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Danielle Richardson

How to Be Healthier Now

4 easy tips you can implement today to start living a healthier lifestyle.

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BEING HEALTHY” IS ONE of those oversized goals we often leave to next week, next month, or next year. In celebration of this issue’s “How To” theme, I want to share easy swaps you can make to center your health now.

Most Americans live a sedentary lifestyle, with six in 10 adults suffering from a chronic disease like heart disease or diabetes. Beyond the physical, we know healthcare workers experience above-average rates of anxiety, depression and burnout. As busy clinicians and optical professionals, it can be challenging to find the time to think about our health and wellbeing in practical terms because we don’t always make the best patients.

We’re largely marketed an image of health that is a two-hour morning routine complete with a workout, meditation and balanced breakfast. But real health is not about how complicated you can make your mornings, it’s about creating habits and behaviors that help you feel well.

Below are some easy tips you can implement to start living a healthier lifestyle now.

Clearly Define Health Goals

Health, when left as an abstract concept, can be difficult to define. Instead, focus on your health goals and the intention behind them. Stress reduction? Lose weight? Gain muscle? Lower blood pressure? Spending some time clearly defining your health goals allows you to better focus your limited energy on the activities that will help you achieve them.

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Track Key Metrics

Taking the stairs is the oldest health advice in the book, but have you thought about tracking the steps using your smartphone? Using technology as a tool to track your health metrics can help keep you on track. Goal setting is key, but tracking your progress is equally important and provides a positive psychological impact to keep you motivated. You can use pre-installed health applications on your smartphone or download apps specific to tracking your movement. No matter what metric you use, monitoring progress through a health app can encourage you to make better choices throughout the day.

Choose the Healthier Side Item

When eating out, aim to order the healthier side 80 percent of the time. Think sautéed vegetables instead of fries, salad instead of garlic bread, grilled shrimp instead of fried. These small changes accumulate over time to create a new habit. Choosing a healthier option isn’t about deprivation, it’s about creating a strong foundation that allows you to indulge occasionally without hindering progress towards your goals.

Focus on Nutrition

While there are agreed upon vitamins and minerals that every person needs, the amount and types vary based on the individual. Consult with your primary care doctor or nutritionist to explore the resources available to help you learn about optimal nutritional requirements based on your specific health goals. Nutritional testing can provide insight and information about deficiencies you may have and what supplementation is most effective. In addition to personal consultations, many new health tech companies offer in-home nutritional testing and coaching. Individualized nutrition is the future of health and wellness because nutrition is the missing component for many in their journey to creating a healthier life.

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Dr. Danielle Richardson practices in Houston with Texas State Optical and runs a holistic wellness company, Fierce Clarity. She is a registered yoga teacher and hosts wellness retreats, yoga classes, and pop-up events for busy, professional women to help manage stress and avoid burnout. Follow her on Instagram at @fierceclarity

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Danielle Richardson

It’s Time to Take the Mind-Body Connection Seriously

No longer just a fringe New Age theory, science supports the positive benefits of mind-body therapies to minimize suffering and enhance wellbeing.

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THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION, once fringe New Age theory, has emerged as a bonafide medical phenomenon with evidence-based science to support it. Understanding the interconnectedness between our mental and physical states is especially useful for stress modulation.

Healthy stress, or eustress, keeps us productive, alert and upbeat. Unfortunately, modern life exposes us to ever more stimuli, increasing our points of contact with physical, mental and emotional stressors, leading to an overabundance of negative stress, or distress.

We know stress has a physiological effect on biological functions, but science is revealing the mind’s role in how we experience it. Neuroscientists led by Dr. Peter L. Strick, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute uncovered neurological data to support the theory of Mind-Body Connection. In the study, published in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences (Pnas), Strick, et. al. discovered several key neural networks that connect the cerebral cortex — particularly areas responsible for motor function — to the adrenal medulla, which is the area of the brain that produces our stress (or “fight or flight”) hormones. This could explain how mental states like stress, anxiety, and depression affect our body via neurotransmitters and offers a clue as to why bodily movement and exercise are a useful counterbalance to stress.

Scientists at The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an NIH affiliate, are studying mind-body therapies including yoga, meditation, hypnosis, tai chi and electromyogram biofeedback. With science exploring the power of mind-body therapies to minimize suffering and enhance well-being, perhaps it’s time for you to strengthen your Mind-Body Connection. Here are a few ways to get started:

Move Your Body

Western science is discovering that moving the body can ease stress and psychosomatic illnesses. Mind-body movement includes practices like yoga and tai chi, but also walking or dancing. Find fun and easy ways to prioritize movement as a part of your healthy living routine.

Viva Las Vagus!

The Vagus nerve is our 10th cranial nerve and the primary controller of the parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for our rest and digest responses. It’s the longest cranial nerve and modulates the psychophysiological connection between the brain, gut and internal organs. Yogis know that slow, deep, mindful breathing stimulates a parasympathetic response via the vagus nerve causing increased relaxation and decreased stress. This was confirmed by a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine which showed deep abdominal breathing reduced sympathetic activity while enhancing vagal activity. Consider a daily diaphragmatic breathing practice.

Remember Non-Physical Health

Health has mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Pay attention to the physical manifestation of mental experiences and emotions, such as “butterflies in the stomach” or “feeling hot headed.” Oftentimes, physical sensations are accompanied by mental and emotional fluctuations. Enlist a therapist, clergy person, meditation teacher or other trusted counselor to help you in this area.

