Spring into GOOD HEALTH

By Janice H. Alexander RN, MD, Cedarburg Family Wellness & Aesthetics Center

After more than two years of masking and mandates, it’s time to get back to work on the road to good health. Many of us gained weight during the pandemic, became overwhelmed by the additional stress, and fell into bad habits. No matter what your situation is, spring is the time of rebirth and rejuvenation, which makes it an ideal time to work on lifestyle modifications that promote better health, and prevent chronic disease and cognitive decline. 

The four top life-threatening diseases in the U.S. are cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Reducing the risk of these diseases requires more than medications. The best way to attack the root cause of these diseases is to start with positive lifestyle changes. A comprehensive program involves dietary changes, an exercise program, stress reduction, improving sleep, and limiting environmental toxin exposure.

Good nutrition is very important in keeping your gut walls healthy, so you are able to absorb nutrients and minimize digestive issues, sugar cravings, weight gain, aching joints, immune and skin issues, and cognitive decline. What we were taught in the 1970s about wheat, whole grains and lectins has been disputed by many functional medicine doctors. They believe these foods cause toxic effects in the body by harming the gut lining, and creating inflammation throughout the body, even in the brain. A 2017 study in the U.K. revealed that many Alzheimer’s patients have a lot of bad bacteria overgrowth in their mouth, brain, and gut. In order to prevent overgrowth of bad, harmful bacteria, we need to be mindful about protecting and nurturing growth of our good, helpful bacteria. For example, in addition to dietary and lifestyle changes, we may need to add supplements of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotic fibers provide nourishment for our good bacteria, and help increase the amount of butyrate, which helps to increase weight loss and decrease inflammation. Examples of prebiotic fibers include asparagus, leeks, onions, artichokes, walnuts and pistachios. Probiotics contain supplemental good bacteria, which help to promote a healthy gut microbiome, and help to reduce IBS, fatigue, weight gain, diabetes, sugar cravings, and colorectal cancer. Probiotics also help to increase melatonin production, which can help improve sleep quality. 

Aerobic exercise should become part of our daily routine. A brisk walk outside for 60 minutes, and 30 minutes of weight training at least three times a week may help to reduce many risk factors for chronic disease. Exercise helps to reduce stress and inflammation in the body by increasing endorphins which are natural pain relievers. Stress of any type for prolonged periods of time may cause us to reach for unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overindulging in junk food, being a sedentary “couch potato,†smoking tobacco, and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Learning healthy strategies for reducing and managing daily stress will help to improve sleep quality, and thereby enhance weight loss efforts, and improve overall wellbeing. Reducing our exposure to environmental toxins found in the air, food, water and many manufactured products is also important. Whenever possible, try to choose more natural cleaning products.

The U.S. Preventive Task Force developed Healthy People 2020 to promote select preventive clinical services to prevent chronic disease. These include breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings, which are all available through your healthcare provider, and are usually covered by most insurances.

The choice to be healthy is a personal one. See what you can do to improve your nutrition and add aerobic activity and strength training to your life. Minimize stress, improve your sleep habits, and engage in meaningful social connections with your community. The health of a community depends on the healthy choices of its members. Spring is a good time to reflect on those choices.