In the mid-1800s, surgeons doing autopsies would go straight to delivering babies…without washing their hands.
Mothers contracted mysterious infections and many died.
Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, through observation and testing, realized that something from the cadavers was being transmitted to patients from the doctors’ hands.
He had the answer. Hand washing!
In this day in age, this is the first thing we are taught when learning to do physical exams in medical school.
Dr. Semmelweiss’s colleagues were not thrilled with this because it made it look like these deaths were their fault. (It doesn’t help that Dr. Semmelweiss was not the most tactful guy.)
The sad conclusion was that Semmelweiss was eventually exiled from the medical community and later died in a mental institution of a systemic infection.
Long story short, ignorance is bliss—until it isn’t.
Here are 11 things that I do everyday because now I know better (in no particular order).
1) Avoid plastic containers for leftovers
Many plastics contain estrogen-like compounds (like bisphenol-a aka BPA) that can wreak havoc on your body. It increases the risk of cancer and is especially harmful to children.
Today, I use a stainless steel Klean Kanteen for my water and Pyrex glass containers for my leftovers. If you have to use plastic containers, avoid heating them or leaving your plastic water bottles in heat, which increases the leaching of chemicals into your water or food.
2) No more microwaveable meals
There are a lot of reasons NOT to eat microwaveable meals. They don’t taste that great. They usually come in plastic containers (see above). These meals are often highly processed and have crazy amounts of salt and weird perservatives. Plus, do you ever really feel satisfied after eating one?
Instead, I’ll make extra dinner and have an extra serving or two ready for the next day in my Pyrex containers. Alternatively, I have some go-to quick meals like simple salads or if I’m home for lunch, I have a couple go-to meals I can cook in 10-15 minutes.
3) More Green Smoothies
You may have noticed that I’m a fan of the smoothie. When I’m lazy but I want to have something that’s filling and nutritious, I make smoothies.
Having a smoothie or two throughout the day ensures that I check-off a lot of boxes on nutrition checklist.
Micronutrients in fruits and vegetables like vitamins and minerals are all necessary for energy production, detoxification, immune function…and any health benefit you want.
I don’t take a multivitamin. I just drink a lot of my veggies and fruits.
I feel a lot better when I have smoothies, and I think you will too.
Here’s a recipe that I use almost every day in my NutriBullet:
– 1-2 cups leafy greens (baby kale or dino kale most often)
– 1 banana
– 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
– 1 cup almond coconut milk blend
– 2 scoops of Seeking Health Optimal Protein vegetarian protein powder
– 1-2 Medjool dates (pitted)
– 1 teaspoon of Seeking Health Optimal Curcumin (the active constituent in turmeric, which is anti-inflammatory and often used to treat cancer patients.)
4) Stay properly hydrated
Drinking water was not really a habit until I started carrying my one liter Klean Kanteen with me to work. I would have it at my desk and just sip throughout the day. That was 2007. I’ve been using the same Klean Kanteen for the last 8 years (Yes. I wash it often). It’s rare that you’ll see me without it. Water is life. You need it to survive.
One thing to keep in mind is the quality of your water. I personally use a Brita filter at home. There are more thorough filtration systems including the Berkey, which I’ll probably be investing in soon.
A good rule of thumb is to drink 1/3 of your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink about 45 oz of water per day. If you eat a lot of fresh vegetable and fruit, this requirement decreases (the average American only gets 20% of their water from food). If you exercise more or drink coffee or alcohol, you’ll need about one cup of water more for each hour of exercise or cup of coffee or serving of alcohol.
Another rule of thumb: If your pee is really dark yellow, you probably need more water. If you are thirsty, it probably means you’ve been dehydrated for a while.
Note: There are some cases where more water isn’t right for everyone, like in chronic kidney failure.
5) Diaphragmatic aka Belly Breathing
Breathing is one of things that is often overlooked, but how long can you go without breathing? A few minutes maybe?
It’s important not only to breathe, but to breathe properly.
Breathing detoxifies the body’s number one toxin: carbon dioxide.
Breathing is one way to reduce stress. “If the mind is the kite, the breath is the string” said Deepak Chopra.
Breathing provides oxygen, which you need to make ATP, your body’s main energy source.
Start by placing one hand over your belly. Does it rise and fall as your inhale and exhale? You know you are belly breathing when it does.
The topic of breathing goes much deeper, but this is one place to start.
6) No more TV, computer, and desk in my bedroom
Sleep is important. You detoxify your brain and body when you sleep. Your body repairs itself. Your body grows and changes during sleep.
I found that keeping my bedroom separated from work and electronics really improved my sleep. I treated my bedroom like a sacred space for sleeping and reading.
When I go to bed, I don’t want to be thinking about work. Not only that, blue light and electromagnetic field from devices disrupts sleep and melatonin production.
Melatonin makes you feel sleepy and is also an important anti-oxidant. This is another one of those cases where melatonin is often used as an adjunct treatment for cancer patients. Interesting…right?
Experiment for a week or two with removing your TV, computer, and anything with blinking lights from your room. Move your desk out. Notice how it affects your sleep.
