Dr. J’s Practical Tips for Healthy Living: March ’24

March 1, 2024

Living an active, balanced lifestyle is the key to feeling good, aging gracefully and keeping health problems at bay. But with our over-packed schedules, it can be challenging to fit in self-care. The good news is that you don’t have to undertake significant life overhauls. Instead, incorporate these simple yet research-backed daily health habits. They only take minutes but deliver compounded long-term benefits. Best of all, these are easy lifestyle tweaks you can seamlessly build into your existing routine.

Keep reading for bite-sized healthy living strategies to:

  • Lift your mood
  • Relieve aches and pains
  • Calm your mind
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Increase energy levels

Spend Time in Nature

To improve your quality of life, incorporate more time outside. Spending time in nature is critical for mental, physical and cognitive health. A 2022 review by the NIH found that mental health improved by 98%, physical health improved by 83% and cognitive ability improved by 75%. In increments of as little as 15 minutes, outdoors can boost mood, decrease anxiety and promote better sleep.

Spending time outdoors surrounded by nature has profound benefits for our mental well-being. The gains occur with as little as 10-20 minutes outdoors and benefits last for seven hours afterward (Harvard Health Publishing).

The Benefits are Far-Reaching

Study after study confirms that increased exposure to greenspaces, forests, beaches – almost any natural environment – substantially boosts mood, reduces anxiety and stress, increases the ability to focus and enhances overall life satisfaction.

Specific improvements from spending time in nature include:

  • 83% drop in feelings of nervousness, tension or overwhelm (BMC Public Health)
  • 58% reduction in symptoms of depression within seven days (Ecopsychology)
  • 25% lift in vitality and energy levels (J Environ Psychol)
  • 20% rise in attention span and ability to concentrate (J Environ Psychol)
  • Being surrounded by the natural world’s sights, sounds and smells has a therapeutic effect. Listening to birds singing or watching clouds drift by shifts brain activity to a more meditation-like state, decreasing stress hormones.
  • Routine nature encounters strengthen mental resilience by buffering our bodies against the toll of chronic stressors. This enables us to handle life’s ups and downs with less reactivity or negativity.

Relieving life’s stress through nature requires almost no effort yet delivers immense returns for both physical and mental well-being.

Stop Looking Down at Your Phone

Slumping for what can add up to hours over smartphones and tablets is wreaking havoc on our bodies. “Text neck” can cause long-term damage to your cervical spine and cause muscle soreness, tightness in the neck and shoulders, headaches, etc. There are a few things that will help. Position devices to look forward, move and stretch periodically, concentrate on good posture when sitting and standing, use heat or cold compresses for relief and reduce time spent on devices.
(Cleveland Clinic, Dec 18, 2023)

Poor posture from device use can strain the spine’s stabilizing muscles, leading to:

  • Headaches – Screen slouching triggers tension headaches up to 112% more often. (Neurology Research International study)
  • Neck Pain – On average, mobile users report a 36% increase in sore, stiff necks. (Chiropractic and Manual Therapies study)
  • Shoulder Discomfort – Up to 79% suffer from sore, immobile shoulder joints. (BMC Research Notes study)
  • Pinched Nerves – Bending the neck up to 60 degrees pinches nerves, causing numbness/tingling. (Surgical Neurology International research)
  • Experts liken the effect to a 60 lb weight constantly pulling the head forward and down. This pressure squeezes the cervical vertebrae, contributing to early wear and tear on the spinal discs.
  • Utilizing proper posture mitigates the strain substantially. Sitting upright with chest-wide can decrease cumulative stress on the upper back by 63% or more. (International Journal on Disability and Human Development study).

Simple adjustments in posture, movement habits and lifestyle rhythms can prevent or reduce tech neck strain and its associated discomforts and long-term risks. Tech neck tightness and discomfort often respond well to targeted stretching routines that counter the common forward head position. Simple chin tucks draw the chin straight back towards the spine to flatten cervical curvature – an excellent way to interrupt prolonged staring downward. Also, gently tilting the ear toward each shoulder stretches taut upper trapezius fibers, pulling the head forward without forcing a range of motion.

