When we talk about health, we tend to think diet, exercise, and your friend’s latest proclamation of some fantastic new life-changing supplement. We are all bombarded with the latest and greatest all the time, and it always seems to come down to being told that you must be doing things very differently from the way you are currently doing things. While there isn’t anything overtly wrong with that, we often overlook the small stuff.
The simplest things can have an enormous and impactful long-term benefit on our health. They almost seem trivial and easily forgotten while we sweat through gruelling workouts and count our calories and carb intake.
Perhaps if we brought a little math to these little things, it might help illustrate the efficacy of simple acts. Think of each act as the numeral 1. Doing one of these simple acts once doesn’t seem like much, but do it every day for a year, and suddenly it becomes 365 acts of nourishment and kindness to you and your health journey.
So, whether you choose only to do one or many of these suggestions and you decide to give it a try consistently, take a moment to consider the cumulative effect on your health. The best part of these boosters is that they are free, don’t need any special equipment, and nobody needs to know. It’s like going into stealth health optimisation mode.
‘Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification”
Martin H Fischer
1. Breathe before and during a meal
Adequate and optimal digestion occurs when we activate our Parasympathetic Nervous System or Rest and Digest state. A quick and effective way to do this is through a breathing technique known as diaphragmatic breathing. By activating our vagus nerve (aka *pneumogastric nerve), we are helping our body get into a state of relaxation, which means our blood flow, heart, lungs, and digestive organs can work on our food in the best possible way. When we are stressed, we activate our Sympathetic Nervous System, which moves resources away from our digestive system to our extremities and places our brains on high alert. We effectively go into an emergency state and are ready for action. Digesting a meal is not essential and more of a hindrance, as the objective is to get food out of the system as quickly as possible and shortcut the nutritional absorption.
*(pneumo = lungs & gastric = stomach)
2. Chew your food
Following on from breathing, chewing is a critical factor that influences digestion. We should chew each bite for around 30 seconds before swallowing as a rule of thumb. For those of you who have reached out to that biscuit next to your tea and are now chewing for 30 seconds – you are probably thinking, ‘that’s insane!’. If you are eating highly processed foods, there will probably not be much left in your mouth after 30 seconds. Highly processed foods very seldom have fibre, and we need fibre! Also, some enzymes help digest and break down food (especially carbs) in our saliva; these then react with other enzymes in our stomach, which further help digestion. By skipping or skimping on the chewing part, we put undue strain on our stomachs, leading to indigestion, gas, bloating, and even leaky gut syndrome.
3. Move more
I feel like this point has been flogged to death already, and you may have rolled your eyes when you saw this. Unfortunately, it is a goody, and as prolific as this tip may be, it cannot be overlooked or ignored. If all you can do is stand up and stretch at your desk every 30 min, then do that, but try as much as you can to MOVE MORE!
4. Eat at least one green vegetable every day
Green vegetables are like that small gun Will Smith gets in MIB. It seems ineffective and boring, but boy does it pack a punch. Dark leafy greens are beneficial in purifying our blood, improving circulation, strengthening the immune system, improving the liver, gall bladder and kidney function, and so much more. (Dynamite truly does come in small packages when it comes to green veggies)
5. Get a plant
There is so much to say about this, but let’s keep it simple. Not only does it help freshen the air around you, but if you manage to keep it alive and flourishing, you will (and I speak from personal experience) feel like a champion (cue Chariots of Fire background music). It looks good and connects you with nature. If you are stuck in an office all day, that little glimpse of the beautiful nature you are caring for can be the highlight of your day.
6. Make your bed
I am not talking Marie Kondo tidy here, and if you are a messy person by nature, start with just making your bed every day. Moms across the planet are nodding their heads at this. There is even a navy big gun who says it’s one of the secrets to success. (A gazillion moms and the navy seals can’t all be wrong). It’s not just about making the bed; the act of tidying and organising follows through to your thoughts and has a similar effect on your brain waves. (If you are interested in what the navy guy had to say – he wrote a book: Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World by William McRaven. I haven’t read it yet, but I make my bed every day and think there is merit to the title alone).
7. Make a decision
I am sure you make decisions all day long, but we are talking about you and your health. So, for today, make a decision about yourself and stick with it. Today you can decide:
– I am beautiful
– I am where I am meant to be
– I am worthy
– I have a great smile
– I am strong
Make it about you, make it positive and believe it.
This may take some practice as we are often not as direct about what we think or believe about ourselves unless negative. We feel guilty or think it makes us vain, which is not our goal. As humans, we react to positive and negative feedback on a molecular level, and our internal feedback is even more acute. You are literally destroying cells in your body every time you engage those negative thoughts.
(If you want to understand this on a deeper level, I highly recommend you read Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton).
8. Do a Swop Out
Identify one food item or activity that may be contributing to your health issues and swap it out for something that helps optimise your health. Let’s say you eat a choc chip muffin with your morning coffee every day from the local garage on your way to work (and breathe – that’s a very long sentence). What can you swap that out with that is a healthier option? The idea is not to deny you your morning snack, just optimise the opportunity. If you aren’t ready to give up on baked yumminess, consider making your own over the weekend and using more fibrous flour, dark chocolate, less sugar or healthier sugar and less salt. Same thing, just you did the quality control and know that you put the best ingredients in – (your blood pressure and gut will thank you!).
9. Cook extra
Cooking a little extra for dinner and then taking it for lunch the next day is another powerful secret weapon. Being prepared with so little extra effort needs to have an award or some formal recognition. It saves you time in the morning, avoids you having to starve yourself because you didn’t have time to organise lunch and avoids that oh so alluring temptation of buying junk food, so there is the money being saved as well.
10. Take the scenic route
Whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself – take it. If you don’t have to rush home and there is a less congested route, more calming and beautiful, choose that one. Take that one if you are walking to your appointment from the parking lot and there is a route through the garden.
These actions can seem so arbitrary that we would hardly mention them. They aren’t the kinds of things we sit down at a coffee date with our friends and gush about how we drove the ‘long way’ home from work on Thursday and saw the most amazing garden with flowers in full bloom. You are more likely to hear a confused ‘okay, that’s a bit weird’ than an “OMG! I also did that, and it was awesome”, but it does not take away from the fact that as trivial as they may seem, we don’t do it, and we most certainly don’t appreciate the impact they have on our health. These small things add up and build toward a happier and healthier you.
I challenge you to try just one for a while. No, you won’t suddenly lose 10kg, you won’t suddenly be healed of anything, but maybe, just maybe, you may have a moment of happiness, a moment of less gas or a moment of calm and that, my friends, is priceless and everlasting.
Like ‘creeping obesity, these stealth health tips have a more positive connotation ‘creeping healthiness’. Try them out and enjoy the rewards.