Many of us are spending a lot more time at home these days (and dealing with a lot more stress!), so there is no better time to look at how we can make our living spaces happier and healthier. In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with bestselling author, journalist, podcast host and filmmaker Max Lugavere on how we can get rid of toxins in our home that may be contributing to our anxiety, and how we can all make simple and easy changes to our lifestyle that can boost our mood and improve our wellbeing.
Although I am sure all of us know that we need to eat better if we want to be healthier, Max, in his new book The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary, notes how nutrition is just one part of the story if we want to be healthier and happier. We also want to become aware of how we are eating, not just our macros and micros or what diet is trending, and how food fits into our overall lifestyle, as I discuss in my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart. The key is to eat real food mindfully, focusing on a minimally processed, whole food diet that satisfies us and keeps us healthy and strong. We need to learn how to avoid bad habits like restrictive calorie counting, which may develop into an eating disorder, or sedentary lifestyles that focus on eating around the TV or while using our phone, which tends to increase our calorie intake (this can be especially hard to resist if you are working from home!).
The thing is, food is never just about food. It is also about how we use the energy that comes from our food—what we eat and what we do. Our ancestors lived very athletic lifestyles and ate minimally processed foods; they didn’t sit around obsessively counting calories or carbs, and had relatively muscular bodies that helped them do what needed to be done to survive. Yet, today, many of us live inactive lifestyles and consume too many calories, which means we have an excess of energy, which can lead to all sorts of problems. Research has actually shown that when we eat more than we need we tend to fidget more, upsetting our blood sugar levels and potentially causing anxiety and mental distress. And, indubitably, an excess of food also means our bodies now have to store all this extra energy, potentially leading to obesity and a host of lifestyle-related issues such as heart disease and insulin resistance, which, in turn, impact our mental and physical wellbeing.
This is why movement is so important. A Max says, exercise is medicine for the brain. No matter what you do, when you are moving your body you are burning energy and improving your mental and physical health, from walking the dog and playing with your kids to high intensity resistance training—all movement is good movement, and you can be in good shape even if don’t have to have a gym membership.
However, a good exercise regimen doesn’t just have to involve physical movement. As paradoxical as it may sound, when it comes to our mental and physical wellbeing, we also need to consider what Max calls thermal exercise. In the modern world, many of us tend to spend most of our day in a temperature-controlled environment, which means we don’t use our internal thermal regulatory mechanisms as much as our ancestors did. In short, we spend too much time in our comfort zones! Yet, like exercise, being a little bit too cold or too hot can be good stressor, which is why Max loves using a sauna several times a week and often takes cold showers (for more on the health benefits of saunas see my recent blog and podcast episode #102). The temperature change forces our bodies to work for us, which has many physical benefits, including a better metabolic rate (which means we burn more fat), a reduced risk for heart disease and better insulin sensitivity. Essentially, thermal exercise functions like aerobic exercise in the body, even if you are not actually moving your body!
A sauna is also a great way to detox, which is especially necessary in a world filled with all sorts of chemicals that can negatively impact our health, making us more stressed and anxious. On average, it is estimated that we are exposed to around 1400 chemical disruptors, like BPA, on a daily basis. Of course, we cannot fully protect ourselves from all these environmental toxins, but it is important to be aware of them. Once we become aware, we can mitigate the damage they can have on our mental and physical health by minimizing our exposure to them at home, school and work, and detoxing through healthy habits like eating real food mindfully and exercising regularly.
We can also destress and reduce our daily anxiety by:
1. Limiting our screen time. Technology can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it connects us, but we are also constantly exposed to the hyper-curated versions of other people’s lives and what is going on around us, which can make us feel stressed out and anxious, influencing how we communicate and relate to each other. This is why it is so important to schedule time into our day where we disconnect from our phone and just switch off, focusing on the internal.
2. Catching the morning light. Sleep is a master regulator, and when we don’t get enough sleep, or when the quality of our sleep is disrupted, we can feel stressed out and anxious. Max recommends exposing ourselves to good quality, bright light early in the morning, which anchors our body’s circadian clock. This, in turn, helps us sleep better at night, as our body produces the sleep hormone melatonin, which is needed to allow us to rest well and repair the damage done during the day. Likewise, we should limit our exposure to artificial light later on in the day, which can trick the brain into thinking it is still daytime, upsetting our melatonin levels and potentially causing issues such as premature aging, anxiety and even cancer. I recommend using blue and green light blocking glasses from companies like BLUBlox, which I spoke about in a recent podcast (episode #114) and blog (you can use the code LEAF15 at checkout for 15% off your BLUblox glasses order).
3. Enjoying the natural world. As humans, we yearn to be connected to natural world, but today around 93% of people spend most of their time indoors! We should not underestimate the power of getting outside: when we go out in nature and take in the sights, we use our panoramic vision, which is a natural de-stressor, while focusing too intently on something can trigger our flight or fight response. So, next time you feel like your brain is going to melt and you are stressing about something, stop and take a nice walk outside, if possible. You can also use more red light therapy in your life if you cannot go outdoors-see my podcast and blog on red light therapy for more information. Not only will this help you destress, but you will also get more natural vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can improve your mental and physical health—light really is medicine!
For more information on lifestyle choices, anxiety and mental health, listen to my podcast with Max (episode #141), check out his website, podcast, books, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. If you enjoy listening to my podcast please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family, and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
Podcast Time Highlights
2:20 How Max went from pre-med to telling people’s stories
7:54 Why nutrition is just one part of the health story
12:35 Why exercise is medicine for the brain
18:28 Why we should take more cold showers & the power of thermal exercise
23:55 Environmental toxins and the game of chemical whack-a-mole
30:40 How to de-stress and manage anxiety at home
36:00 If the sun is like medicine, why do many people spend around 93 % of their time indoors?
40:13 Why we all need more collagen
43:25 What are genius foods?
46:00 Why you should avoid diet fads
If you would like to learn more about lifestyles and mental health, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit in Dallas, TX December 3-5, 2020! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click here. Early bird special pricing end 4/31!
Dr. Leaf no longer runs a private practice or takes individual patients. If you are looking for a therapist we recommend BetterHelp, an online counseling platform that offers affordable and accessible mental health care tailored to your individual needs. Visit our sponsor here https://betterhelp.com/drleaf for more details and to find a therapist.
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