By Dr. Shireen Pais
It sometimes seems like busyness is a basic requirement for living in the tristate area. From care giving for children and aging relatives to balancing the needs of family and work, the demands on our time and attention are vast. The start of the New Year is a period we often set new goals and lifestyle changes into motion. However, summer can also be a time of change. We tend to slow down a bit and spend more time outdoors. We schedule vacations and reconnect with family and friends. Summer can be an opportune time to examine overall health and well-being and kick-start a healthy lifestyle that will benefit you for years to come.
Eat like your ancestors
With so many diet fads coming in and out of favor, it can be challenging to keep up, let alone know what’s the best way to nourish our bodies. My advice: eat like your ancestors. To be clear, you don’t need to go too far back in the family tree, but try to emulate the eating habits of your great-grandparents. Focus on eating less red meat and processed foods. Avoid consuming nitrates, charred food, high fructose corn syrup and excess sugars. Whole grains such as quinoa, barley and farro are an excellent source of fiber and protein, which are key to a healthful diet. Be sure to include plenty of fresh vegetables with different sources of greens, yellows, purples and oranges. Vegetables can be raw or cooked, but not overcooked. And, the good news is that summer is the perfect time to incorporate a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables into your meals, with a many kinds selections in-season.
Keep your microbiome happy
Although it may not be the most glamorous body system to think about, the microbiome — the ecosystem of bacteria within our bodies — plays an integral role in our health. Not only is an unhealthy microbiome connected to autoimmune diseases, fatigue and joint pain, mood disorders, diabetes, obesity and allergies, it also helps determine our predisposition to various diseases and our unique integrated DNA. We need to populate our gastrointestinal tract with prebiotics and probiotics to maintain an environment where the right bacteria can flourish.
Supplements containing bacterial strains aren’t FDA approved, so there’s no way to know what’s truly inside. It’s best to get your prebiotics and probiotics straight from the source. Once again, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as ancient grains and legumes are ideal prebiotic foods and yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and other fermented foods are excellent options for probiotics.
Fatigue often accompanies busyness. And when we’re fatigued we’re more likely to eat junk and less likely to follow a healthful diet. We’re also apt to drink less water and more alcohol. As a result, our sleep patterns suffer, and we wind up in a downward spiral of fatigue. Although exercise can feel like the last thing we want to do, in fact it’s the best remedy for fatigue. Exercise gives us the same dopamine rush as eating junk food, but without the health consequences. It also promotes GI tract movement, better responses to insulin, and has been shown to decrease multiple primary cancers as well as heart disease and strokes.
Help your future self
Despite leading busy lives, many of us put time and resources toward planning for our financial future. We open 401k and 529 accounts. We meet with our financial planners and accountants to think long-term about our financial health and security. In the midst of busy, we must not forget to invest in our health, too. Research shows poor digestive health is directly linked to cancer, obesity and diabetes. Take care of yourself now. Trust me; your future self will thank you for it.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
It sometimes seems like stress is a basic requirement for living in the tristate area. While we may not be able to completely rid ourselves of stress, there are steps we can take to manage it. Take charge of your overall health by setting attainable nutrition, fitness and self-care goals. Make meal planning and prepping a priority. Yes, it feels like a lot of work, but when you’re running to a meeting or soccer practice you’ll be grateful you don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner. Schedule exercise as if it’s a meeting or appointment you cannot miss. Put it on your calendar and show up. By becoming mindful about lifestyle changes, you’ll feel in control of your life, despite the stress and busyness.
Shireen Pais is a gastroenterologist with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley. She practices at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital Digestive Health Center.