – when they play hard, and they’ve had a very active, busy day, they tend to sleep better at night!”
That also means staying active intellectually. “Being physically active and engaging in things that you find enjoyable, intellectually stimulating and creative during your waking hours will help you sleep better at night,” she explains.
Dr. Ballard also recommends relaxing an hour before going to bed, setting aside time to wind down. “Don’t do things at night that get you revved up and tense,” she states. That also means limiting your screen time with electronics. “The light from all these devices kind of keeps your brain awake,” Dr. Ballard explains. That goes for caffeine and alcohol, too. “Excessive alcohol does not promote good sleep – it actually disturbs your REM sleep.”
Whatever your reason for making health changes, these experts all emphasized a common theme: the importance of finding your motivation. When you’re clear about what your goal is, you’ll be more likely to stick with good habits. Ultimately, that’s how any progress worth making is done to create a stronger and happier life.