Category Archives: Wellness

5 Facets of a Healthy Lifestyle

Repost

We all say we want to be “healthy,” but what does that mean? Is “health” just the absence of illness? If so, then there are a lot of unhealthy people here in the US, where almost half of all adults have at least one chronic disease. In fact, continues the CDC, 70% of all deaths each year are caused by such diseases, especially heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The picture isn’t much prettier globally. Noting that 36 million people died from these kinds of diseases in 2008, the UN predicts that number to rise to 52 million within two decades, eclipsing deaths from “communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional diseases.”

But here’s the most distressing thing: these diseases are largely preventable. What we put into our bodies and how we use them have a big impact on whether (and how) we get sick.

In this light, health is less a state of being than a way of being.

A while back, the American Heart Association ran a health views survey of young adults. According to the LA Times, most participants “said they felt they were living a healthy lifestyle.” The youngest (ages 18 to 24) “strongly claimed that living a long, healthy life was important to them. On average, they said they wanted to live until age 98.” Yet 1/3 said that “they don’t believe that doing healthy things now…will make any difference….”

Maybe one of the problems is that we don’t really know what we’re talking about when we talk about “health.” Just what is a “healthy lifestyle”? How could anyone ever achieve it if they don’t know what it is?

Tenniel drawing of Alice meeting the Cheshire Cat, with text

The Wholeness of Health

As a holistic dentist, I take a “whole-body” approach to dentistry, treating the teeth and gums in their relationship with the rest of the body. Simply put, oral health affects systemic (overall) health, and vice versa. Likewise, physical health can’t be treated as something severed from our mental life. What happens to us physically also affects “how we feel inside,” and mental states can manifest physically – for instance, a headache or stomachache when you’re anxious or stressed.

Everything is connected. So it’s not hard to see how “living healthy” both involves the whole person and benefits the whole person – body, mind and spirit.

Below are 5 key facets of a healthy lifestyle. While acting on them is no guarantee of perfect health, it can dramatically lower your overall disease risk.

5 Facets of a Healthy Lifestyle

  1. Good diet/nutrition – A good diet is based on whole foods, including lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It’s low in added sugars and other refined carbohydrates. Junk foods are a rare indulgence, if eaten at all.
  2. Physical activity – Though most of us lead sedentary lives, this inertia isn’t normal. We evolved to move. Regular exercise and physical activity are a must.
  3. Avoiding toxins – No tobacco. No drugs. Alcohol in moderation. Minimize exposure to toxic chemicals as you are able. (See EWG’s Healthy Home Tips to learn how.)
  4. Rest & sleep – Constant “busy-ness” is a surefire recipe for burnout. We need time off – for fun, for relaxation, for simply being. Getting enough quality sleep also matters, since that’s when our bodies do most of their repair work (e.g., rebuilding muscle, consolidating memory).
  5. Nurturing mental & spiritual well-being – Our overall sense of wellness is enhanced when we give time to ourselves, our loved ones and the things that interest us and give our lives meaning. We find emotional fulfillment. We keep our lives in balance. And this supports our physical well-being.

Modified from the original.

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4 Holistic Health & Wellness Blogs to Know About

Allow us to take a break and do a little bit of promotion here – not for our office but a few of Dr. E’s colleagues and past guest writers with new or expanded blogs on holistic health and wellness. They’ve a lot of knowledge and wisdom to share!

  • Biological Dentist is from the office of Dr. Bill Glaros, an outstanding dentist practicing in Houston. Once focused almost solely on dental matters, it’s recently expanded to include more on nutrition, physical activity and other factors in achieving optimal oral and systemic health.
  • Naturopathic physician Dr. Chris Fabricius has just recently begun blogging on his Living Medicine site. If you’re interested in the energetic aspects of health and healing in particular, you’ll want to bookmark this site and visit regularly.
  • The Holistic Woman is Dr. Christina Grant, who you may remember from her post here on acid-alkaline balance this past summer. And don’t let the blog title fool you! Dr. Grant provides information and insight on natural health and wellness for men and women alike.
  • Last, you may also recall Jaymie Meyer from her guest post on reiki. Her Resilience Blog promises to be a great source for helpful tips on mindful, healthy living from this certified wellness professional.

