When it comes to adopting new healthy habits, most people think it is too difficult or that they are too busy. It might be true... sometimes, but what if you could pack dozens of healthy habits in your day, without having to compromise or change your priorities? You think it is impossible? Let's put your limiting beliefs to the test!
In the morning
1. Wake up naturally after 7 to 9 hours of sleep, around the same time every day (yes, that means week-end included). Waking up without an alarm and feeling refreshed is a sign that our circadian rhythm is well regulated. Staying up much later at the week-end is called "social jet-lag". It disrupts our biological clock and has been associated with worse sleep quality on workday, increased stress and a higher risk of developing metabolic diseases and mental disorders.
2. Start your day with a good intention. Look at yourself in the mirror, smile and say: "it is going to be a beautiful day". Our brain is naturally skewed towards negative thinking and our mind constantly bombards us with negative thoughts. We need to consciously refocus on the positive to turn off our stress response, regulate our emotions and behaviours. Positivity allows us to see and explore more possibilities, gives us energy and improves our well-being. It makes us generally more successful in life and can even make us live longer.
3. Open the windows to get some fresh air inside. Unless you live in a highly polluted city or just above the motorway, the outside air is cleaner than your indoor air. The air in our homes is polluted by off-gassing paint, furniture, carpets and building materials, by cleaning products, the gas heating system, the gas stove, the wood-burning fireplace, the chemicals released by hot water and the mould from damp areas. Air pollution has been associated with many health conditions, from respiratory issues and effects on our cardiovascular, endocrine and nervous systems, to psychiatric disorders and cancers. Opening the windows every day helps reduce that pollution.
4. Brush your teeth with a non-toxic toothpaste, try oil pulling and scrape your tongue with a teaspoon. Fatigue, osteoporosis, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and cancers can start with bad bacteria in the mouth or with infected teeth or root canals. Brushing, flossing, tongue scraping and oil pulling help keep the bad bacteria at bay. If your gums are bleeding, you are at risk of getting an infection.
Oil pulling consists in swishing an edible oil in the mouth. To prepare your own oil pulling blend, pour some sesame, almond or olive oil in a jar and add a few drops of essential oils such as clove, orange, bergamot, peppermint or frankincense. In the morning, put a tablespoon of oil in your mouth and swish for 10 minutes. Spit out the oil in the bin to avoid clogging the sink.
It is important to use a toothpaste made of natural non-toxic products. You can also use baking soda (once or twice a week only, as it is a bit too abrasive for a daily use) or a clay powder. The fluoride from conventional toothpaste kills all the bacteria, including the good ones that our immune and digestive systems need to be healthy. Fluoride can also be toxic when ingested (by kids for instance) and it is not necessary to avoid cavities. Tooth decay can be prevented by avoiding sugar and by brushing our teeth twice a day. Conventional toothpaste and mouthwash also contain other toxic compounds (sodium laurel sulfate, heavy metals...) that you do not want in your mouth.
5. Challenge your brain by brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand while balancing on one foot (change foot half way through). Keep your free hand ready to avoid falling if you lose your balance. Brain training exercises can help promote brain plasticity, improve cognitive functions and motor skills. Balance exercises are very important for elderly, to decrease fall rates and improve physical functions.
6. Use non-toxic cosmetics: face and body cream, deodorant, make-up, shaving foam, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen... You can check the toxicity of conventional cosmetics on the Environmental Working Group website. There are also many smartphone apps such as www.thinkdirtyapp.com/ or Yuka - Scan de produits in France. Next time you replace one of your cosmetics, buy an organic non-toxic version. You can refer to No. 1 or A-rated products from the EWG or from one of the apps. Do your own research, there are many small companies that sell non-toxic cosmetics.
7. Before starting your day, check for stressful thoughts and reframe. Take a few minutes to identify what worries you or makes you unhappy. Acknowledge that your thoughts are just your interpretation of the reality. Are you focusing on the negatives only, generalising or imagining the worst-case scenario? Reframe your thoughts to shift to a more favourable state of mind, transform stress into positive energy and improve your problem-solving capacity. Actively look for the positive aspects of a situation, it will lower your stress and make you feel better. It might only be an isolated or temporary incident. Will this really matter in a month or 6 months from now? Put in perspective. Think about all the good things you have in your life. If you feel anxious about the future, remember that you cannot predict what is going to happen and there is no reason to imagine the worst.