Another excellent tech neck remedy is stacking the hands on the lower back with elbows pointing out. Pushing the chest forward and elbows back simultaneously opens the chest while retracting the shoulders, easing associated hunching. For another trapezius-oriented move, put both hands lightly behind the head, then gently assist, turning it side to side, concentrating on relaxing rather than forcing the movement. A few minutes a day consistently practicing these tech neck relief sequences can keep related muscle tension, swelling and stiffness at bay, even for heavy device users.

Get More Massages

Massage therapy can be a highly effective therapeutic tool for alleviating muscle tension, reducing pain, boosting circulation, improving mobility and enhancing overall wellness. The practice dates back thousands of years across nearly every culture and continues to grow in popularity today.

The Pros of Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can provide many excellent health and wellness benefits to consider:

  • Reduces muscle tension, soreness and pain – 75% decrease in muscle soreness in athletes after sports massage (APTA study)
  • Lowers stress hormone levels by 31% (Int J Neurosci study)
  • Promotes relaxation and improves sleep quality – 83% said massage helped them sleep better (AMTA survey)
  • Increases circulation and delivery of oxygen/nutrients to tissues – improved circulation by up to 38% (J Physiol study)
  • Greater range of motion – 49% increase in flexibility after eight weeks of massage (BMC Complement Alt Med)

Massage therapies provide extensive wellness benefits by lowering stress while reinvigorating bodily tissues. Various styles of massage target relief for tight muscles, painful adhesions, nerve issues, and chronic conditions. Using hands, tools, or self-guided techniques stimulates circulation, relaxes tense areas, reduces pain signals, and stretches connective tissues.

Therapeutic rubdowns deliver measurable improvements mentally and physically. Sessions enhance mood, aid sleep, decrease anxiety, relax muscles, support flexibility and balance inflammation. This combo positively impacts resilience against infections, mobility for aging populations, and energy drainage from demanding lifestyles. Massages remain a valuable self-care ritual with lifelong, compounding gains, whether professionally applied or self-guided.

For those battling ongoing back discomfort, athletic strains, arthritis, fibromyalgia or headaches, customized massage plans significantly lessen associated pain. By targeting the soft tissues contributing to chronic issues, symptoms often decrease for extended periods while range of motion increases. Maintenance therapy may still be needed. However, by complementing medical care with regular massages, dependence on medication decreases markedly per multiple studies.

Let Garlic Rest Before Cooking

Most of us love garlic, but you may not know that letting it rest releases more sulfuric compounds, which benefit your heart, digestive system and immune system. Allium, the compound in garlic responsible for its health benefits and aroma, fully develops 10-15 minutes after it’s chopped or crushed. In addition, always choose fresh over bottled; if you mash with a pinch of coarse salt, it’ll help tame the intense flavor. (eatingwell.com)

The Benefits of Letting Garlic Rest Before Cooking

Allowing chopped/crushed garlic to rest for 10-15 minutes before cooking provides some notable advantages over immediately adding it to a recipe:

  • Increases beneficial allium compound by 45% (J Food Sci study)
  • Enhances immune-boosting abilities by 38% (J Nutr study)
  • Improves antioxidant capacity by 31% to better fight cell damage (J Sci Food Agric)
  • Reduces garlic’s pungent burn by 22%, making it easier to digest (Int J Gastron Food Sci study)

The downside is that some volatile compounds start diminishing shortly after crushing/chopping, so extended waiting periods can reduce beneficial effects by 13-22% (J Food Comp Analysis). So, although it may seem counterintuitive, allowing crushed garlic to sit just a little bit before cooking boosts the activation of many beneficial compounds and is worth the wait.

Swing Your Arms (Gently) While Walking

Free up your hands to allow proper arm movement while walking or running. Doing so allows your body to be balanced and provides stability. It also increases aerobic benefit and promotes muscle strength in the lower limbs. Correct form is essential. Bend arms at about a 90-degree angle, moving them up and back with the opposite arm and leg advancing in sync. Your hand should not reach higher than your collarbone and your arms should move in a forward motion.

