Everyone knows gym workouts and healthy eating are good for you, but here are eight less conventional steps toward physical and psychological wellness that you can fit into your busy schedule.
1 WAKE UP GRATEFUL
Joel Levey, co-founder of WisdomAtWork.com and the International Center for Corporate Culture and Organizational Health, touts gratitude as “one of the best stress-busting exercises. It gives us strength and builds our capacity to walk into stressful circumstances mindful and ready to show up,” he says.
Both Levey and naturopathic physician Diana Joy Ostroff recommend gratitude first thing in the morning.
“Instead of thinking about the stuff you need to do, think about what kind of day you want to have. I think a good exercise would be not to allow yourself to get out of bed without being thankful,” says Ostroff. Gratitude, she says, “Sets us up for a better day because everything starts with our thoughts … then come our words, actions and behaviors. Ultimately, it’s our thoughts that shape our personality and create our lives.”
2 MOVE YOUR BODY
Everyone knows exercise is important, but many people are intimidated by the recommended 30 minutes a day. Don’t be, says Darryl Salvador, an integrated behavioral health consultant and staff psychologist at the Army’s Schofield Barracks Family Medicine Clinic.
“One strategy is to make it part of your day. Park your car down the street and then walk to work. Instead of catching the elevator, take the stairs. Exercise is cumulative.”
It’s worth the extra effort, since exercise clears your mind, releases endorphins and is a natural stress reliever. In fact, researchers have discovered nine principles known as the Power 9 that contribute to longevity in “Blue Zone” areas – the places around the world where people live the longest, says Craig Petty, VP of Blue Zones Project – Hawaii, part of a nationwide initiative to promote health and well-being.
“Blue Zones don’t go to the gym or run marathons. They move naturally. They don’t use automatic conveniences. If they need to mow the lawn, they use push mowers. If they need to bake, they mix by hand. Blue Zones are not taking time out of their day to exercise. It’s part of their day.”
Instead of mindlessly jumping from one activity to the next, ask yourself why are you doing it. When we pause, we give ourselves time to respond instead of automatically react, says Jamie Borromeo, author of “Young, Educated & Broke,” TEDx speaker and co-owner of Happy Buddha Farm in Kealakekua on Hawaii Island.
Borromeo says she learned to clear her mind like “an empty rice bowl … (by) pausing between activities to answer the “why” questions, such as: Why am I in this industry? Why am I working this many hours per week?”
The founder of the Hawaii Naturopathic Retreat, Maya Nicole Baylac, says pausing can end bad behaviors and begin healthy ones. “It’s important to stop when bad behavior is about to happen. Look inside and ask what is happening at the moment. Am I going to engage in behavior that is going to help me or is it going to push me lower into addiction and poor health?”
4 BREAK FOR FIVE MINUTES
How often have you checked your email today? Technology has increased efficiency, but our health has paid the price, says Amanda Webster, yoga teacher and owner of Shivatree Yoga School. “We don’t have proper downtime with social media and TV. We need the time to unwind. Otherwise, our minds stay in hyper-drive. As you slow down and focus on your breath and rest, that overdrive starts to slow down.”
All it takes is five minutes every hour to feel more centered and relaxed. “If you just take five minutes to go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, stretch and come back to your desk, that little thing is going to be helpful,” Baylac says.
5 CREATE A WIND-DOWN ROUTINE
Many of us run on only a few hours of sleep. But Salvador says sleep deficits can impair cognition, memory and decision-making.
The problem is we’re too ramped up from the day to relax by evening. “Most people will tell me, ‘I get my kids set up for bedtime, put them to bed, get ready for work and check my last couple of emails. Then, I pop into bed and can’t sleep.’ But they haven’t transitioned to rest,” he says.
His solution is to begin a wind-down routine 30 to 60 minutes before bed. This could include taking a shower, brushing your teeth and deep breathing – anything that signals it’s time to go to sleep.
Also, turn off your electronics at night. “Don’t take them to bed. The only activities in bed should be sleep and sex. Not for reading or doing work,” adds Salvador.
6 BREATHE LIKE A BABY
When we’re in a state of stress or anxiety, says Darryl Salvador, the Army psychologist, we breathe shallowly, through our chest.
“To survive, we evolved to activate fight or flight response to perceived danger.” This increases heart rate, tenses muscles and quickens our breath. These signals are meant to be temporary, but in our stress-filled world, we stay in this state too long, he says.
“Over time, it can lead to illness.” Diaphragmatic breathing in contrast, triggers a relaxation response. He tells his patients to place one hand on their stomach and the other on their chest. The key is to get the hand on the belly to move. Another tip is to follow how babies breathe. If you start breathing this way, Salvador says, “The benefits are astounding. More relaxed breathing signals the body to calm down.”
7 TAKE A GREEN BATH
Need a boost? Spend time in nature. Baylac, of the Hawaii Naturopathic Retreat, recommends a “green bath.” Whether it’s swimming, hiking or walking barefoot in grass, Baylac says, “Being in nature is very important. We have beautiful nature here and we sometimes forget it’s there because we’re working too hard.
“We were created to live in nature, not to live in cities. When people return to nature, violence tends to go down and well-being tends to go up. There is tremendous vitality in grass. We need to feel that.”
8 STRENGTHEN YOUR SOCIAL NETWORKS
When Craig Petty talks about social networks, he means in-person connections.
“Today, we have fewer good friends to turn to than in the past,” he says. That’s a shame because, “Loneliness has a detrimental effect on health.”
Petty of Blue Zones Project – Hawaii cites a 2016 study in the journal “Heart,” for example, which showed poor social relationships increased a person’s risk for stroke.
“Connections give us a sense of belonging, and belonging and connecting are important.” If you need more supportive friends in your life, try volunteering, he suggests. “Volunteering is really good because you are coming together for a common purpose to meet like-minded people.”