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New Year's Wellness

Achieving balance one step at a time

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New Year's Wellness

Many of us make New Year's resolutions to be healthy. How many of us keep those resolutions? This year, commit to taking simple steps to achieve balance in 2012.

Many of us make New Year's resolutions to be healthy. How many of us keep those resolutions? This year, commit to taking simple steps to achieve balance in 2012.

The start of the year seems to be a logical time for a renewed commitment to health. But if you’ve found yourself here before, trying to make the same resolutions year after year, you’re not alone. In fact, researchers report that many people dread making New Year’s resolutions because they fear they won’t be able to keep them based on negative results they had in the past. Many of us subconsciously set ourselves up to fail even before we take a single step to achieve our goal.

Defining wellness

Wellness is defined as “a healthy balance of the mind, body, and spirit that results in an overall feeling of well-being.” Achieving a healthy balance is possible by following simple steps. We examine major life areas where we can implement simple steps (forget about resolutions!) to create health and well-being in 2012. 

Nutritional wellness

Simple dietary changes are also an easy way to make an impact on wellness. The argument to go vegetarian has never been so compelling now that researchers recommend a meatless diet for the prevention and management of diabetes and cancer. However, many people may not be willing to make such a drastic transformation totheir diet.

Luckily, drastic changes are not required. Simply eating more vegetables from the cruciferous family can make a lasting impact on health. Broccoli, cauliflower, and kale have profound anticancer benefits for men and women. Studies suggest cruciferous vegetables help the liver break down estrogen, which in turn has powerful effects on breast cancer and confers a protective effect on prostate cancer recurrence.

Another way to increase wellness this year is by taking stock of your nutritional supplements. Taking a multivitamin is a great step toward wellness, as it provides nutritional insurance. For an active lifestyle, a multivitamin high in B vitamins can help with mild to moderate fatigue.

Fuel up

  • Eat cruciferous vegetables at least three times a week—try different varieties such as broccolini, bok choy, and watercress.
  • Take a multivitamin every day. 

Physical wellness

A commitment to exercise more—or to begin exercising—is probably the most important physical change you can make. The overall health benefits of exercise have been extensively researched and documented.

New research shows that it’s never too late to begin exercising, and even more significantly, age doesn’t have to erode your fitness level. Norwegian researchers studied the effects of treadmill running on 4,631 men and women who ranged in age from 20 to 90. Even for fit participants, peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) was the most important factor in determining cardiovascular risk factors. By ramping up the intensity of your exercise routine, you can lower your risk of stroke, cardiovascular problems, and type 2 diabetes.

A recent study from South Korea also found a direct relationship between moderate exercise and a lowered risk of cancer. Researchers found that individuals who participated in moderate exercise experienced a lower rate of malignancies and an overall protective effect from cancer.

Get moving

  • Begin by committing to 30 minutes of exercise each day in the form of a brisk walk.
  • Increase your fitness level by using 4x4 interval training. Follow four minutes of high-intensity exercise with four minutes of lower-intensity exercise; repeat three times.

Emotional wellness

This aspect of wellness focuses on an awareness and acceptance of our feelings about ourselves and our lives.

Being overscheduled and rushing from one activity to another seems to be the norm for many of us. But we each need to make time to slow down, breathe deeply, and enjoy some “me” time. Solitude, whether sitting quietly, reading a book, walking, or meditating, centres us and recharges our energy to meet the demands of daily life.

Although it may seem paradoxical, we also need good friends to lean on for emotional support. While women are known to share their feelings with others, men can find it difficult to be vulnerable with others. However, friends and support groups may not only offer peace of mind but may save lives as well.

Research has found that men with advanced prostate cancer showed reduced anxiety and fear of its recurrence when they participated in support and mindfulness groups. Reaching out to others is a good practice to keep in mind when you’re feeling down or just need a shoulder to lean on.

Get in touch

  • Gently remind yourself to practise optimism each day.
  • Connect with a friend at least once a month with whom you can talk about your most important concerns.

Intellectual wellness

To increase intellectual wellness and keep your memory sharp, make reading a habit and keep up-to-date with information. At some point or another, we’ve all misplaced our keys or forgotten exactly where our car was parked.

Practising crossword puzzles, visiting museums, or even playing card games can be helpful mind and memory boosters. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that individuals who read newspapers, walked, and practised other cognitive and physical exercises had a 64 percent lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease for each one point increase in cognitive activity than those who did not.

Sleep is an often overlooked contributor to intellectual (and physical) wellness. In another study conducted by the University of Chicago, volunteers were asked to listen to words played through a voice recorder. Later in the day when asked to recall the words, many found their ability to remember the words suffered. However, after a good night’s sleep most were able to recall the words they had forgotten. Scientists concluded that sleep allows the brain to consolidate new memories and repair memories that have been damaged.

Smarten up

  • Challenge yourself by doing the weekly crossword puzzle in the weekend newspaper.
  • Get seven to nine hours of sleep a night (yes, we know you’ve heard this before, but adequate sleep is essential for mental alertness, learning, and weight control, and to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes). 

Social wellness

We create social wellness by contributing our time and talents to the betterment of our community. The holidays provided us with the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. But connecting with others is an important part of wellness that is often neglected throughout the year.

Researchers have studied the simple ritual of the family dinner and found that more time spent at the table together can dramatically reduce adolescent behavioural problems. Committing to eating dinner together as a family as often as possible is a positive step toward social wellness.

Although we are pressed for time, taking the opportunity to give back to the community through the act of volunteering can bring tremendous wellness and fulfillment. When looking at the factors that affect life expectancy in Japanese adults, volunteerism and offering support to people helped to significantly prevent a decrease in physical function and even early death. By volunteering, we not only help others in need, but also reap immense benefits for our social wellness.

Connect

  • Eat dinner together as a family at least three times a week.
  • Find a cause you’re passionate about; commit to volunteering at least once a month.

Spiritual wellness

This aspect of wellness involves seeking meaning in one’s life and attempting to integrate one’s spiritual beliefs with one’s actions.

While most health care practitioners never write a prescription for spiritual practice for their patients, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry concludes that perhaps more of them should. Depressed patients who placed a high value on spiritual or religious practices in their lives experienced a protective effect against the recurrence of depression.

While everyone may not have structured religious associations, studies have found that even the simple act of mental silence can provide stress relief, ward off depressive feelings, and even significantly decrease chronic back pain.

A 15-minute session of meditation per day can bring about tremendous and lasting health benefits. However, mental silence can seem daunting since most of us keep our busy schedules and to-do lists constantly running through our minds. Allow yourself to sit comfortably on a chair and focus on your breath. Most meditation experts agree that if the mind wanders, gently bring the focus back to your breath. With regular practice, concentration and a sense of peace will come naturally.

Slow down

  • Engage in an activity that reconnects you to spiritual wellness each week such as taking a walk in the forest or by a body of water.
  • Take time to meditate 15 minutes a day; use deep breathing techniques and enjoy the sense of relaxation.

This year wellness can be achieved in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s meditating for a few minutes each day, connecting more with loved ones, exercising regularly, or taking a new supplement, setting goals to achieve wellness requires only a few simple steps.

The key to lasting healthy change is to incorporate one step at a time rather than becoming overwhelmed with unrealistic resolutions.

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