Small Healthy Changes

Even though all of us know how important our health and well-being is, taking the time to make ourselves a priority can sometimes be a real challenge. Our attempts to break into a new health routine in an effort to take care of ourselves often takes a backseat to other things and stress in our lives, and that can be especially true for those of us that work varied shifts or travel to new assignments every few months. For a health routine to work in cases like that, your approach needs to be something you can maintain no matter where you are or what time it is. Since it can be hard to keep up with a big commitment like going to a gym or changing your whole diet, it can be helpful to find small ways to adjust the way you already live and incorporate health into all the areas of your life. Here are just a few tips for living a little more healthfully through small changes:

Take care of your gut health!

Our microbiome is probably the most underrated system in our bodies. A lot of us know that taking probiotics can be helpful for keeping things moving along regularly, but that is truly just a fraction of all the things that healthy gut bacteria can do for you. Did you know that there is actually a major connection between gut health and mental health? Studies have shown that an imbalance of gut bacteria contributes to mental illnesses including anxiety and depression, and since probiotics have the ability to restore that balance they have the potential to play a role in the treatment of those mental illnesses (Clapp et al., 2017). Additionally, having healthy gut bacteria helps reduce inflammation, improve your immune system, and can even reduce your risk of certain cancers (Ohtani, 2014). Though taking probiotics is definitely recommended, with so many different types it can be overwhelming to choose where to start. You can start building your healthy microbiome before ever buying a bottle of probiotics by choosing foods with natural active cultures like yogurts, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut; even sourdough bread, soft cheeses, or aged meats like salami. You don’t necessarily have to eat “diet food” for your food to do good for you.

Stretch it out!

So much of our stress gets bunched up in our muscles and weighs us down physically and mentally. Spending just a few minutes to stretch your body can feel like a total reset and the best part is? Stretching is something you can do at any time of day whether you are in a hotel room or a hospital break room. If you have the time for a full yoga routine a few times a week, that is of course ideal, but even if you just have a few moments of spare time here and there, knowing a few basic yoga moves you can do to stretch your body can help improve your physical and mental health in numerous ways such as reducing soreness, fatigue, and stress. There are many easy standing yoga poses you can do without even having to get onto a mat, so they can easily be done even if you’ve only got a moment but will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed. Try this quick flow from forward fold into mountain pose and raised-arms pose: Start with your feet hip distance apart and fold forward at your hips, keeping your legs straight and letting your upper body hang down. You can let your arms fall, or fold them and grasp your elbows. Let the weight of your arms gently pull your stretch a little deeper as you take a couple slow and deep breaths. Sloooowly, one vertebrae at a time, bring your body upright to stand with your arms at your sides and lift your head high and shoulders down and back, holding your very best posture for a couple more slow, deep breaths before lifting your arms together above your head and pressing them into the sky. Slowly release. You can either finish here, or release all the way back into forward fold to repeat the flow. Boing this simple flow when you need a pick-me-up or a way to relax, you can get a little of the benefits of yoga without having to jump into full routines or classes. If you do want a little bit more, the TRX suspension trainer system is a great option for travelers. It’s made up of a few cloth straps and handles so it is very compact and lightweight; it fits into a small carrying bag for storage and works by fitting inside the top of a door frame. You can set it up inside your hotel room and use it for a number of stretching and strength building workouts.

Drink more water!

This is one of those tips that just about all of us know we should be doing but sometimes struggle with. If you are someone that just really doesn’t like the taste of plain water, there is no shame in adding flavor to make it palatable to you. Throw in a little lemon, lime, berries, cucumbers, herbs, or whatever flavors you like. Herbal tea also counts towards your water intake, just try not to add a lot of sweeteners. But what if you don’t mind the taste of water, you just get too busy to remember to drink it? The good news is that there’s an app for that! There are a few apps that I have found that make it fun to remember to drink water. One of those is Plant Nanny, a game where you log the water that your drink and watch as it helps your flowers grow! Be careful though, if you don’t drink enough, your garden will suffer. It’s a great reminder to keep our own bodies watered! If you want something a little more straightforward, there are a number of apps in the app store designed to track the water you drink and remind you when you don’t. Check your app store to see which ones appeal to you.

Taking control of your health does not have to mean making huge lifestyle changes overnight. Small choices can really add up and improve your overall health both mentally and physically. Whether you are busy and on the go or even if you are working from home or inside your hotel room, utilizing these few tips can help you get a little closer to the healthy life you deserve!

Clapp, M., Aurora, N., Herrera, L., Bhatia, M., Wilen, E., & Wakefield, S. (2017). Gut Microbiota’s Effect on Mental Health: The Gut-Brain Axis. Clinics and Practice, 7(4), 987. Ohtani, N. (2014). Microbiome and cancer. Seminars in Immunopathology, 37(1), 65–72.

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