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Tips for Healthy Living I Give to My Patients

There are a few fundamental principles I impart regularly to my patients, and so since I have come to see all of my readers as a regular part of my clinic family, I would like to similarly impart these principles to you.
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I know I usually discuss research studies done about a health topic, but this month, I find myself wanting to impart general health tips to you that I typically give to my patients. I've always noticed in my clinic that my patients tend to be more motivated in making healthy lifestyle changes once spring and summer start, so I would like to take this opportunity to see we can help you tackle your health goals with some of the same concepts we talk about in my integrative medicine clinic in San Jose, Calif.

There are a few fundamental principles I impart regularly to my patients, and so since I have come to see all of my readers as a regular part of my clinic family, I would like to similarly impart these principles to you.

First, be proactive in your health care, both in conventional medicine and alternative healthcare options. Many of my patients, when they first come to me in my clinic, are used to waiting for their doctors to tell them how their health is. And if they haven't heard from their doctor, they assume that everything is fine. In my process of working with the patients, I help them to recognize that you have to be proactive in making sure your health is fine. The key idea is to know for a fact that you are fine and not just think you are fine. For example, if you got lab work done, you should call the office or make a follow-up appointment to go over the nuances of the lab. Many patients will wait for a call, assuming that if anything is wrong, they will be contacted. Many borderline issues -- or unfortunately, major issues -- fall through the cracks that way. So my first word of advice is to always make an appointment to specifically follow up with your doctor on all labs and imaging tests that you get done -- don't just wait for them to contact you.

Second, it's the little day-to-day things you do that ultimately affect your health the most. Most of my patients like to say that their unhealthy habits are rarely done. They always say "it's just once in a while" that these unhealthy habits occur. But when we sit down to really look at the situation more closely, they realize that the unhealthy habits are in fact occurring regularly enough to affect their health in a negative way. For example, if you smoke or drink alcohol heavily twice a week, it may not seem like a lot per week, but when you calculate out how many days in a year you are doing that, it averages out to about 105 days per year that you are drinking heavily or smoking. There are studies that show that habits of even a few days in a week or year may have significant impact on your health. Similarly, when patients look at weight loss, we talk about how just cutting out one to two bad foods from your diet can lead to significant weight loss. The important thing to keep in mind is that how you treat your body on a daily basis is what matters the most. So, the little habits that you do daily will have the most lasting health effects -- good or bad is up to you.

Third, our mood and thoughts do in fact affect our overall health. It's been seen in some epidemiological studies that people who are positive and curious about life tend to live longer. I always tell my patients that what happens in our mind doesn't just affect our head, but it triggers a cascade of events in our entire body. People who are constantly anxious or depressed can have higher levels of inflammatory chemical levels in the body, and it stresses out your thyroid and adrenal function as well. Usually the mood issues affect cycles in our bodies, like our menstrual cycle, as well as our circadian rhythm. So, it's very important that you see your mental health as something just as important as your physical health because if you don't, your mental health will eventually affect your physical health.

Fourth, our social and physical environment has a huge impact on our health. People with allergies know just how important our physical environment affects us because they feel it in their allergy symptoms. But for those of you without allergies, just keep in mind that what you are exposed to in your environment does in fact affect your physical health. Heavy metal toxicities, allergens in your home and carpet, poisonous gases in your car or garage... all of these things may be affecting your health and you may not be aware of it. I recently saw a patient with non-specific dizziness, fatigue and nausea. We ended up finding out that he has had heavy metal exposures through a leaking gas line in his car and that his symptoms improved once he had his car fixed. We also see in studies that people with strong social support networks and pets are in general healthier. So keep in mind that maybe you should regularly evaluate your social and physical environment around you, and if it's not safe and healthy, then maybe you need to put some time and effort into adjusting it -- your body and mind will ultimately thank you for the time you invest in that endeavor.

Finally, my last tip for you is to always make time for yourself. I find that many of my patients are loving, selfless individuals who tend to spend a great deal of time caring for others, all at the expense of their own health. I applaud all acts of altruism, but I caution you to remember that even on airplanes, they suggest securing your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. The concept is true that if you are not well, how can you effectively take care of those around you who need you? I tell my patients to always make it a priority that you do something for yourself daily, preferably in taking the time to exercise, make healthy food for yourself, or do an activity that brings you joy and light in your life. So, don't just pencil yourself into your daily planner, make sure that you allot time for yourself in indelible pen in your daily planner. When you put off your health or mental/emotional needs too long, inevitably your body will let you know just how bad of an idea that was.

Just remember, you should always make time to sleep, eat healthily, exercise, dance, listen to joyful sounds or music, and enjoy the wonderful people and pets in your life. When you keep these things top on your to-do list, you'll find that you'll always be healthy enough to keep up with all the demands of your busy life. I hope that you'll keep this in mind to always make your health a priority so that you can keep helping those around you stick to a healthier lifestyle as well.

For more by Julie Chen, M.D., click here.

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