Tag Archives: holistic health

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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Trees, Green Spaces & Your Health

treesHave you ever wondered why it can feel so good to be among the fresh air and greenery of the great outdoors? According to a new study, there seems to be a distinctive link between trees and human health. And a small beetle showed the way.

Inadvertently brought to North America from its native Asia around the turn of the century, the emerald ash borer has devastated the ash tree population of the upper Midwest in particular. All 22 species of ash are vulnerable to it, and it almost always ends up killing the trees. More than 100 million have thus far.

How might this loss affect us? Researchers looked at data from 15 states across a 17 year span, including several years before the borer was introduced. What they found was an increase in human deaths from cardiovascular and lower-tract respiratory diseases. The greater the tree loss, the greater the increase in mortality. Said lead author Geoffrey Donovan,

“There’s a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees…. But we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

And they follow numerous other studies that likewise demonstrated a strong relationship between nature and human health. Among the earlier research mentioned in The Atlantic’s coverage of the new study: a 2010 paper that

looked at the presence of parks and forests in the vicinity of people’s homes and their ability to act as a “buffer” against stress. [Its authors found] that the presence of “green space” was more closely related to physical – in terms of minor complaints and perceived general health – than mental well-being.

Other research has shown that obesity is less of a problem for children in greener neighborhoods, and those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD show marked symptom improvement after spending time in natural settings. College students with dorms that look out on nature tend to score higher on attention tests. Girls who live in homes with greener views show enhanced concentration and self-discipline, academic improvement and more thoughtful decision-making.

Here are some of the other health benefits that have been shown to come with the (green) territory:

  • Increased physical fitness
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Improvements in blood pressure and muscle tension
  • UV protection
  • Relief from eye strain
  • Less aggravation of allergies (due to tree-filtered air)
  • Faster healing and recovery rates

Of course, trees are great for the health of our environment, as well. (Let canopy.org count the ways…)

Environmental health. Our health. A virtuous circle.

Maybe that new ash tree study is just the kind of wake-up call we need to accept the connectedness of all life. The call to environmental stewardship is not just a noble one. It’s a call we must answer for the sake of our own health and well-being.

Image © Dane Jessie

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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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Acid-Alkaline Balance

A guest post, by Dr. Christina Grant

In the field of holistic and natural health, we often hear that a body in an alkaline state is better than one that is too acidic. What we actually want, though, is a balance between the two.

A person’s level of acidity is determined by pH, or potential hydrogen. When we measure pH, we measure the degree to which negative and positive ions push against each other. Negative ions are alkaline-forming. Positive ions are acid-forming.

So what does this mean? And why does it matter?

Donna Gates, author of The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity, describes it well:

When cells live too long in an acidic condition, they adapt to it by mutating and becoming malignant. Long-term acidic conditions in our bodies provide perfect environments for cancer and auto-immune diseases like AIDS to flourish. Most people with these disorders also have candidiasis.

Similarly, Dr. Theodore Baroody, Jr., author of Alkalize or Die, tells us we should be strive to create a balanced internal pH precisely because disease thrives in an acidic environment.

You can have your body’s acidity tested or test your levels at home using special strips that often can be often in natural food markets. With these strips, you measure the pH of a sample of your saliva or urine first thing in the morning. (A balanced urine pH is approximately 6.4.) It’s important to note, though, that while the results can be interesting, they’re not always accurate. Blood tests are, but they’re not really necessary.

Your best approach is to address your lifestyle: Is it alkaline or acid producing? Again, what we want is a healthy balance. Since most food eaten by the typical American is considered acid-producing, altering food choices is a major step in creating this balance.

Most people eat the Standard American Diet (SAD – an appropriate acronym), which consists primarily of processed food. Items that come in boxes, packages or cans; fried food, fast food, alcohol, sugars, white flour and meat are all acid forming. Noise, air pollution, and toxins in our environment contribute further to acidity, as can general stress, worry, anxiety, anger and fear.

As you might imagine, a healthier lifestyle contributes alkalinity and can help maintain the acid-alkaline balance. For alkalizing, we simply add what we know we need more of in our lives: fresh vegetables, oxygenated clean water, fresh air, laughter, relaxation and positive connections with others. We reduce those foods and experiences that create too much acid.

Whether or not you know your exact pH level, it can be a good thing to take some simple steps to encourage a healthy acid-alkaline balance. Many of these suggestions come from Dr. Baroody’s book, and they are common knowledge among holistic practitioners who see a person’s health considerably improve when they make these lifestyle changes:

  • Spend adequate time outdoors in sunlight – 20 to 30 minutes each day – even if it’s cloudy.
  • Have a regular pattern of sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Use an 80/20 ratio of alkaline-forming foods to acid-forming foods. In just doing a basic online search, I found over 300,000 pages referring to these foods.
  • Rest and reduce stress.
  • Walk by water or by the sea to be in the midst of negative ions.
  • Eat fresh foods found in nature, including an abundance of vegetables.
  • First thing in the morning, drink the juice of half a lemon mixed in a tall glass of warm water. Although citrus is acidic, your digestion uses the acidic parts and leaves an alkaline residue.
  • Use natural healing such as acupuncture, energy work, reflexology, color and music therapy, yoga, chiropractic and spiritual healing, all of which have alkaline forming reactions in the body.

Dr. Christina Grant is a holistic healer and intuitive counselor who works in person and by phone. She has helped hundreds of people attain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being through personal transformation. Her writing is published nationwide. She is co-author of Eight Minute Muse and is completing a book with a fresh perspective on women’s health. To learn more, visit christinagrant.com

Image by CarbonNYC, 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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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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What Is Mind-Body Medicine?

 

A Note to Readers:
There will be no post next Friday. I’ll be back to the regular blogging schedule the following week, on April 29. – Dr. E

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