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Six healthy habits for 2018

By Dr. Panch Paul, MD, ABIHM*            

Beginning each year, most of us make new resolutions. I see a surge in motivation in me and my patients during this time. Making health a priority and setting health goals is a great way to welcome the New Year. Many people set goals and never achieve them. The key is to set SMART goals. The goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results focused, and Time bound. It is important to write down your goals. Once, written, you should take a print out of your goals and put it on the walls of your bedroom, restroom, office- all possible places where you can be reminded of them. Thus, you can review them on a regular basis, monitor your progress, and reset your goals as needed. I have tried and taught different health practices. This year, my goals is to work on the fundamentals. Here are my six health goals for 2018.

1. Breathing: Breathing is a simple, yet most vital for good health. Pure air containing oxygen has healing and life-giving property. When stressed, most of us take short breaths through our mouth using our chest and shoulders. Over time, it becomes a habit. We breath minimal air through our mouth. This leads to low energy, fatigue, and raises risk for chronic diseases. The correct way to breath is through the nose. Take a pause. Inhale deeply through the nose, hold for a second, and then exhale again through the nose using abdominal muscles. If you put a hand on your abdomen, you should be able to feel the belly move up and down in rhythm with each inspiration and expiration. That is how babies breath. In addition, learn and practice specific breathing exercises like the pranayama, and the Sudarshan kriya. Sometimes, it’s hard to breathe through the nose if you are cold or your nose is blocked. Many times, it is because you are producing too much mucus. This is mostly due to food intolerances. Many adults cannot digest diary or gluten. Try an elimination diet to find out your food allergies and avoid them. It’s important to clear up your nose before you go to bed. Using a room humidifier helps. Even better will be inhaling warm moist water vapor just before sleep to clear up the nasal passage. Other way is to irrigate the nasal sinuses with saline water using a neti pot. Mustard oil is an antibiotic and an irritant, putting a little in the nose can clear up the nasal cavity- an ancient health practice ofIndia.  Exercise also helps to clear up the nasal passage. Many overweight people breaths through mouth during sleep. Loosing excess belly fat will facilitate nose abdominal breathing a night.

 2. Digestion: All the essential nutrients that we need comes from food. However, we need to digest the food to absorb the nutrients. Symptoms of week digestive system can be irregular bowel movement, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, bloating, and pain.  There are easy ways to boost your digestive power. Take some fermented food daily in the form yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut which will supply the body with healthy probiotics bacteria.  For the friendly bacteria to work they also need to be fed fiber also called the prebiotics. The fibers that I like are apple, guava, pineapple, cucumber, beat, carrots, vegetables, and salad. This will also ensure easy bowel movement. Chronic constipation is a serious health hazard which increases the risk for heart problems, hypertension, and cancer. Also, most people above the age of forty produce less acid in their stomach, a condition called hypochlorhydria. Stomach acids are required for absorption of proteins and vitamins. Taking lemon water with meal or mixing your water with a drop of raw vinegar will help. Many people take antacids on a regular basis. This is bad for digestion, and will produce nutritional deficiencies in the long run. How do you know if you digested all your food right? The body will answer next day in the form of regular smooth bowel movement.

3. Positive Communication: What we speak and how we speak determines the response we get from the world. There are many people who are always serious, criticizing and complaining. They tire themselves as well as others around them. Sometimes I do that too. This year, the goal is stay positive in all communications. Research has shown that optimistic and positive people live longer, happier, and healthier. There will be always problems and things to complain about. Focusing on the negativity helps none, except may be the politicians. Make sure to end all your conversations on a positive note. Keep conversations solution focused. Many times, our relationships at work and home suffers from misunderstandings because of miscommunications. Listen more without distraction. While speaking, focus on quality over quantity. Speak- slowly, clearly, and only when you are exhaling. In this way your voice will not break. Breadth through nose and use your abdomen while you speak. As a psychiatrist, I have lot to listen, and talk. A better communicator will always provide a higher quality of service. Many times, we are misunderstood because our voice does not match the content of our words. Only 7 percent of our communication depend on the words spoken, and all rest in nonverbal. Working on your voice will make your communication more clear and impactful. Take your communication seriously- record your voice, note your conversations- and seek help if needed to become a better communicator.