Check them out, say hello and be sure to say how you found out about them!

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Thanks/Giving

Originally posted November 2010

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is almost here in the US. While not all Americans observe this holiday, most of us will do the “traditional” thing of spending time with family and friends, eating a lot, visiting, reminiscing, maybe watching the Macy’s parade in the morning and a football game or two in the afternoon. Some of us will volunteer our time to help feed others in need. But all of us who do celebrate the day will at some point address it’s core concept: gratitude.

During challenging times such as our own – with economic hardship, bitter political division, seemingly endless wars and more – it can seem hard to be grateful. What do we have to be grateful for when so much seems so wrong, so bad, so impossible? But consider: When Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be an official holiday, the country was in the midst of the Civil War. Yet, Lincoln wrote,

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

In many respects, gratitude is about keeping perspective so you can count your blessings. Just because things aren’t perfect or even good doesn’t mean that everything is wrong or there is nothing to feel thankful for. As Gautama Buddha taught,

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

Over the past several years, there has been a growing amount of research into the health effects of gratitude. That there’s some psychological and spiritual benefit may be of little doubt. Most if not all of us have experienced the peace and calm that comes with being thankful – when someone has done something thoughtful for us or when we recognize the blessings in our lives, such as the people we’re honored to know and the experiences we’ve been fortunate enough to have. Psychologists who have studied gratitude have noted more specific effects, both mental and physical:

In an experimental comparison, people who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). It doesn’t end there.

Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based). And there’s more. Young adults who practice a daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to the group that focused on hassles or thinking of how they were better off than others.

* * *

Researchers have found that when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic, calming branch of the autonomic nervous system is triggered. This pattern when repeated bestows a protective effect on the heart. The electromagnetic heart patterns of volunteers tested become more coherent and ordered when they activate feelings of appreciation.

There is evidence that when we practice bringing attention to what we appreciate in our lives, more positive emotions emerge, leading to beneficial alterations in heart rate variability. This may not only relieve hypertension but reduce the risk of sudden death from coronary artery disease.

Such research tells us that cultivating a grateful spirit is something worth striving to do on a daily basis, supporting our health and well being. This Thanksgiving Day would be an excellent time to start, carrying the good feeling with you through the holidays and into the new year. Perhaps practicing gratitude might help us make better progress in solving the big challenges of these difficult times, giving us even more to be grateful for in the long run.

My staff and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a great start to the holiday season!

Images by JPhilipson (Harmony, Health, Joy) via Flickr

 

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We All Say We Want to Be “Healthy”…

…but what does that mean? Is “health” just the absence of illness? If so, then there are a lot of unhealthy people here in the US, where almost half of all adults have at least one chronic disease. In fact, continues the CDC, 70% of all deaths each year are caused by such diseases, especially heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The picture isn’t much prettier globally. Noting that 36 million people died from these kinds of diseases in 2008, the UN predicts that number to rise to 52 million within two decades, eclipsing deaths from “communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional diseases.”

But here’s the most distressing thing: these diseases are largely preventable. What we put into our bodies and how we use them have a big impact on whether (and how) we get sick.

In this light, health is less a state of being than a way of being.

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association ran a health views survey of young adults. According to the LA Times, most participants “said they felt they were living a healthy lifestyle.” The youngest (ages 18 to 24) “strongly claimed that living a long, healthy life was important to them. On average, they said they wanted to live until age 98.” Yet 1/3 said that “they don’t believe that doing healthy things now…will make any difference….”

Maybe one of the problems is that we don’t really know what we’re talking about when we talk about “health.” Just what is a “healthy lifestyle”? How could anyone ever achieve it if they don’t know what it is?