7) Eat organic, clean food
Many pesticides are neurotoxins. Unfortunately, these pesticides are not specific to insects and pests. Humans are organic life forms, just like other animals and insects. We’re not immune to these chemicals.
Pesticides also damage mitochondria, your cells’ power plants.
Eating one apple sprayed with pesticides won’t kill you. Eat one apple sprayed with pesticides everyday, and you’re asking for trouble.
Toxic load is cumulative. I don’t want to scare you, but if you live in the modern world, you are bombarded by multiple sources of pollution and toxins.
The body has mechanisms for detoxifying, and we want to make sure we are not putting more in than we can get out at any one time.
Try to buy organic whenever possible. Go to the local farmers market. Grow some of your own vegetables.
At the very least, avoid the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables that are the most heavily sprayed with pesticides and the like.
There is also a list of the Clean Fifteen foods that you can feel safe eating even if not labeled “organic.”
8) Finish every shower with cold water
Ever since I first learned about this in my hydrotherapy class in 2011, I’ve been finishing every shower I take with cold water for about 30 seconds.
The contrast between hot and cold improves circulation. The cold water is thought to improve your immune function and improve your tolerance to cold.
At first, I know it can feel painful to wake up to a cold water running down your back. It might even feel like you are going to die.
However, cold showers can help you build a little more courage and learn to work through discomfort. I think this courage subconsciously translates to other parts of life and work. Think of it as training for your nervous system.
The thought becomes “This water is so cold…I’m going to die!” to “Even though I feel like I might die, I didn’t!”
You can do this with a handheld shower head or with a standard shower (you’ll just have to do a little bit of the Hokey Pokey).
After taking a standard hot shower, turn the water temperature down.
Start with luke warm water for a week or two. Begin with water your feet, then up the front of both legs, then the back of both legs. Then let the water run up the front one arm, then the back, and repeat on the other. Let the water trickle down your shoulders over your torso a little bit. Next shower your belly moving in a clockwise direction. End with the cool water on your feet.
This should take no more than 30 secs. Use colder water as you can tolerate it.
Try it for a week or two. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Ghandi is quoted saying, “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”
Learning to meditate changed my life. I’m an introvert by nature—simply meaning that I internalize more of my thoughts instead of talking about them.
There are many mornings where I wake up with 100 things on my mind. “Where do I start? What do I do first? Where am I going to go to get this all done. I’m so busy!”
It’s like my brain is vomiting on itself. Everything is mashed up in my head.
This is when meditation has helped the most.
I remember freaking out (internally) about my board exam after graduating from medical school. How am I going to get through 4 years of material in 6 weeks to pass this 3 day exam?
Luckily I learned to belly breathe and meditate in school.
I dedicated 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night to just sitting, belly breathing, and visualizing myself on a river bed while my thoughts, fears, and anxiety just flowed by. Just observing. No expectations. No goals. Just being quiet for a few minutes.
The next time you feel like you are too busy and anxious to meditate…that’s the best time to meditate.
Again, meditation is a big topic, but you can always start by sitting and observing, without judgment, the theater of your mind.
10) Write things down
Along the lines of meditation, I’ve learned to journal. I keep a Moleskine with me almost all the time, but use any notebook or phone app you like.
When I have ideas, I’ll document them because I tend to forget great ideas, and that’s really frustrating.
When I am dealing with a tough problem or question, I’ll write them down before going to bed. This frees up my mind, and I’ll put my subconscious to work.
When I am meeting with someone, I’ll take notes on new insights and ideas I get from the conversation.
When my mind is spinning with anxious thoughts and fears, I’ll unload it onto paper. I find I can be much more objective when my thoughts are on paper, and many of the things I was stressed out about are not really as serious as I thought.
If Richard Branson, Marcus Aurelius, and Leonardo Da Vinci all kept journals and notebooks, why shouldn’t I?
11) Move Daily
Along with diet and breath, movement is the other component of great health. There are many studies now showing the detrimental effects of sitting and inactivity, so much so that it’s being called the new smoking.
The body is designed to move.
Just like meditation is important during my most stressful times, so is exercise.
I never regret starting my day with a run or ending my day training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Sure, exercise takes time, but it improves my effectiveness and productivity.
Whenever, I skip my morning run, I notice it takes me longer to get my brain going.
Studies are showing that moving throughout the day is more effective than sitting for 8 hours then exercising for 1 hour at the end of the day.
Some things I do to move throughout the day:
– Find a standing desk/table to work at.
– Take a walk every 1-2 hours.
– Do a set of 10-20 body weight squats whenever I can
– Take the stairs instead of the elevator
– Park farther and walk a couple blocks
These small changes can add up to make a big difference over time. Eventually, these activities become the new default.
I can come up with more than 11 everyday things to improve health, but these are the ones I’ve found most important for me.
Some of these may not be right for you but I hope that you’ll get some inspiration from these and try to find one significant thing that you can change in your life today.
Try one for a week or two and see what works for you. It takes 66 days on average for something to become a habit, so stick to it for long enough and you’ll enjoy the benefits of your new habit without even having to think about doing it.
And just so you know, I’m by no means perfect, but doing many of these things 80% of the way is better than not at all.
What’s one thing you can try that would make the biggest difference for you?