Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes: A Whole-Body Approach to Health

 self-care, sleep, exercise, mind-body connection, meditation, food, nutrition, stress, cortisol

(The following is a guest blog post composed by Dylan Foster, a writer and contributor to the website Health Well Wise.)

How are you feeling? Energized and ready to take on the day, or did you hit the snooze button one too many times this morning? Did you have a balanced, nutritious breakfast, or did you grab a cup of coffee while scouring the kitchen for that last donut that you swore you’d saved for a special treat? At work, are you moving confidently through the day, handling the stress well enough, or are you panicking while a spreadsheet doesn’t load and your boss is calling every 10 minutes? At night, are you preparing for a relaxing evening and restful sleep, or are you staring at social media on your phone while binge-watching some TV show you just heard about until 1 a.m.?

If your life resembles the second portion of each question, or even if it falls somewhere in the middle, chances are you need to change some habits to make yourself healthier. The thing is, though, becoming healthier involves practicing good self-care, from reducing stress and increasing focus to exercising and eating right, and, of course, getting a good night’s sleep (without binge-watching anything). There is a definite connection between the mind’s health and the body’s. You can just as easily be in perfect physical health but still have issues dealing with stress. Likewise, you can handle stress like a pro, but your body is probably hungry for something besides junk food and sodas and would like to be moved every once in a while. Still, if you want to take a whole-body approach to health that you can use every day, it might be best to start at the top -- literally.

Mind Your Stress

According to Christopher Bergland at Psychology Today, the stress hormone cortisol is “public enemy number one,” as elevated levels of it cause a myriad of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. Ultimately, how we react to stress dictates what happens with our bodies, and there are a number of healthier ways to do that, from learning how to meditate (something you can do almost anywhere) to eating stress-fighting food.

Drinking alcohol or using narcotics is definitely not the best way to cope with stress. As much as we’d like a drink after a hard day at work, it might, in fact, lead to something worse. Women are at a higher risk of developing health problems related to drinking, especially breast cancer. Research shows that women who have one drink a day are at a higher risk of breast cancer than those who don’t. Choosing healthy habits of mind can help alleviate stress and reduce the flow of cortisol, which, in turn, can lead to a healthier body.

Your Body, Your Health

Even though we’ve established the mind-body health connection, there are a number of things we can do exclusively for the body that can also help handle the stress we feel. Regular exercise is clearly beneficial, and that can include everything from running and fast-walking to working out in a gym with weights or doing bodyweight exercises. However, if you don’t have time to jog or hit the weights during the day, you can easily incorporate brisk exercise as you work. Try not to use the elevator if you can and take the stairs instead, or treat yourself to a walk around the block during your lunch hour. These activities and others help burn off cortisol. And speaking of lunch, be sure the one you pack is light and healthy with plenty of fruits, raw vegetables, and unprocessed meats.

Your entire body is a fantastic machine; you need to keep it working -- and healthy.

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