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Back to the Basics: Healthy Living During a Time of Crisis --Part 1

I know these are uncertain and scary times for everyone. America has been living with the novel coronavirus for a few weeks now, since it’s outbreak in China and subsequent spread globally. Many of you have been physically distancing yourselves or are on lock-down, per government mandates, based on where you live. Fear is immense, time is dragging, schools are closed, toilet paper is in short supply and memes are rampant.


And I trust that we can all agree: it is imperative that we comply with the rules and regulations to not only maintain our safety, but to protect those most vulnerable. This pandemic is affecting every single American, regardless of socioeconomic status, political affiliation, or life stage. Everyone is experiencing some sort of anxiety and/or loss.


While there are many difficulties to navigate as we all try to adapt to a new (and temporary) normal, we should allow this time of uncertainty to shift our perspectives. None of us chose these circumstances, but that doesn't meant that you can't choose a healthier lifestyle. In this slower time, let's set the intention of getting back to the basics of living well.


Let’s Talk Sleep


Did you know that sleep is as important to your overall health as what you eat and drink, and how you move your body?! For women, sleep is directly linked to menstrual health! Adults, those over the age of 18, require between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.


According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult is getting less than seven hours of sleep on workdays; 86 percent of adults aged 19 to 45 go to sleep later than 10 P.M. on weeknights; and only 34% report regularly feeling refreshed upon waking. We spend a third of our lives sleeping, yet the majority of us aren’t good at sleeping!


Sleep is an essential restorative and detoxifying process. While we sleep, our bodies regulate automatically. Which is to say, we should be more aware of our sleep and care more about promoting this natural phenomenon.


In an article released by the Mayo Clinic, Brent Bauer, M.D. reported “a lack of sleep can impact nearly every part of your body.” Thanks to research and the publication of many scholarly articles, we now know that sleep deprivation negatively affects reproduction, immune function, mood regulation, hormone balance, memory and appetite. Sleep deprivation puts you at a higher risk for developing diabetes, cancer, depression, obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease!


As a nurse who worked night shift for six years, I can safely say, I was doing my body a disservice working a graveyard shift. After taking a day shift position (some years later), I immediately noticed a difference in my overall wellness. It was quite literally, night and day!


Before I increase your already provoked anxiety levels, take a deep breath. Recognize you have some control here. You've got this. Your body already knows what to do.


We can significantly improve the quality and quantity of our sleep by making a few meaningful changes.


Here are six suggestions on how to create a better sleep routine:


  • Create a pre-bedtime routine. Go to bed, ideally, at the same time every day, ideally before 10pm. Be consistent. This may be difficult for parents with young children, but just as you create a bedtime routine for the little ones, you deserve one too. Consider incorporating essential oils, like lavender and cedarwood, into your routine by diffusing or applying topically to your neck; the scent alone will help calm you and prepare you for bed. Prayer, meditation, or even 5 minutes of gentle stretching can also contribute to improved sleep.

  • Reduce Blue Light exposure. Turn off TV’s, shut down computers and stop looking at your phone at least an hour before bed. Studies show that the exposure to blue light messes with our circadian rhythms.

  • Consider your sleep environment. What does your bedroom sanctuary look like? Seriously?! Is it cozy and inviting? If not, redecorate. Go buy an ultra cush mattress. Are you sleeping in complete darkness? No?! Go buy black out curtains! Your sleep environment is conducive to the sleep you will receive, so it’s worth the expense.

  • Soak up some sunshine & get exercise during the day. First thing when you wake up in the morning, go outside and expose yourself to sunshine; if you can't do that because you live in the Arctic north, use that artificial UV light. Being active during the day will help you sleep. 20-30 minutes of conscious movement per day is a great place to start.

  • Limit caffeine consumption. For a great night’s sleep and the best possible wellness, eliminating caffeine is the ultimate answer; however, that is a tall order (or is it a Venti? ha!). If nothing else, avoid afternoon caffeine consumption.

  • Consider supplementing with Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a key role in sleep and is naturally produced by your body. Sadly, as we age, our bodies produce less melatonin, which can contribute to sleep problems, especially in older adults. Be aware that it can cause daytime drowsiness, and it might also interact with other prescriptions, especially medications for diabetes and high blood pressure. So, before you incorporate this over-the-counter supplement into your bedtime routine, obviously for your safety, consult with your health-care provider about taking melatonin.


Now, go adjust your routine, and happy sleeping!

Let’s Talk Nourishment


Food is more important now than ever! No, I don’t mean in a hoarding, fear mentality way. Simply that food is medicine. Nourish your body by eating well during these uncertain times.


Let’s quickly review nutrition for a moment...and no, I’m not talking about the food pyramid we all grew up with….in fact, that has thankfully been updated.


Instead let’s focus in on the three main food groups (aka Macronutrients):

  • Carbohydrates. Carbs are the body’s go-to source of energy because they’re easy to break down. Made up of the sugars, starches, cellulose and fibers found in fruits, vegetables, and grains; carbs tend to be the largest portion of people’s diets. And this is fine, as long as you’re not following the Standard American Diet by primarily consuming 50% of your caloric intake from bread, pasta, cereals, and/or processed box foods. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “more than half of the population is meeting or exceeding total grain recommendations.” A good rule of thumb is to try your best to get carbs solely from whole foods (i.e. directly from the earth to your mouth). This is why vegetables should be the main source of carbohydrate intake for yourself!


  • Proteins are made up of one or multiple chains of amino acids. Protein is essential for building muscle mass. Protein is a key building block for our tissue and hormone function. It is necessary for virtually every cellular process in our bodies! Basically, there are 20 amino acids that the body uses to build all the proteins it requires; we make 12 of these on our own, but the other eight must come from our diets (aka the essential amino acids). Most people associate protein with animal meat, but proteins can come from plant sources as well (i.e. nuts and legumes). If you are a meat-based eater, it’s crucial that the meat in your diet comes from organic, grass-fed (or wild-caught), sustainably raised, hormone-free sources.


  • Fats. Long gone are the low-fat diets of the 90’s...at least, that’s my hope. Most people still believe fat is bad for you. Don’t be afraid of that full fat dairy! Did you know that hormones are produced from fat and cholesterol? And that adequate fat intake is necessary for optimal hormone levels? I digress. The body also uses fat as an additional energy source, to signal hunger, and regulate body temperature. According to MyFoodDiary, “Dietary fat is needed for the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.” There are two main types of fats: unsaturated (ex. olive oil, avocados, walnuts) and saturated (ex. butter, coconut & lard). Basically, avoid rancid fat (including processed oils like Canola, sunflower, corn and soy, and roasted nuts) and trans fat (i.e. fried foods).


So, focus on a variety of vegetables, wild-caught/organic proteins, healthy fats and fermented foods. Limit alcohol and sugar consumption.


Like I heard Brené Brown joke on her podcast, Unlocking Us, episode “Comparative Suffering…”:

During times of crisis, don’t subscribe to Buddy the Elf’s four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. -Brené Brown

Y’all, I know it’s hard. I’m 30 weeks pregnant. I'm definitely craving and probably ingesting too much sugar. I want all the ice cream and Reese's eggs, but eating too much fast food, sugar, pasta, and/or alcohol is going to cause inflammation in your body, ultimately reducing your immunity.


But nourishment goes beyond just food. Nourishment by definition means the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Nourishment extends into hydration, sex, nature, beauty/art.


So, weather permitting, get outside. Be creative...make art and seek out beauty. Eat kale! Etc. Etc.


Wishing you safety, health and wellness as we all continue to navigate these trying times. And as always...

May you continue to blossom in new ways!

-Justine


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