Prescriptions are sometimes necessary, but they don’t improve your overall health, unless, of course, the prescriptions are for healthy lifestyle changes. In fact, some of the best things for your health aren’t sold at a pharmacy and don’t require an investment of money. Let’s look at nine factors that contribute to health and don’t require a prescription.
What are you grateful for? It’s easy to get caught up in the details and obligations of daily life that you forget to count your blessings. Research shows that being grateful and expressing gratitude improves mental and physical health. For example, people who are grateful report fewer aches and pains and are more likely to have the stamina and motivation to take care of their health. Research even shows that people who express gratitude are less angry and aggressive and have a healthier self-esteem. One way to express gratitude in your daily life is to keep a gratitude journal. Write down five things every day that you’re grateful for and think of them throughout the day.
Sunlight lifts the spirits. In fact, there’s a common condition called seasonal affective disorder where people feel down and depressed when the days shorten, and they get less sunlight. Plus, sunlight raises vitamin D, a hormone-like vitamin that’s important for immune and bone health but also for feeling your best. Most people spend too much time indoors, which is harmful to health. Make time for at least one walk per day during daylight hours, even if you do it on your lunch hour.
According to the World Health Organization, 4.2 million deaths worldwide are related to poor air quality. Air pollution increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and aggravates some lung conditions. Plus, indoor pollution, due to cooking fumes, fumes from cleaning products, formaldehyde off-gassing from fiberboard, and other chemicals can make indoor air quality worse than it is outdoors. If possible, live in an area where the air is clean and consider getting an air filter to filter the air in your home.
Studies show people who sleep less than 6 hours per night have a higher mortality rate. Plus, people with diabetes or hypertension have double the odds of dying when they get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Sleep quality matters too. If you toss and turn at night, your sleep quality will suffer. If that’s the case, see your clinician. Health problems such as sleep apnea and certain medications can make it harder to fall and stay asleep.
Make sleep a priority and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to establish a schedule your body can prepare for. Make sure there’s no light in your bedroom when you turn in too. Light can disrupt the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps bring on sleep.
Most people breathe too quickly and shallowly. Doing this, decreases the quantity of carbon dioxide in your blood, raises blood pH, and can trigger anxiety and worsen stress. The antidote for superficial breathing is abdominal breathing, where you expand not just your chest but your abdomen when you inhale. If you’re breathing correctly when you place a hand on your upper tummy and one on your chest, the hand on your abdomen should rise higher with each breath. This helps normalize carbon dioxide and correct the change in your blood pH so you feel more relaxed and less anxious. Many stress-related issues can be improved by learning how to breathe properly.
Engage with Others
Studies show that people who have close social ties with others and engage with them on a regular basis are physically healthier and happier. Socializing with others and cultivating friendship is even more important as people grow older. Studies show that being social enhances brain health and promotes longevity. Don’t isolate yourself from others. Even if you have to limit social interaction during periods of social distancing, maintain contact with others on the phone and online. It’s that important.
Learn New Things
When you learn new things, your brain forms new connections. This offsets brain atrophy, the loss of brain mass and function, due to aging. Two of the best activities that enhance brain health is learning a new language or learning to play a new instrument. Studies show that people who speak more than one language develop Alzheimer’s at a later age and have better brain function even if they do get it. Playing an instrument forces your brain to think in new ways too. The key is to learn something in an entirely new field or area that’s unfamiliar to you. Take a new class in a subject you’ve never explored before and you’ll give your brain added protection against aging.
It’s no secret that movement is good for your mind and body. In fact, exercise has benefits for every organ in the body, not just your heart. It improves brain health by sprouting new nerve connections and improves the way blood vessels function for better oxygen delivery and a lower risk of stroke and vascular dementia. Make sure to include regular movement throughout your day and take at least one 30-minute walk daily.
Connection with Nature
Nature is healing! Studies show immersing yourself in nature lowers blood pressure and heart rate while relieving stress. It has these effects by activating the parasympathetic, or rest and relax, nervous system. Plus, trees produce natural chemicals called phytoncides that have a beneficial effect on immune function. Take outdoor breaks and when you’re inside, open the blinds or curtains to let more natural light in. Take a walk in the woods when you have a chance. It’s a good way to escape and breathe in phytoncides.
- Psychology Today. “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude”
- com. “How Lack of Sleep May Lead to an Early Death”
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- Ming Kuo. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in Psychology, 2015; 6 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01093.
- com. “Learning a Second Language Protects Against Alzheimer’s”