8. Before your first meal of the day, have a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. It will: keep you hydrated; help your digestion by stimulating gastric acid and bile flow; help you reach your vitamin C needs; promote the absorption of calcium, iron and magnesium; reduce the glycaemic response to starchy foods (potatoes, rice, pasta, cereals...); help regulate your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood lipid levels; and support the removal of toxins stored in your liver and fat cells. Lemons also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. What is not to love about them?
9. Take supplements if needed. Even with a balanced and varied wholesome nutrition, it can sometimes be difficult to get all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are needed for optimised health and well-being. For instance, many people are deficient in vitamin D, magnesium, iron, zinc, certain vitamin B's and omega 3's. You can find more details in my article "From vegan to carnivore, and everything in between", part I and part II.
10. Practice time restricted eating (a.k.a. intermittent fasting). Extending your overnight fast to 16 hours (dinner at 7pm and brunch at 11am for instance), without reducing total daily calorie intake, can be beneficial for fat loss, cellular repair, heart and brain health. It promotes autophagy, a process that eliminates dead and damaged cells from our body. It can also reduce the risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Last, it can be very convenient for those who are always rushing in the morning or have unhealthy sugary breakfasts. However, if you are underweight, very stressed, pregnant, breast feeding or have hormonal imbalances, this might not be a good option for you, as it may result in weight loss or additional stress on your body.
11. Avoid coffee for the first 2 to 3 hours after waking. Our circadian rhythm regulates our sleep-wake cycle and other physiological processes. Shortly after awakening, our cortisol goes up and remains high for a few hours, to give us the energy to start our day. Having an early cup of coffee interferes with this natural awakening response. So, start your day with a decaf or a tea and wait a little bit before enjoying your first cup of coffee.
12. On your way to work or during your morning break, go for a 10-minute walk outside, without sunglasses. A quick exposure to the morning daylight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, which improves our alertness and performance and helps us sleep better at night.
13. It is 9 or 10 am. Time to enjoy your first cup of coffee. Yeah! You can even have a few more cups until about 2 pm. Coffee is good for you. It is the biggest source of antioxidants in the Western diet. It boosts our brain function, alertness, energy and performance; fights the damaging effects of free radicals that contribute to ageing; promotes weight loss; and reduces the risk of developing many chronic diseases. Coffee has even been associated with a longer lifespan! However, too much caffeine can cause jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and difficulty to fall or stay asleep. So, know your limit and avoid coffee later in the day.
14. Smile... to yourself, your family, your colleagues, to passerby's or to your fellow commuters. Smiling makes you and the others feel good and reduces the risk of depression. It has even been proven to be contagious, but the good kind of contagion! Smile and the world smiles with you.
15. Thank your colleagues when they have done a good job. Showing gratitude magnifies positive emotions and makes organisation more successful. It improves our decision making capabilities, increases our energy and productivity, reduces stress and anxiety and helps us achieve our goals. Being grateful feels good, makes us happier, helps us sleep better and has been shown to increase lifespan.
16. Organise walking meetings or take your conference calls outside. You will get some sunlight exposure, some fresh air, as well as a bit of low intensity exercise and stretching. It will help reduce your physical and mental tension and your fatigue levels. Walking meetings lead to more honest exchanges between employees and are more creative and productive than sit-down meetings. Also, sitting for long period of times significantly increases the risk of developing many diseases (diabetes, obesity, heart failure and more), regardless of how much you exercise. Those who spend more than 11 hours a day sitting are 40% more likely to die over the next 3 years. Sitting is the new smoking, they say.
17. If you have a sedentary job, get up and stretch every hour. Put an alarm on your phone to remember. Check for muscle tension in your neck and shoulders and focus on relaxing this tension. This also helps mitigate the danger of sitting for too long and can be beneficial for those who suffer from lower back pain or headaches.