4. Work Life balance: I have written and advised people on work life balance. But I have been guilty of breaking my own rules.America is a land of opportunity, and there is no dearth of work and money for enterprising people. Americans work most hours and take the least vacation compared to all other developed nations. Unless we put a voluntary check, it is so easy to get into the 24/7 work culture. And I did. Last year I worked around 60-80 hours a week. I experienced burn out and it took a toll on my health. This year my goal is to do less, but more quality work. I believe that the 40-hour work week is there for a reason. Plus, one should take in account the commute time. If you spend too much time at office, or work from home- you will find less time for good diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation – which are crucial for health. Be conscious about the dangers of overwork and burn out. Make sure to spend time with family and friends.  Schedule few days off each month. Visit new places. Travelling can be rewarding as you gain new experience, learn new perspectives, and create happy memories. My friend and fellow psychiatrist- Dr.Raj Shekhat says “ Lost time is the only commodity that you never get back. Money is infinite and can be recovered. But family time lost, is gone forever.”

5. Healthy Workstation: Most of us spend most of our day in our workstation. Being sedentary is hazardous for health. Sitting all day is bad. My goal is to move more this year. I use a standing desk at work. But prolonged standing is also not the answer. The key is to move constantly. Human body is made to be in motion. Immobility increases craving for high calorie food, and prevent the fat burning process in the body. Other goal is to exercise daily, preferably in the morning. When I don’t go to the gym, I exercise in my office. I have kept a kettlebell in my office, as shown in the picture Many people see a fall in their energy and motivation as the day progresses. Thus, the earlier you exercise during the day, the easier it is to remain consistent. Many people get back problems sitting on desk all day. Other than standing, getting a medicine ball to sit and work can help. Treadmill desks and bike desks are the newer additions which can enable you to work out while you work in. Other than immobility, the next danger at modern workplace is the artificial lights. Looking at the computer screen all day is injurious to the eyes. Blue light is the most harmful among artificial lights. Blue light blocks melatonin and cause sleep problems at night. There are easy ways to minimize blue light exposure. Consider putting a red/green filter screen. Download the app flux for your computer. Consider using blue light blocking eye glasses. I have recently started using one as shown in the picture. I have noticed that my eyes are not getting tired as before, and I sleep better.

6. Reading Fiction: Reading is good for the brain and mental health. I am an avid reader and I read about five books a month. But off late due to my work, I have been reading more non-fictional books. This year my goal is to read two fictions each month. Our brain has 2 hemispheres. The left side is used more for focus, attention, logic, analysis, judgement, pattern recognition. The same right side is also used while reading nonfiction. The right side of our brain is more for creativity, intuition, spirituality, music, arts, imaginations, and stories. Brain stays healthy when both right and left sides are activated. Reading fiction at night is relaxing, and promotes good sleep. It can activate the right side of the brain, as well as the parasympathetic system- which has a calming effect. Reading classic literature helps to, understand others, learn different points of view, and increases empathy. It also enhances patience, perseverance, and attention. Many people have sleep problems. Reading fiction using a mild bed lamp is a great way to prepare the body for sleep.

In summary, each one of us has unique strengths and weakness. However, sometimes we get stuck in a rut. We only do the things we like. We become, and remain good at it. We rarely work on our weakness which becomes a bottle neck in our progress. Ask yourself, what else is important in your life that you are missing? Some healthy habits are easy to incorporate using books and internet as guide. Some habits are difficult and require professional oversight. Define your goals. Check your inventory. Seek out every possible help you may need. Even better, write your goals and share it- so that you are accountable to yourself and others. Anytime you slack, remember what Swami Vivekananda said- “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached”.  Happy 2018 and best of luck in accomplishing your goals.

*Dr. Panchajanya Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA – is an American Board certified – Child, Adolescent, and Adult psychiatrist. He holds adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. appointment. He sees patients at the Amen Clinics, which provides Brain Health care. To schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul, Call 6783672810.

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