I’m honored to feature a guest writer this week, Meg Selig, a counselor, author, and blogger for psychologytoday.com. Meg writes often about health and wellness and her approach aligns well with WhyPowered coaching work, so you’ll notice lots of synergy in her blog.
7 'Pills' for Health, Long Life, and Happiness
Mind, body, and spirit benefit from these 7 simple practices, plus one more.
Posted Apr 30, 2019, photo by David Calavera, Unsplash
These “Pills” Are Pillars of Your Health
Do you ever wish you could just take a few pills and suddenly blossom into your best health? You can!
Well, okay, these “pills” aren’t exactly the kind that you swallow in a gulp, and that’s that. They are practices rather than, say, a vitamin. Still, all these recommendations are easy to follow and can fit snugly into your day. Moreover, they are completely natural and have zero to few negative side effects. And these seven “pills” are not fads: Overwhelming amounts of scientific research tell us that these pills are—forgive the pun—pillars of human health.
Some of these pills won’t likely surprise you. But are you aware of numbers 1, 4, 5, and 7 below? Check out all seven, and be sure to see proposed Pill #8 as well. Some experts think this one might be the most important of all. It is certainly the most controversial.
1. The Nature Pill
Numerous studies have demonstrated that a “Nature Pill," such as hiking in a natural area or strolling briefly outside, is an excellent stress reliever. While some stress motivates you to meet the challenges of life, excess stress causes the body to produce the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is strongly linked to health problems such as heart disease, depression, sleep issues, dementia, and many more.
Smallest Dose: Even tiny doses of nature—such as having green plants in your office or looking out the window at the trees—cause a measurable drop in cortisol.
Minimum Dose: A recent study found that a “dose” of nature of only 20 minutes was enough to lower cortisol to a healthier level.
2. The Exercise Pill
This amazing pill can…(take a deep breath--a long list is coming)…maintain muscle strength, prevent lower back pain, boost the immune system, strengthen bones, elevate mood, ease mild depression, lower blood pressure, reduce diabetes risk, strengthen bones, promote healthier brain functioning, keep you at a healthy weight, and even reverse some aspects of aging, among countless other benefits. Every day amazing new discoveries about the health power of exercise attest to the potency of this pill.
You may worry that a regular exercise regimen is just too hard for you right now. No problem! Exercise pills come in small, medium, and large, and almost any dose is helpful.
Minimum Dose: Even small amounts of exercise—aka, “exercise snacks”—can have powerful positive effects on mind and body. The trick seems to be to move around for about 5 minutes every hour. Just this small “bite” of exercise can help reduce our risks for “sitting diseases” such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers.
Ideal Dose: For moderate exercisers, the World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week (say, 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week) for adults. Your ideal dose will depend on your goals. If your goal is to run a marathon, you will need a large dose of exercise.
Note: The Nature Pill and the Exercise Pill make beautiful health music together.
3. The Healthy-Food Pill
A Mediterranean diet has been linked in research to better brain health, reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, as well as reduced mortality overall. To follow this healthy eating plan, eat mostly fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods such as legumes, nuts, and whole grains; reduce use of saturated fats like butter and replace them with healthy fats like canola and olive oil; limit added sugars; use herbs instead of salt; eat moderate amounts of chicken and fish; and limit red meat. And don’t forget the tea and coffee: They, too, seem to promote better brainpower.
I like the Mediterranean eating plan because no foods are forbidden. You just have to reduce your intake of unhealthy foods. This is difficult but possible.
4. The Stress-Management Pill
Excess stress and chronic stress can cause multiple problems due to the impact of the stress hormone cortisol on your body. For instance, stress can raise your risk of heart problem, mental health problems, fatigue, and inflammation.
Everyone needs a daily stress reduction technique. Possibilities include some combination of the following: deep breathing, yoga, meditation, exercise, the Nature Pill, or “reframing.” “Reframing” can be as simple as telling yourself that you face a “challenge,” not a “problem.” Just this easy language trick reduces stress.
A major superpower of stress reduction techniques is that they lower blood pressure. In fact, one study found that meditation helped 40 out of 60 patients lower their blood pressure enough to reduce some of their medications.
Smallest dose: One deep breath. Amazingly, just one deep breath can turn down your flight-or-fight response and give you an ounce more of calm.
Recommended minimum dose: Just 10 minutes of stress reduction per day will lower cortisol.
5. The Relationships Pill
In our individualistic society, we often forget the importance of social support. But countless studies have shown that good relationships promote health, happiness, and longevity, and reduce the incidence of depression, loneliness, and early death. In one such study, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, over 700 men were followed from 1938 to the present (about 60 remain from the original 724). Researchers found a strong association between close relationships, happiness, and health.
Why? Safe and supportive social relationships calm our stress-response system. Lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol again!) mean less wear and tear on the brain and body, longer life, and more joy in daily living.
Dose: May vary with your personality type. The general idea is: Find good people, stay connected with them, and join support groups.
6. The Sleep Pill
Shakespeare was right; sleep does knit up the “raveled sleeve of care.” But lack of sleep increases cortisol, that problematic stress hormone mentioned several times above. It also leads to unhealthy inflammation, and, of course, contributes to physical and mental fatigue. In general, longer sleep duration is associated with greater longevity. Specifically, six hours of sleep or less is linked to shorter telomeres (those caps on your chromosomes that protect them from deteriorating), while nine hours of sleep is associated with longer telomeres.
Dose: Most health professionals recommend that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
7. The Gratitude Pill
Gratitude, along with its cousins, happiness and purpose, can provide a powerful infusion of emotional health for most people. Numerous studies suggest that a “gratitude practice,” such as the iconic “Three Good Things” exercise, is a powerful contributor to happiness. The exercise is simple: For five minutes at the end of the day, think or write about three good things that happened to you and whether those good things were due to luck or to something you did. Doing this exercise for just one week raised participants’ happiness levels for six months. Six months! The “gratitude attitude” promotes other positive emotions, such as joy, enthusiasm, and optimism, and even seems to boost greater self-control.
Minimum Dose: 3-5 minutes of a gratitude practice daily can create a positive and happier mindset.
The Eighth Pill: Healthcare for All?
It’s wonderful that we can choose to prevent certain diseases or enhance our health and vitality with simple lifestyle changes.
But even though we may work hard at keeping fit and healthy, our genes, bad luck, and the aging process can trip up our efforts. In addition, people may be in the pink of good health and still become victims of accidents, diseases, and personal tragedies. It is at such times that we may realize that excellent health is not just a matter of individual effort but of protective social resources.
That’s why I think we need an eighth pill for health and happiness—a Healthcare-for-All Pill. Without it, many people cannot hope to live a long, fulfilling, and happy life, because they must scramble for basic medical and dental necessities, often in times of personal crisis and confusion.
The Missing Pill?
Did I miss anything? If you have an idea for a pill that everyone needs to take for their best physical and mental health, I would love to hear from you. Go to “Comments” in the original blog.
Note: This blog provides general health information. For specific health recommendations, consult your health care provider or see a mental health professional.
To see more blogs by Meg Selig, follow this link to her feed at Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower.
© Meg Selig, 2019. Used by permission.
To getting healthier in 2019 & beyond,
Certified Whole Health Coach
Certified Personal Fitness Trainer
What I do: I help women become proactive caretakers of their well-being and reach their 'happy' weight. With coaching, they connect to their deepest reasons for change--their WhyPower-- for getting their health habits in balance; eating cleaner, exercising consistently and proactively managing stress. With strength training, they get fit faster, optimize their body composition and love the skin they're in!