5 Ways to Feel Better

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Sept 6th, 2012)

Happy BirthdayThis week the blog turns 1. Over the last year I have written about exercise, diet, and the science behind the development and natural treatment of conditions. Today I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about YOU! It is very important to take care of you as a whole. Too often, including here, we break down our bodies and systems into individual bits and components and forget the bigger picture. So this week, I want to share with you 5 simple ways to feel better. These will generally boost your mood, mental focus, ability to perform, and overall feeling of wellbeing.

1. Smile
Smiling is one of the simplest things to do and it will brighten the world around you. There is a saying in Neuroscience, “Nerves that wire together, fire together”. This means that nerves that are involved in a common function will activate together when one component is triggered. So, when you are feeling happy, you smile. Therefore, when you smile you will start to feel happy. The level of hormones released in your brain while smiling increases, thus increasing your sense of wellbeing and happiness. Also, the more you do it, the faster and greater the effect. This is called biofeedback. Biofeedback is a technique where a task that has an effect on the body’s physiology is trained so it may be used to have the desired effect when the person wishes it. So when you’re not feeling your best, smile and see what difference it will make. It is important to make it a real smile too, use your whole face.

2. Breathe
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing will increase the oxygen that gets into your blood and thus the rest of your body. This will help relieve the little aches and pains around your body, relieve muscle strain, and even increase brain function. As well, the mechanical impact of belly breathing stimulates digestion and the movement of food through your gut. On top of all this, deep, belly breathing stimulates the “Rest and Digest” side of your involuntary nervous system, called the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). This will decrease anxiety, increase calm, and increase mental focus and well being. Deep breathing can have an enormous effect on your health. Take 5 minutes a day to shut out everything else and just focus on breathing as deeply as possible, in long, slow breaths. Remember to focus only on the breathing, not your to do list.

3. Drink Water
Water is the element of life. We cannot live without it, but a lot of us push that boundary as much as possible with how little water we actually take in. By drinking lots of water in a day (6-8 cups), this will increase the volume of your blood, which makes it easier for your body to pump it throughout the body. This has the same effect as those deep belly breaths from before because much more oxygen will get to the tissues, especially the brain, which needs to fight against gravity for its blood supply. When these two are combined, the effect is even greater. As well, with increased blood flow through your tissues there will be more efficient waste removal and thus less build-up and congestion. This is particularly true in the brain as waste build-up can cause decreases in function. Thus, mental function, focus, and feeling of alertness will increase with more water. Drinking water throughout the day will also stimulate the PNS just like deep breathing and increase calm and wellbeing. So have a glass or bottle of water with you throughout the day and keep hydrated.

4. Sleep
We were all told you to get to bed on time, but how many of us actually listened? It turns out this advice was right. Sleep is an incredibly important part of our body’s natural rhythm and cycle. To start the day, the body needs a high level of cortisol, the stress hormone (which is used for so much for than stress), which peaks around 8-9am and begins to fall. During sleep your body allows the adrenal glands (the production centres of cortisol) to rest and recover after the day’s stresses and strains. Then the glands ramp up production again in the wee hours of the morning to get back up to the levels required for waking up and starting the day. Many other chemicals and hormones are regulated this way during sleep, especially in the brain. In the brain, sleep helps to commit the things learned throughout the day into long-term memory, as well as to regulate anxieties and moods. So make sure that you get a full night’s sleep most nights and feel your body thank you. Don’t forget that alcohol and drugs (eg; caffeine and nicotine) interfere with healthy sleeping and diminish the normal, healthy benefits if gives.

5. Moderation
I’ve talked about this idea before here on the blog and on my Youtube videos but it is worth repeating again. Do everything in moderation including moderation. It is important to live a healthy, active life but it is also important to remember to take some time for yourself. Relax. Take a day off now and then. Go out and party. Happiness in life is a key factor in mental, physical, and spiritual health. Do something that makes you happy at least once a week and, if you can find the time, daily.

These 5 habits are not completely separate. Try adding one at a time to your life and each one will be easier than the last. The benefits will add up and you will feel better about life and yourself.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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