Tenniel drawing of Alice meeting the Cheshire Cat, with text

The Wholeness of Health

As a holistic dentist, I take a “whole-body” approach to dentistry, treating the teeth and gums in their relationship with the rest of the body. Simply put, oral health affects systemic (overall) health, and vice versa. Likewise, physical health can’t be treated as something severed from our mental life. What happens to us physically also affects “how we feel inside,” and mental states can manifest physically – for instance, a headache or stomachache when you’re anxious or stressed.

Everything is connected. So it’s not hard to see how “living healthy” both involves the whole person and benefits the whole person – body, mind and spirit.

Below are 5 key facets of a healthy lifestyle. While acting on them is no guarantee of perfect health, it can dramatically lower your overall disease risk.

5 Facets of a Healthy Lifestyle

  1. Good diet/nutrition – A good diet is based on whole foods, including lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It’s low in added sugars and other refined carbohydrates. Junk foods are a rare indulgence, if eaten at all.
  2. Physical activity – Though most of us lead sedentary lives, this inertia isn’t normal. We evolved to move. Regular exercise and physical activity are a must.
  3. Avoiding toxins – No tobacco. No drugs. Alcohol in moderation. Minimize exposure to toxic chemicals as you are able. (See EWG’s Healthy Home Tips to learn how.)
  4. Rest & sleep – Constant “busy-ness” is a surefire recipe for burnout. We need time off – for fun, for relaxation, for simply being. Getting enough quality sleep also matters, since that’s when our bodies do most of their repair work (e.g., rebuilding muscle, consolidating memory).
  5. Nurturing mental & spiritual well-being – Our overall sense of wellness is enhanced when we give time to ourselves, our loved ones and the things that interest us and give our lives meaning. We find emotional fulfillment. We keep our lives in balance. And this supports our physical well-being.

For more frequent news & tips on dental & holistic health and wellness, “like” Dr. E’s practice on Facebook.

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On Being a Life-Long Learner

A lot of people seem to think that once you’re done with school, you’re done learning. But in truth, as Jiddu Krishnamurti taught, “there is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” Sometimes that learning comes from books and lectures. Sometimes it comes through community with coworkers and colleagues, family and friends. Sometimes it comes from just being.

Yes, as a practicing dentist, I’m required to do continuing coursework to keep my license valid. But even so, it seems a common sense thing to do – in dentistry or any other profession. How else could you stay up-to-date in your field?

Consequently, not a month goes by that I don’t participate in a seminar or take a class of some kind. I find it exciting and fulfilling – personally and professionally, intellectually and spiritually. Even after more than 40 years of practicing dentistry, I’m still eager to deepen my understanding of oral-systemic health dynamics. Likewise, I both want and need to stay current with the latest treatments, techniques and technologies so I can continue to provide top-notch care for my patients, helping them heal or just sustain or improve their oral and physical health.

A partial list of courses I’ve taken over the past decade-plus is available here.

Just this month, I completed an 8 month course in periodontics – the dental specialty concerned with the gums and other supporting structures of the teeth. On the one hand, what I learned will help me provide an even higher level of care for patients with gum disease – a problem which affects 3 of every 4 adult Americans. (We looked at some of the reasons for this in a previous post.) But more than that – in the words of the course syllabus – it’s just

no longer…possible to practice restorative dentistry without having an in depth knowledge of how to maintain and modify periodontal tissues. Optimal oral esthetics demands optimal periodontal form. Optimal systemic health demands optimal periodontal health.

In other words, you can’t practice good dentistry by focusing just on the teeth. And you certainly can’t provide the kind of dental care needed to support overall health. As we understand more profoundly how periodontal disease is linked with diabetes, heart disease and other inflammatory conditions, the more crucial it is that dentists take a whole-body approach to their profession.

Although far too many dentists continue to practice mechanistic “toxic dentistry” – treating the teeth in isolation from the rest of the body and relying on substances such as mercury, fluoride and formocresol, believing them harmless – change is happening. The profession – like any – continues to evolve in response to new research and technology, as well as the efforts of holistic health professionals, grassroots activists and patients. Such efforts are one of the reasons why I belong to organizations such as the HDA, IAOMT and IABDM in addition to the dominant ADA and its state and local offshoots. These organizations exist to educate dental and medical professionals, as well as the general public, about safer alternatives to toxic dentistry and the intricate relationships between oral and systemic health.

