As a family, we enjoy reflecting on the last year with an annual slideshow that we watch together on New Year's Day. It's a wonderful way to bring appreciation and gratitude into a quiet day. When we reviewed our past year, I was amazed to see how much we had actually done and how many smiles we had shared - our skating rink ("ODR" - outdoor rink), tobogganing, milestone birthdays, the veggie garden, beach days, kids' sports, plus lots of puppy time. We are enjoying simple moments of fun.
So far, 2022 isn't bringing the reprieve that many of us had hoped for. We tried to dam the river, but forgot to look upstream. We now have research to confirm what we already knew: that nutrient status, microbiome health, blood sugar regulation, stress levels, sleep and healthy weight all play into our resilience to any adversity, including the current pandemic.
In an effort to encourage empowerment I strive to educate, to evaluate causation, to address illness at its roots, to build resilience - I continue to reach for optimal wellness. This is no easy task when most of us are dirt tired. When it feels overwhelming, I revert back to the basics, the foundations of our health. Consequently, the health forecast for the next year, needs recognition of simple and attainable, yet needle-moving strategies or considerations that address all of these variables.
Rest. Eat well. Move everyday. Go into nature. Connect.
1. Vitamin D
In our region, we make Vitamin D in a complex way using sunlight, from mid-March to mid-October. Upon testing, I find that most people are suboptimal or deficient without supplementation at this time of year. Vitamin D is important for a multitude of functions, from hormones to mood to immune regulation to bone health (learn more here). Knowing your highest (August) and lowest (February) values can help to gauge your needs. Interestingly, Vitamin D status can be a predictor of longevity.
2. Fresh Air & Sunlight
The wintertime drives many of us indoors. Even if we aren't making Vitamin D like we do in the summer, sunlight helps to brighten spirits. A dose of nature, connecting with our environment, is beneficial to mood and mental health. It also gives an opportunity to take a break from all the tech that we are endlessly connected to at the moment. If you can't get outside every day, look into some air purifying house plants and bring nature inside to you.
It's been frustrating to have inconsistent access to gyms, sports, and other activities, especially since it's easiest to keep these events on a routine. All I can say is that doing something to move every day is helpful for posture & pain, mood, mental clarity, digestion, and so much more. I've seen so many people out walking these last two years... you're doing awesome - keep it up!
4. Stress management
In a state of overwhelm it's difficult to add anything to your plate, particularly as responsibilities are rising (like if you have kids at home, you're trying to pivot your business... again, etc.). We are well beyond feeling the effects of acute stress, and now this is at a chronic level. Having a few moments to yourself every day is critical to mental peace. I find that a walk or two everyday helps to check off a few boxes for me at once - stress relief, activity, and nature. A few other suggestions I have are:
- taking a few deep breaths and setting an intention for the day when first waking up
- set your alarm a bit earlier to enjoy some quiet before the chaos starts - this is a great time to meditate, stretch, read or do some yoga or other exercise
- once or twice through the day (set an alarm if you need to, or time it with your lunch break) stretch and take 10 deep breaths, or do some tapping
- recognize if you are depleted and ask me for support - adrenal glands get taxed pretty easily with our lifestyles
- keep a routine - sleep and eat at the same times every day to limit additional pressures, remember the body likes rhythms
5. Intuition & Purpose
There's an inner knowing that guides what feels right and what doesn't sit well. Many of us are getting clearer on our needs, it's actually why a lot of people end up in a Naturopath's office ;) Going against what our body is telling us often brings dis-ease, so be careful to acknowledge your feelings and choose accordingly. You will hear more and more about establishing your purpose during 2022. If you don't know what I mean, then it's not for you and just skip ahead. Purpose is meaning and contribution, and helps you to reach your goals. It also helps you to live longer, with happiness and fulfillment. There's quite an involved and evolving process to living your purpose. It includes being flexible to change and adjusting along the way, developing your core values and no longer seeking external validation. I'll let you sit with that for now.
6. Blood Sugar Regulation
Another big predictor of resilience is the ability to manage blood sugar. It's actually one of the main risk factors for poor outcome of infection. Relatably, we often see kids getting colds right after Halloween and other big sugar binges; sugar temporarily paralyses white blood cell function. It's not just infection though, blood sugar regulation is often a key component in food cravings, fatigue, anxiety and hormone dysfunction (e.g. PCOS). You can support balanced blood sugar by eating protein with every meal and snack, and cutting back portion sizes of "white" or filler foods like bread, donuts, rice and potatoes, to start.
7. Weight Management
Adipose (fat) tissue is almost like an extra organ with a mind of its own. For example, viral replication occurs prolifically here (1), as does inflammation and hormone production. (Yes, heavier people get hid harder). A study out of Dalhousie University last spring found that 42% of survey participants reported gaining weight since the start of the pandemic, while almost 60% reported an undesired change in weight since eating habits are often altered during stressful times (2). Trends in weight gain predominantly impacted parents and first responders. Of a totally different vein, another startling shift over the last two years was noted in a December 2021 publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that new onset anorexia and subsequent hospitalization amongst Canadian youth has increased dramatically. They stated that "monthly cases of new-onset anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa increased by more than 60%, and monthly hospitalizations nearly tripled compared with prepandemic rates" (3). This is clearly a complex topic that incorporates many psychological factors as well, but deserves awareness. Changes in weight and body composition are a symptom of deeper imbalances, some more complicated than others, but the sooner these patterns are recognized the better.
Interestingly, the biggest predictor of longevity is connection, while isolation has the opposite effect. Maintaining relationships, engaging the people we interact with, and establishing a community are all vital components of connection. This is going to be my biggest goal of 2022, both personally and professionally - so stay tuned.
Acknowledging the elements of our health that are within our control and making them a part of our regular routine, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has tremendous impact on our wellness. Begin with one small thing and then add another - I can help you to strategize, one brick at a time, as you build a strong foundation.
You're doing an amazing job,