5 Steps for a Healthier, Happier You in the New Year

There it is folks. You can see whole health is more of a cascade than just steps in isolation. It involves a whole mind, body, spirit approach, five phases to taking control of your health and your happiness.
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"Who is the expert on your health?" Most of my patients answer 'my mom', 'my wife' or 'you' (me the PA). This is common mindset today. We believe that someone else is in charge of our health and can fix us when we're chronically ill. Yes, we can fix a heart attack or broken bone, but chronic issues like diabetes, obesity and anxiety are actually within your control.
The truth is, we're not experts of YOUR health. We're experts of populations of people with your condition. Healthcare professionals are here to partner with you and help navigate your disease when necessary. Ultimately, you're the one in charge. This autonomy can be transformational. When you're ready to dedicate time towards health and happiness, here are five steps to get you there.

1. Food
Food is the gateway drug to everything healthy. When you change your food, you feel better, your energy and confidence increases, you play more, worry less, your skin glows, your bowels move, the weight starts falling off. After just a few wholesome, delicious meals, you feel an immediate difference in your body and mind. The first step is easy, make the choice, then you just have to set your intention.

Like Michael Pollan says, "Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants". If you stop eating fast, convenient food, food from boxes and bags, you're on your way. Shop the periphery of the grocery stores, natural food isles or try your local farmers market. Try cooking a big batch of brown rice, quinoa, lentils or black beans then simply add roasted veggies or try Meatless Mondays. Baby steps are key. Then once you get more energy, you'll be motivated to...

2. Move and Exercise
Once you start feeling better with energy-infusing food, you'll find that movement is the natural next step. Movement lifts depression, reduces stress and anxiety, increases productivity, helps with addiction and boosts confidence. Exercise can be as simple as taking the stairs or walking the dog 30-minutes a day, starting small leaves you wanting more. Getting outside is best as it increases BDNF, a protein that improves brain function. You feel so great after a good sweat and workout, which leads your body and mind to crave more quality...

3. Sleep
I love that Arianna Huffington calls herself a sleep evangelist and named it a 'big idea of 2016.' Once your body and mind feel better from a healthier diet and increased exercise, it will be ready to hit the sack. Sleep is imperative to optimal health and an integral phase of the whole health cascade. Your brain gets a nightly cleanse of your neurons during sleep leading to better memory function, focus and learning. High quality sleep helps your skin, your mood, and your sex life! Again baby steps are key. Try removing technology from the bedroom, getting blackout curtains, aromatherapy, or eye-masks. Also, avoid alcohol or caffeine a few hours before bed. Once you're well-rested, well-exercised, bright eyed and feeling damn good, you'll realize you might need more stillness leading to...

4. Meditation
I never believed in meditation, mindfulness or keeping still for longer than two seconds. But over the last three years, I found time for stillness in my life which has changed it dramatically. The barriers to sleep that keep us up at night also keep us ON all the time. Russell Simmons says, "If you don't have 20 minutes to meditate, you need 2 hours". The benefits abound including increased happiness, less stress and anxiety, better brain function, increased self-acceptance, healthier relationship patterns, and increased creativity. Not to mention, it's free anti-aging medicine actually making you look younger! You can try walking meditation, dish washing meditation, 5-minutes an hour in the bathroom without any distractions meditation, the list is endless. Anytime you unplug from outside stimulus, focus on your breath and present moment, you're practicing mindfulness. Meditation also helps to recognize that we're all in this together which leads us to...

5. Community
Community is the most powerful medicine. Having people who love you, who you can lean on, who lift you up, catch you when you fall, laugh and cry with you, or simply listen to you ramble is so incredibly important to health and happiness. The town of Roseto, Pennsylvania modeled this pillar of health. They smoked, drank wine, ate lard-fried pork and beef, loads of pasta, worked in slate mines, yet had half the rate of heart disease compared to the rest of the U.S, and no suicides or peptic ulcers. Their secret? An unbreakable sense of community, leaving no one left to suffer alone. They loved their tribe and in response, lived long, healthy, happy lives. When you open your heart and mind, you realize that we are all here together with the same wants and needs. So get out there, open yourself up to the world. Try joining a meetup, starting a supper club or book exchange or attend a language class. Leave judgment and expectations at the door and I think you'll be surprised by what you find.

There it is folks. You can see whole health is more of a cascade than just steps in isolation. It involves a whole mind, body, spirit approach, five phases to taking control of your health and your happiness. It's simple and straight forward, but takes self-awareness, work, and some discomfort, since we are creatures of habit. Ready to take charge of your health and well-being? If so, welcome to the year of self-health and a happier, healthier you!