“Education,” wrote Ralph Ellison, “is all a matter of building bridges” – between ideas, facts, theories, bodies of knowledge and people.

Thus, a new organization was recently founded, of which I’m pleased to count myself a founding member: The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health.

The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health is an organization of health care leaders and health professionals dedicated to the relationship of oral health and whole body health. AAOSH membership includes and is open to health professionals from many allied health disciplines, corporate supporters and sponsors, health educators, and healthcare leaders.

Membership and Academy activities, meetings, research and communications are all supportive of helping members of the healthcare community to work closer together and helping to improve the oral and general health of our patients and our communities.

Understanding the emerging science-driven relationships between the mouth and the body, AAOSH promotes building closer ties between allied health professionals and improving interdisciplinary communication and professional referral relationships.

You can read a more detailed discussion of their mission here. While their website is new enough to not yet have extensive educational resources, no doubt it will grow right along with the organization.

Of course, there’s one other benefit to making active learning a life-long habit: it keeps you young. As said, I’ve been practicing dentistry for over 40 years now – since 1967 – and I still find it exciting and fresh, challenging and new as the day I greeted my very first patient. And the rapid advances in dental-medical tech and knowledge ensure there will always be more to learn; likewise with our expanding knowledge of the mind, spirit and energy that inform both my approach to healing and life in general.

As Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Want to resume learning? Here are 15 tips to get you started.

Already a devoted life-long learner? Share your story in the comments – or advice for others who’d like to follow your lead.

Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins. – Jim Rohn

 

Image by jmtimages, via Flickr

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How We Think Affects How We Are: Compassion

A holistic approach to health and wellness depends on awareness of the interplay between mind, spirit and body.

A vision of health and healing that neglects mind or spirit is necessarily incomplete. After all, mind and spirit are part of the body. Metaphysics aside, they’re the experience we have of our brains.

Through recent years, much scientific research has been done to help us get a better understanding of the mind-body relationship. (If you watched the presentation by UCSF’s Dr. Kevin Barrows that I posted last month, you’re familiar with some of it.) One thing we find is that positive, nurturing, hopeful (i.e., future-oriented) thoughts and practices strengthen the immune system and thus the healing response, while pessimism, stress and other negative inputs make us more vulnerable to disease and dysfunction.

Simply put, how we think affects how we are.

Now, having a positive attitude doesn’t mean that we will (or should or even could) be happy all the time. Life brings both sadness and joy – and everything in between. But even in hard times, we can still be content, experiencing the negative while knowing that it will pass and that we have the power to deal with it. Optimism doesn’t require denial. Rather, as Vaclav Havel has said, such hopefulness is “the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

When we cultivate this kind of thinking, we quietly affirm that we can change things for the better – whether we’re talking about our health and well-being, or that of the larger communities in which we dwell.

It’s the kind of thinking that underlies the practice of compassion. Even as compassion can make us feel good, it makes the world a kinder, more life-affirming place, reinforcing the states of mind and being that support total health. To be compassionate is to be mindful; to be thoughtful of others; to put one’s own concerns into perspective; to participate in community life by supporting others – and by accepting support when needed. Compassion acknowledges that we are all connected.

Patch Adams knows this. Compassion and connectedness lie at the heart of his approach to medicine. As his Geshundheit Institute‘s mission statement puts it, you simply “cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the world, and the health care system itself.”

This weekend, Dr. Adams and his mission are being honored through Bloggers Unite‘s International Day of Compassion. Bloggers, including users of Twitter and Facebook, are encouraged to extend compassion, blog and donate toward Dr. Adams’ dream hospital.