MBSR Technique

If you want to go deeper, find a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in your area. Created in the 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, MBSR is an eight-week group course supported by peer reviewed, repeatable scientific evidence. Participants commit to 30-45 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation, mindful movement, and a weekly group class led by an MBSR certified instructor. The program has been shown to help participants better manage stress, anxiety, depression and chronic pain while improving general wellbeing.

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Danielle Richardson

Feel Like Your Wellness Routine Could Be Missing Something? It’s Probably Sleep

We spend nearly a third of our life sleeping, which makes getting quality sleep as essential as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

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WHEN YOU THINK OF your health and wellness, how often do you think of sleep? Chances are not often — but you should. Sleep is the newest frontier in wellness as public health consciousness continues to increase and we move to a more holistic idea of health. We spend nearly 1/3 of our life sleeping which makes getting quality sleep as essential as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The National Sleep Foundation defines quality sleep as occurring when you’re asleep within 30 minutes of laying down, wake no more than once, and sleep for at least 85 percent of the night. Unfortunately, quality sleep is an uncommon occurrence as the CDC reports a third of American adults experience poor or inadequate sleep on a regular basis. An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related problems or disorders, such as sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome. As a country, we need to get some rest!

Sleep deprivation increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and triples the risk for type 2 diabetes according to Johns Hopkins sleep researcher Patrick Finan, PhD. Those not getting adequate sleep suffer from a weakened immune system, irregular metabolism, and obesity secondary to increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Not limited to just the physical body, sleep deprivation can also manifest as cognitive impairment and/or mental health changes including depression, irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness, and brain fog. Poor quality sleep is far less recuperative, which causes us to not feel rested when do we wake up.

Sleep depends on a number of factors, our body’s internal regulating system is chief among them. Our Circadian Rhythm functions as the body’s biological clock and regulates the experience of alertness vs. sleepiness. This rhythm is sensitive to fluctuations in hormone levels, particularly cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol peaks in the morning allowing us to be alert and focused throughout the day. The secretion of melatonin — which helps us sleep — is highest at night.

These days, our minds are moving a mile a minute and we’re constantly on light-producing digital devices even though increased high-energy blue light exposure from devices decreases melatonin production and causes insomnia or sleeplessness. The disrupting culprits aren’t limited to devices though; increased stress, irregular work schedules, frequent jet lag, and sleep disorders can also disrupt our cycles.

The CDC recommends 7-9 hours of quality sleep for adults and more for teens and children. Here are some easy ways you can get better sleep tonight:

Build Consistency. It’s important to wake and head to bed around the same time each day — even on the weekends.

Use Sleep Monitoring Technology. Smartphones and wearable tech devices can help monitor the duration and quality of your sleep through downloadable applications and Bluetooth technology.

Sleep Habits. Limit screen time and diminish light sources in the bedroom. Additionally, use the automatic setting on your phone to warm the screen at night.

Bonus — Zen Out! Use essential oils or pillow sprays in scents like lavender as aromatherapy to help you sleep. Also consider meditation, light music, or other soothing sounds as a relaxing way to send yourself to bed.

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Danielle Richardson

Mindful Meditation for You and Your Patients

Studies show it can cure many chronic pain and anxiety conditions … even treat glaucoma!

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MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION ARE two words whose meanings depend on who you ask. So what is mindfulness meditation? Is it sitting still on a yoga mat? Is it repeating mantras in the Himalayan Mountains? Is it something totally different?

The answer is (drum roll please) … Yes! It is all those things and more. It is the practice of intentional, nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experiences, as defined by Dr. Dan Siegel, founding co-director of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

While this type of practice seems like a way of improving your mental health, the benefits extend to your physical self as well. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) technique was created in the 1970s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Since then, the Center for Mindfulness at the UMass Medical School has found success curing many chronic pain and anxiety conditions with mindfulness meditation.

More recently, a study published in the Journal of Glaucoma revealed this same MBSR meditation technique as an effective treatment for primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) when used over a 21-day period. The randomized study included 90 POAG patients and found the patients who meditated not only had lower intraocular pressure, but also significantly lower levels of the stress hormone Cortisol when compared to the control group. It’s time to consider beginning a mindfulness meditation practice of your own and perhaps making the recommendation to your patients.

I wholeheartedly believe in the power of meditation but don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself via one of the methods below.

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Video-Based Guided Meditation

A quick search for the keywords ‘guided meditation’ will yield a treasure trove of resources and online videos. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the results, I recommend starting with Dr. Dan Siegel’s guided mindfulness meditation.

App-Based Guided Meditation

Mobile applications like Headspace, Calm, and Omvana put the power of meditation in your pocket. You’re able to turn idle time into a chance to reconnect with yourself. Oprah and Deepak Chopra also have a “21-Day Meditation Experience” app focused on helping beginners develop a foundation.

IRL (In Real Life) Options

Many local yoga studios or healing centers offer meditation classes. Although these classes may lean towards the spiritual elements of meditation, they often provide an opportunity to receive in-person guided meditation in a space that’s welcoming and inviting. Additionally, mindful awareness practices like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong are effective in helping you achieve many of the same awareness benefits with a bit more movement.

Whether you choose to attend a yoga class, download an app, or watch a YouTube video — building a regular meditation practice can help you become mindful, improve focus, reduce stress, and achieve greater well-being. Happy meditating!

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