You might be surprised to learn that nearly 80% of the chronic disease burden in our country is caused by just three health behaviors: what we eat, whether or not we exercise and whether or not we smoke. To put it another way, you could reduce your risk of dying prematurely by 80% if you eat well, exercise regularly and pass on the cigarettes. By that logic, an effective self care practice should certainly start here, but we need to be more specific.
The following is a short list of effective and evidence based self care tips that you can adopt this holiday season and hopefully hold onto for the long run.
Eat well. This is the most consistent piece of advice you are likely to receive from your healthcare provider but what does that actually mean? Despite what the peddlers of fad diet books would have you believe, there is actually a global scientific consensus on the healthiest dietary patterns for humans and that is a diet that is composed primarily from whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. The more the better. During the holidays you will, no doubt, be tempted by a host of less-than-healthy food choices and it is helpful for many people to focus not on what they want to avoid during this time (restriction), but rather what healthy foods they want to add to their diet (abundance). If you need some practical guidance on the latter, consider using the Foodsmart app for meal planning, recipes, grocery shopping/delivery and even one on one support from a Registered Dietician.
Move your body, in whatever way you like, at a moderate intensity, for at least 150 minutes a week. Notice the use of the qualifier like; there is no one size fits all approach to exercise. If you want regular physical activity to be (dare we say it!) pleasurable, sustainable and effective, you need to get in touch with the kind of movement you really enjoy. With Covid and cold weather, your options are more limited but don’t let that stop you from getting creative. YouTube is an endless source of at home exercise routines for all skill levels and interests; no equipment required. If you need to get outside, appropriate winter clothing will keep you perfectly comfortable for your walk or run with a friend (at 6 feet apart and with a mask on).
Avoid smoking. The benefits of this are self-evident by now but if you currently smoke, are ready to quit and need some help, talk to your healthcare provider and/or check out this resource.
Get some sleep. As a nation, we take sleep for granted and we do so at our collective peril. The consequences of chronic sleep deprivation are alarming and often not fully known or appreciated by the general public. Try to practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and making your bedroom a distraction free and restful, sleep sanctuary.