18. Keep a bottle of water or a thermos next to you and stay hydrated. Green tea, rooibos tea, roasted dandelion or chicory root have great antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Dehydration starts with a daily water intake below 1.8 L. Over time, it can lead to serious health issues and an increased risk of developing diabetes, renal issues or cardiovascular diseases. The daily water requirement for a given person depends on many factors, such as water loss and sweating, but the general recommendation is about 2 to 2.7 L for women and 2.5 to 3.7 L for men, including water, (non-alcoholic) beverages and food moisture. If you are not urinating every couple of hours or if your urine is dark yellow, you are probably dehydrated.
19. Use the speakerphone or a wired headset on your mobile to put some distance between your phone and your brain. It is not a good idea to keep your mobile phone very close to your body, as it bombards you with electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Even Apple advises users who want to reduce radiofrequency exposure to "use a hands-free option". A class action is under way in the US against Apple and Samsung after a Chicago Tribune investigation claimed that certain iPhones and Galaxy S produce emissions exceeding the safety limits. The possible effects of EMFs include increased cancer risk, genetic damages, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, changes in the reproductive system, among others... If you use a headset, used a wired one. Certain Apple Airpods, for instance, have been shown to deliver 10 times more EMFs than if you were just holding the iPhone up to your ear.
During your lunch break
20. Exercise! There are so many reasons why physical activity is good for us. It makes us feel and look good and shows great benefits in relation to sleep, stress, energy, libido, immune function, brain and cardio-vascular functions, bones strength.... It make us more resilient, smarter and can even increase our lifespan. On the flip side, physical inactivity is the 4th leading cause of mortality and a primary cause of most chronic diseases. So, rather than having lunch in front of your computer, take a break and find a physical activity that you enjoy. If you are too busy at lunch time, exercise before or after going to work. Avoid exercising too late in the day, as it can affect your sleep quality. If your current health or situation limits your options, do what you can. Even 3 bouts of 10-minute walks at a fast pace during the day can be very beneficial if you are sedentary.
21. If there is a patch of grass or a park close to your office, take your shoes off and walk barefoot on the grass. Direct contact with the surface of the earth allows electrons to penetrate into your body, which neutralises the free radicals and the excess voltage created by man-made electricity and electromagnetic fields. Swimming in fresh or sea water, touching the trees or gardening work as well and changes your physiology immediately. The more you ground, the more you benefit. Many studies have reported that grounding can reduce stress, anxiety, inflammation and pain, regulate blood pressure and improve sleep quality. If you can get a bit of sun exposure at the same time, on your arms and legs, even better (without getting sunburnt of course)! Sunlight triggers the release of feel-good hormones, allows us to synthesize vitamin D and nitric oxide, which are both essential for good health.
22. Enjoy a delicious lunch prepared with fresh produces. Don’t buy processed foods, sandwiches, wraps or snacks that are loaded with refined carbs, added sugar, toxic processed vegetable oils, preservatives, colouring and additives. All these ingredients are inflammatory, calorie-rich but nutrient-poor, and typically accelerate fat storage. In the long term, they put you at risk of developing chronic diseases. So, cook your own meals if you can, using a variety of fresh produces to pack all the nutrients your body needs to function optimally: meat, fish or eggs; different coloured vegetables; avocados, nuts and seeds for healthy fats; spices, herbs and garlic for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits; and fermented foods for the probiotics that feed the good gut bacteria. If you don't have time to cook during the week, prepare your meals on Sunday night or buy grilled meat or fish and vegetables from a food court (avoid sweet sauces, chips, rice or pasta).
23. Do not multitask when you eat your lunch. That means no phone and no computer! Take the time to really enjoy your meal, even if it is just for 10 to 15 minutes. Pay attention to the food, how it smells and tastes, feel the texture. You will feel more satiated and will digest better.
You can see that most of these habits are free and don't take any time at all. No need for a magic pill to feel better and happier. All you need is a bit of sunshine, positivity, movement and fresh wholesome food. It is that simple! Next week, I will cover the rest of the day. In the meantime, pick the habits that resonate with you and start practicing. How many can you adopt?
This article is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, heal or prevent any disease or medical condition. See full Disclaimer here. I encourage you to do your own research and to discuss with a qualified healthcare practitioner the options that could work the best for your specific circumstances.