With much of the world gripped by the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic, healthcare systems have been pushed to the brink and in many countries, such as Brazil and India, they are in crisis. Many conventional healthcare systems has been relegated to focusing on the care of people suffering with the ravages of COVID 19 and there are less resources available to care for others. Even physicians’ offices are no longer seeing patients in person but relying strictly on virtual care. This highlights the importance of taking charge of your own physical and mental health.
If there was ever a time of prioritize your own health above all else, now is the time. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, not only because I am a physician, but also as the author of my landmark book, ‘Healing from the Inside Out: Overcome Chronic Disease and Radically Change Your Life.’ In my book, I highlight a 9 step process for healing regardless of what condition you may be suffering from.
I cannot summarize the contents of that book in this article, however, there are a few key points I would like to highlight about taking charge of your health. Even though some of these may seem obvious, the key point is that most of you are not following these guidelines. It is now more important than ever to become your own doctor and healer and take charge of your own health, through the following steps.
1) Feel all of your emotions, even the negative ones. Emotions are the language of your soul and how you experience life in this physical realm. Emotions that are not fully felt will become lodged in your physical body as emotional blocks and cause symptoms and even lead to chronic disease. This is why you must feel all of your emotions.
2) Practice relaxation. I say this because in our fast-paced, overstressed society, people have forgotten how to relax. We all need down time and need to find ways to release all the stress and angst we have accumulated throughout the day. This could take any number of forms, examples of which are going for walk, spending time in nature, breath work, meditation, tai chi or anything that puts your body in a relaxed state. Practicing relaxation activates the parasympathetic part of your autonomic nervous system, which controls all of your internal organs and regulates your response to stress. You must do this on a daily basis, several times if possible.
3) Optimize your sleep. The issue is not only that most of us do not get enough sleep but that we are getting poor quality sleep. There are many ways you can optimize your sleep such as sticking to your sleep schedule, whatever amount of time you have allotted to sleep, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, avoiding eating and exercise right before your sleep, minimizing your exposure to artificial light, especially electronic devices, two hours before sleeping, winding down before you sleep by reading, listening to soft music or meditating and sleeping in a cool, ventilated dark room with no noise.
4) Engage in regular movement. I used to tell people to exercise but I no longer do because this implies that you take out a small chunk of your day to run, bike, lift weights, go to the gym or play a sport. Although these activities are important and enjoyable, it is more important to make movement a part of your regular routine, There are many ways to do this such as biking to work instead of driving, if possible, parking far from the grocery store or mall so you have farther to walk, using the stairs at your workplace instead of the elevator, going for group walks on your breaks at work, instead of just sitting and socializing, standing at your desk, instead of sitting and stretching your body in the middle of the day if you have to work in a sitting position. The various ways you can engage in movement is only limited by your imagination.
5) Now we talk about the four letter F-word. Its not what you’re thinking but I’m talking about food. What we put into our bodies is one of the most important interventions we have to optimize our physiology. Science has now proven that many of the chronic diseases that we suffer from are related to poor nutrition. There have been many books written on nutrition and it can often get confusing, and there is no one nutritional prescription that is universal for everyone. However, there are a few key principles which we can all agree on:
a) Increase your take of plant-based foods, especially cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, fruits in season and nuts and seeds. These foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants and are vitally important for the optimization of your physiology.
b) Minimize the intake of animal products, especially all dairy products. Studies have shown that a diet high in animal protein and fat is linked to various chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, cancer and degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia. I am not suggesting that you need to become vegan or vegetarian, however, animal products should be treated more like a condiment, not a main course, and should not be from factory farm sources. Any meat you intake should be pasture-raised, grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free and all fish should be wild caught.
c) Eliminate all inflammatory foods from your diet including sugar, dairy, gluten-containing grains, soy, corn and peanuts. Peanuts are not nuts, but legumes, and are highly inflammatory. Most soy and corn, that you find in the grocery store, are GMO (genetically modified), and have been linked to inflammation. Gluten-containing grains have been shown to worsen the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. Eliminating these foods will go a long way to improving your overall nutrition and health.
7) Connect with nature. This has numerous benefits, many of which are similar to the benefits of gratitude that I mentioned above including improving your memory and concentration, alleviating stress and healing anxiety and depression. Spend at least 15 minutes in a natural setting, even if it is only your backyard, and take in your surroundings through all of your senses, your sight, your hearing, your smell and your touch. If you do this regularly, you will reap the benefits for years to come.
8) Connect with others. We are social creatures and need regular social connection, which is a neglected aspect of a healthy lifestyle. In this time of lockdowns and quarantines, you can still do this by spending at least 5 minutes having a meaningful conversation with your life partner, going for walks with your family or friends, or simply reaching out to someone who you have not conversed with in a long time with a phone call.
These are my key steps to take charge of your own health and, even though they may seem overwhelming, you cannot afford to not engage in these in this time of a global pandemic with less access to adequate healthcare. This does not have to become overwhelming and you can simply start with any four of the steps in the list above and make them a regular routine. You may already be doing many of the steps above so pick four that are lacking in your life and make them a priority.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our health is in our own hands and it is up to us to take control of it. The choice is yours to make, and your life depends on it, now more than ever before.
Dr. Nauman Naeem