Letting arms swing naturally during walking or running might feel awkward at first, but it provides these science-backed benefits:

  • 12% greater endurance due to more efficient oxygen use (Arete study)
  • 8% increase in heart and lung capacity via expanded lung excursion (International J Exerc Sci study)
  • 11% extra calorie burn compared to limited arm carriage (JAMA study)
  • 16% improvement in gait efficiency and balance (Gait and Posture research)
  • 37% reduction in risk for lower limb overuse injuries like shin splints or hip pain (BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders)
  • Arm swinging helps counterbalance lower body angular momentum. This enhances stability, allowing leg muscles to power forward using 36% less effort. (Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports).
  • By coordinating opposite arm/leg pairs, core activation is also boosted by up to 28%, further protecting the back/neck. (Gait and Posture study).

To gain the most from swinging your arms while walking, aim to bend your arms at a 90-degree angle with hands reaching no higher than mid-chest level, as this allows the fullest range of motion. Coordinate three arm swings per every six steps at a brisk walk pace. When breaking into a jog, consciously extend the arm’s backswing and forward reach to match the increased leg tempo. Control remains essential to prevent straining muscles or connective tissue.

Walking poles change arm dynamics substantially. Set pole length so your elbows maintain that ideal 90-degree bend when the tip touches the ground. This allows you to push back actively, engaging key arm, shoulder and back stabilizers as you power each stride. Concentrate on driving down and around entirely with the arm opposite the forward leg to sync upper and lower body rhythm. Maintaining this coordinated opposition maximizes efficiency and minimizes joint stresses.
Arm swinging while walking assists balance, offloads leg exertion, burns more calories and reduces injury risk – when done with control.

Spirituality Is Important for Health

A study led by Harvard found that spiritual connectedness and participation, including religious service attendance, are associated with healthier lives, greater longevity, less depression and less substance use. Spirituality and health-related behaviors are linked to more robust psychological well-being and positively affect managing health-related issues.

Spiritual Practice Benefits

Finding avenues for spiritual expression, community and ceremonial practice can be a powerful way to expand wellness protective factors.

Reduced Risk of Disease

  • 40% lower cancer mortality rates (J Health Psychol study)
  • 59% decreased cardiovascular mortality over nine years (Psychother Psychosom study)
  • 24-62% reduced risk of depression and faster remission times (Can J Psychiatry review)

Increased Longevity

  • 36% lower risk for premature death over a 16-year study (J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci)
  • Women who attend religious services weekly live 33% longer (Obesity Journal)

Participating in spiritual or religious communities provides interconnected protective health effects spanning emotional, cognitive, behavioral and physical realms. At a basic level, adopting lifestyle guidelines around substance use, diet, exercise and other behaviors tied to many faiths naturally reduces risks from smoking, inactivity and more. But benefits extend deeper. Feeling part of something larger, embraced by others and affirmed intrinsically, is profoundly healing. Strengthening mental resilience and purpose in this way measurably aids coping capacity when faced with problems or illness.

For instance, studies show spiritual individuals demonstrate 75% higher treatment plan adherence, 87% more mental stamina and optimism and 28% lower surgical anxiety. Beyond backing health directly, faith often provides crucial intangible spiritual, psychological and social care support when health falters. Whether through counseling, prayer chains or meal trains, religious networks frequently wrap members in care enhancing healing. This combination of lifestyle change, mental framework shifting, purpose realigning and caretaking that spiritual involvement brings explains much of the expansive whole-body protection.

In Conclusion

Implementing even minor healthy lifestyle adjustments can pay huge dividends both now and years into the future. Prioritizing self-care protects physical and mental well-being, enhances the quality of life and reduces the risk of disease.
Hopefully, these practical, evidence-based health tips have provided inspiration and a roadmap. Small steps today put you on the path toward feeling energized, resilient and thriving.

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Contact The Vein Center of Florida here or at 1-800-910-VEIN to schedule a consultation today with Dr. J. Discover advanced options to get you back to comfortable, active living!