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5 Powerful Spring Resolutions

by Dr. Sarah Cimperman, ND

New Year’s Day isn’t the only time for resolutions. We should always be striving to improve ourselves. If you aren’t already, start now. Spring is a season of new beginnings and it’s the perfect time to make positive changes to your diet and lifestyle. Whether you want to feel better, look better, or set a better example to inspire loved ones to make much-needed changes themselves, these five resolutions will help you kick-start a commitment to revitalize your physical, mental, and emotional health.

#1 Eat More Green Vegetables

Vegetables are good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and the green varieties are also particularly rich in chlorophyll, a compound that reduces the absorption of environmental toxins and facilitates their removal from the body. Research studies show that toxic chemicals in our environment begin to accumulate inside our bodies before we’re even born and the older we get, the more toxins we contain. Up to 232 different chemicals have been detected in cord blood from newborn infants and 493 toxins have been found in people of all ages. Detox is the removal of these toxins and it’s like spring-cleaning for the body.

Make green vegetables half of every meal. When you can’t eat organic, avoid the Dirty Dozen most contaminated vegetables including celery, cucumbers, and leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens. Chose instead from the Clean Fifteen least contaminated vegetables including asparagus, cabbage, and frozen peas. Find the full lists on the website of the Environmental Working Group at ewg.org/foodnews and learn more about detox in my new book, The Prediabetes Detox (in stores now).

#2 Cook More

Cooking nourishing meals is one of the easiest and most effective things we can do to keep ourselves and our families healthy. According to a study from the National Institutes of Health, people who cook at home live longer than people who don’t, regardless of their knowledge of nutrition and physical ability to shop for food and prepare meals. Researchers found that people who cooked at home at least five times per week were 47 percent more likely to be alive ten years later, but even people who cooked less frequently saw benefits. The more they cooked, the longer they lived.

Think of cooking dinner as a time to relax and wind down from your day. If you live alone, turn on some music and use this time to nurture yourself. Invite your friends and neighbors to cook with you or share the food you make. If you live with your family, take the opportunity to connect with them and get everyone involved, especially children, who are more likely to eat foods they prepare themselves. Cooking healthy meals is an important life skill and the sooner they start, the healthier they’ll be.

#3 Move More

It’s not necessary to have a formal workout every day, but it is important to be active. Exercise reduces inflammation, releases feel-good compounds called endorphins, helps manage stress, and fights premature aging. It lowers high blood sugar and high blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, strengthens bones and muscles, improves mitochondrial function and energy production, makes cells more sensitive to insulin, enhances detoxification, and improves digestion, concentration, coordination, balance, and flexibility. Exercise also boosts levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, mood, attention, energy, appetite, and food cravings.

The best forms of exercise are the ones you’ll do regularly, so find activities you enjoy. Exercising at a gym is a great option, especially when the weather is bad or the classes inspire and motivate you to work out, but gyms aren’t really necessary and not having a membership isn’t an excuse to not exercise. On your own you can walk, run, bike, practice yoga, use resistance bands, jump rope, and do push-ups, pull-ups, stomach crunches, and squats. You can exercise recreationally by gardening or dancing, or play a partnered sport like tennis or squash, or play a team sport like crew, basketball, volleyball, softball, or soccer.

If you have joint problems, choose activities with little or no impact, like swimming, aqua exercise (inside a pool), bicycling, or using an elliptical machine. If you aren’t already physically active, get permission from your doctor first. Then consider meeting at least once with a personal trainer who can put together a routine appropriate for your fitness level, familiarize you with any equipment, and make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly. Personal training sessions are also a good way to get motivated and stay focused, especially if you need a structured program to make it happen.

#4 Make Sleep a Priority

Studies show that sleep can improve memory, learning, creativity, and athletic performance. It can enhance our ability to cope with stress, make us more resistant to infections like the common cold, and lower levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein. Because sleep boosts serotonin, it also helps fight food cravings and may improve your mood as well.

Lack of sleep is associated with high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, hormone imbalances, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. Short sleep cycles cause levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, to go down, and levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry, to go up. In one study of healthy men without preexisting blood sugar imbalances, being deprived of just two hours sleep caused them to crave sugar and eat more of it. Other research has shown that when we sleep seven hours or less each night, our bodies store more fat.

Sleep experts recommend getting a minimum of eight hours each night in the summer, when nights are naturally shorter, and nine hours in the winter, when nights are naturally longer. If you need to make more time for sleeping, choose an earlier bedtime over a later wake time to maximize deep sleep, most of which happens before early morning hours. If you can, wake up at the same time each morning and go to bed at the same time each night, even on your days off. Keeping a regular schedule and being consistent supports a healthy circadian rhythm which promotes good sleep and overall well-being.

#5 Play Outside

Take advantage of spring’s longer days and warmer weather to go for a hike, bike ride, stroll on the beach, or picnic in the park. Making time to do things you love is an important part of maintaining good physical, mental, and emotional health. So is spending time outside. Exposure to early morning sunlight improves sleep patterns, helps regulate blood sugar and fat metabolism, normalizes stress hormones, and increases the natural production of serotonin.

Aim to get at least ten to twenty minutes of natural sunlight every day, as early in the day as possible. Avoid midday sun and intense or excessive sun exposure, even if you use sunscreen. It prevents sunburn but not skin damage and studies show that it doesn’t protect against skin cancer after all.

References are available upon request.

Dr. Sarah Cimperman, ND is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City and author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings (www.prediabetes detox.com). Follow Dr. Cimperman on Facebook, Twitter and her blogs, A Different Kind of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet. Find her at www.drsarahcimperman.com

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