The human body has an incredible capacity for healing when given the right raw materials. In our 21st-century world, however, we are faced with unprecedented levels of stress, environmental toxicity, and unhealthy eating and exercise habits that get in the way. The good news is that we can choose to stimulate that healing capacity through lifestyle changes that can propel us toward our optimal health in amazing ways.
Be Physically Active
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Exercise not only helps your immune system fight off simple bacterial and viral infections, it decreases your chances of developing heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.” Exactly how exercise supports your immune system is not well understood, but it is thought that being physically active may help flush bacteria and carcinogens out of the body by increasing output of wastes like urine and sweat, and also helps circulate antibodies and white blood cells more effectively to combat bacterial and viral intruders.
In addition, recent studies have found that the hours that most Americans spend sitting each day are taking their toll. Research shows that sitting for long periods of time contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and premature death in general. The negative health effects of sitting all day are being compared to the dangers of smoking. Even regular exercise provides only minimal protection from its damaging impact.
Doing whatever you can to incorporate more movement and less sitting into your life can give a major boost to your body’s healing power. Active hobbies, a standing desk, regular movement breaks, and walking instead of driving are just some ways to move more.
Reduce Your Exposure to Toxins
Time magazine reported that “A recent bio-monitoring survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found traces of 212 environmental chemicals in American — including toxic metals like arsenic and cadmium, pesticides, flame retardants and even perchlorate, an ingredient in rocket fuel.” Arsenic can interfere with the glucocortoid system that helps regulate metabolism, which can in turn lead to immunosuppression and insulin resistance. Flame retardants and perchlorate have been shown to disrupt the thyroid hormones that also impact metabolism and the immune system. A trace of one of these toxins may be benign, but the current science is unable to tell us the health impact of exposure to low levels of multiple toxic substances.
If you’re working to heal, you can choose to reduce the impact of this chemical cocktail. You can avoid many potential toxins by using natural household and personal-care products, using a water filter, eating organic, and avoiding processed foods. Eating the right foods and getting plenty of exercise and rest can help your body flush out the toxins you can’t avoid.
Adopt a Healing Diet
Throughout history all cultures have turned to food for healing. Ginger calms the stomach. Garlic fights infection. Radishes help clean out the kidneys and liver. Unfortunately, today’s basic Western diet is high in carbohydrates, meat, added sugar, dairy products, and refined grains, and has led to increased cancer, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. The vegetables most commonly eaten in the United States are corn and potatoes. Even if you strive for a healthier diet, you may not be getting a big dose of vegetables like leafy greens, cabbages, or sprouts that contain antioxidants and other nutrients that strengthen the immune system. Significantly improving your diet can completely change the building blocks your immune system is working with and increase its effectiveness enormously.
I could spend hours sharing stories of people who, in consultation with their doctors, addressed their health conditions primarily through lifestyle changes that optimized their immune systems:
› Debbie resolved years of undiagnosed, paralyzing back and joint pain by switching to natural versions of all her personal care and household products, increasing her vegetable intake, and cutting out processed food and added sugar.
› Allen got off his blood pressure and cholesterol medication by committing to daily vigorous exercise, reducing his daily calories, and increasing his daily vegetable intake.
› Sarah reduced her blood sugar and type 2 diabetes medication dosage by switching to a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet supplemented by high-protein vegetable juices.
› Belle ended all her debilitating arthritis pain when, at 60, she switched to an anti-inflammatory, primarily plant-based diet and began a regular yoga practice.
› Jamal significantly reduced his medication for multiple sclerosis and improved his mobility when he cut added sugar and processed food from his diet and worked intensively with his physical therapist.
I’ve experienced this as well. Annual bouts of strep throat or bronchitis and low-level fatigue bothered me my whole life. In addition to healing entirely from six years of illness, in the seven years since I reduced animal products, sugar, and wheat, and vastly increased the amount of fresh vegetables I eat and how much I exercise, I have not been sick with anything more than a couple of stomach bugs and a short cold or two. It feels like I was issued a new body.
I am not suggesting that you should forego conventional Western medicine. We are fortunate to live in a time when innovative medicines and medical procedures prolong life every day. Get good medical advice. But also do everything you can to support your body’s natural healing processes. Many illnesses like digestive disorders, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and high blood pressure can often be brought under control or significantly impacted through lifestyle changes. It is important to recognize that relying exclusively on medications, surgeries, or alternative treatments for healing can lead to putting off the personal changes that can bring you the deepest healing in the long run.
I want to acknowledge that it takes experimentation and a lot of support to sort through the overwhelming advice about diet, exercise, and healing. Start off with baby steps, get friends involved, and don’t give up. I tried three other healing diets and concluded that nutrition had only a marginal effect on my health before I finally found the diet and lifestyle that enabled me to fully heal.
»» For Today ««
Explore new ideas about how nutrition and exercise affect your health. Do an Internet search of healing lifestyles like vegan diets, raw foods, the paleo diet, the body ecology diet, Ayurveda healing, and anti-candida diets, combined with your health condition, and see what you find.
This is a series of excerpts from the first section, Take Charge, of my new book, Everyday Healing. To start your journey on Day 1 and read the whole book: Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge and Get Your Health Back . . . One Day at a Time please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookstore to pick up your copy today.
As always, if you have any thoughts, feedback or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let’s talk!
To your health,