How to practice compassion? Here are a few tips from Dr. Adams’ blog post that inspired this day of action:

  • Keep a journal about you in relationship with love and compassion. What is it? Ask everyday – How are you giving it? (Pay close attention. Be present.) How are you receiving it? (From everything, from strangers, from trees, etc.)
  • Do things outrageous for love, like clowning.
  • Actually see if you can produce the vibration of compassion for prolonged periods. What sustains it? (friends, having meaning, fun) What hurts it? (arrogance, apathy, tight underwear.) Are there times you do not want to be compassionate?
  • Be observant of compassion in action around you, everywhere, give details of its languages.
  • Explore the language of love and compassion. Read psychologists and poets, write essays on things you love.
  • How do you relate to other people on issues of class consciousness, race, age, sexual preference. Pay close attention! Decide to connect with people you have no experience with.

In the same post, Dr. Adams shares some “tools” he uses to be compassionate:

  • Twinkle in the eyes, smile on the face and an excitement to meet
  • Eye contact
  • Be fun and tender
  • Turn off TV
  • Develop all your interests
  • A tender love for people
  • Engage with the arts and nature
  • Do volunteer work
  • Practice organizing and following through

The only problem with annual days of anything is that they sometimes give the impression that whatever is being observed can be ignored for the rest of the year. But change and growth require persistent, consistent movement and effort. So consider making a promise to yourself to practice compassion daily. Your acts needn’t be large. Just holding a door open for someone or offering a genuinely kind and warm smile can do a world of good. Those who are treated with compassion tend to pay it forward.

At the end of the day, love and compassion will win. – Terry Waite

Image by el_en_houston, via Flickr

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Gratitude & Health – Some Thoughts as We Near Thanksgiving

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is almost here in the US. While not all Americans observe this holiday, most of us will do the “traditional” thing of spending time with family and friends, eating a lot, visiting, reminiscing, maybe watching the Macy’s parade in the morning and a football game or two in the afternoon. Some of us will volunteer our time to help feed others in need. But all of us who do celebrate the day will at some point address it’s core concept: gratitude.

During challenging times such as our own – with economic hardship, bitter political division, seemingly endless wars and more – it can seem hard to be grateful. What do we have to be grateful for when so much seems so wrong, so bad, so impossible? But consider: When Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be an official holiday, the country was in the midst of the Civil War. Yet, Lincoln wrote,

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

In many respects, gratitude is about keeping perspective so you can count your blessings. Just because things aren’t perfect or even good doesn’t mean that everything is wrong or there is nothing to feel thankful for. As Gautama Buddha taught,

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.

Over the past several years, there has been a growing amount of research into the health effects of gratitude. That there’s some psychological and spiritual benefit may be of little doubt. Most if not all of us have experienced the peace and calm that comes with being thankful – when someone has done something thoughtful for us or when we recognize the blessings in our lives, such as the people we’re honored to know and the experiences we’ve been fortunate enough to have. Psychologists who have studied gratitude have noted more specific effects, both mental and physical:

In an experimental comparison, people who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). It doesn’t end there.

Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based). And there’s more. Young adults who practice a daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy compared to the group that focused on hassles or thinking of how they were better off than others.

* * *

Researchers have found that when we think about someone or something we really appreciate and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, the parasympathetic, calming branch of the autonomic nervous system is triggered. This pattern when repeated bestows a protective effect on the heart. The electromagnetic heart patterns of volunteers tested become more coherent and ordered when they activate feelings of appreciation.

There is evidence that when we practice bringing attention to what we appreciate in our lives, more positive emotions emerge, leading to beneficial alterations in heart rate variability. This may not only relieve hypertension but reduce the risk of sudden death from coronary artery disease.

Such research tells us that cultivating a grateful spirit is something worth striving to do on a daily basis, supporting our health and well being. This Thanksgiving Day would be an excellent time to start, carrying the good feeling with you through the holidays and into the new year. Perhaps practicing gratitude might help us make better progress in solving the big challenges of these difficult times, giving us even more to be grateful for in the long run.

My staff and I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and an excellent start to the beginning of the holiday season!

Images by JPhilipson (Harmony, Health, Joy) via Flickr

 

Due to the holiday, there will be no post next week. Regular blogging will resume on December 3.

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