Secrets of Health
It’s tempting to dismiss it as luck: Some people might catch a slight cold or suffer an occasional ache or pain now and then, but they never seem to suffer from flus, fevers and illnesses that send the rest of us diving under the covers for days. Despite centuries of scientific advances, doctors still can’t tell us definitively how to stay well. So why not look for solutions from the people for whom the common cold is, well, uncommon? Here, 10 surprising habits of those people who never get sick—and how you can adapt them to your own soon-to be healthier life.
1. THEY STRESS LESS Researchers at Duke University found that stress damages the immune system and the heart. Other studies suggest that it increases your chances of contracting bacterial infections, such as tuberculosis. There’s also evidence that learning relaxation techniques early on is crucial: A 2009 Stress in America Survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association found that stress is a top health concern for kids between ninth and 12th grades, and suggested that stress could do serious long-term damage if those children don’t learn to manage it. Of course, exercise is one of the best ways to chill out. A University of Southern California study found that when participants took a vigorous walk around a track, they reduced tension in their bodies by 20 percent. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is also crucial, as is laughing: It releases endorphins in the body that act as natural stress busters. Plus, a good guffaw gives your heart muscle a workout.
2. THEY SPRINKLE BREWER’S YEAST ON THEIR FOOD Just one tablespoon packs in most of the B vitamins you need each day, including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folic acid and biotin. Without enough of these vitamins, the body isn’t able to metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins; the Bs are also essential for healthy hair, skin, nerves, blood cells, hormone-producing glands and a thriving immune system. B vitamins help manufacture antibodies and white blood cells that make up the immune response. And in times of stress, the Bs can be depleted, which compromises your immunity.
Sprinkle a tablespoon of brewer’s yeast over popcorn or cereal, mix it into soups or sauces (the taste goes especially well with split pea soup or any dish made with tomato sauce) or bake into quick breads and cookies.
3. THEY EAT LESS. As far back as the 1930s, studies found that animals that were fed less lived twice as long. More recent research in humans has linked calorie restriction to lower incidences of age-related health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Participants in one study who ate 25 percent less than their usual amounts had lower overall cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Keep in mind that calorie restriction is an easy diet to do unsafely, however. Start by limiting simple sugars and flours, and pack your meals with dark leafy greens and other vegetables. You can find more tips on calorie restriction at crsociety.org or naturalhealthmag.com.
4. THEY EMBRACE BACTERIA. OK, so no expert will tell you to toss a few dirt clods into the blender the next time you whip up some pesto, but research suggests that the move toward complete sterility in the modern age wasn’t necessarily more healthful. It appears that the path to increasing health is probably somewhere between the squalor of our ancestors’ environment and the hyper-cleanliness of the developed world. Bacteria and our bodies have a symbiotic relationship in which their presence helps our systems stay healthy and balanced. “Good” germs can improve your metabolism, enhance your immunity and reduce inflammation. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, found that the more bacteria you have on the surface of your skin, the better you combat inflammation. So go outside, have plenty of contact with Mother Nature and get dirty! And rather than scrub your foods raw, give them a quick rinse.
5. THEY OPT FOR HERBAL REMEDIES. Although plant-based health aids have been long derided by the Western medical community, about one quarter of all prescription drugs are derived from plants. Herbal remedies (plants purported to have medicinal properties) are an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine, and what we know about plants’ abilities to heal is impressive: They can alleviate high blood pressure, stimulate the nervous system, destroy germs and boost the immune system. But you needn’t fill your medicine cabinet with supplements; something as simple as green tea can help improve your immunity and your health. Commercial green tea beverages have come under fire recently for unsubstantiated health claims, yet studies have shown that antioxidants in green tea called polyphenols have the potential to boost metabolism and burn fat, protect against liver disease, control blood sugar levels and lower LDL cholesterol. Skip pre-packaged bottled versions and sip unflavored loose-leaf green tea instead.
6. THEY MAKE FRIENDS A PRIORITY. Studies show that people with strong friendships tend to have more robust immune systems and are less likely to succumb to infectious diseases. In 2008, Harvard University researchers found that positive social attachments might protect against memory loss and other cognitive disorders. A 1993 Swedish study of male blue-collar workers (who are at increased risk of heart disease, statistically) concluded that men with strong social support lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease; and a 2009 study in Buffalo, N.Y., found that those with few friends were most likely to suffer from heart disease, depression and anxiety. If you feel the need to boost your crony count, try this little experiment for one week: Strike up at least two conversations every day with someone you haven’t talked to before. And aim to listen more than you speak; the more airtime you give someone, the more generous he or she will be with personal details. Also, keep the bellyaching to a minimum. Your tone can determine how often others will want to spend time and talk with you.
7. THEY STAY Ph BALANCED. According to some practitioners of alternative medicine, the body is healthiest when its systems are functioning midway between completely acidic and completely alkaline (i.e., pH balanced). When pH levels fall below that midpoint, the body suffers from a condition called acidosis, which even in minor cases can cause fatigue, rapid breathing, stomach problems and confusion. Many experts say that the typical American diet, chock-full of meat and sugar, has created an epidemic of acidosis in the Western world. Most vegetables are alkalizing, however, so eating them regularly can reduce your risk of being too acidic. Include lots of dark leafy greens, green beans, asparagus and carrots in your diet; other alkalizing foods to reach for include cucumbers, coconuts and avocados.
8. THEY EAT GARLIC. Studies have shown that garlic can act as a powerful antioxidant and antibiotic, as well as cut the duration and the number of colds you catch. In addition, garlic has proved efficient in reducing blood pressure and triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Some experts say that garlic’s medicinal value lessens when it’s in a supplement form and recommend that you eat it fresh if you want to get garlic’s health benefits.
9. THEY DETOX REGULARLY. Many chemicals used commonly today—such as phthalates, dioxins and PCBs—were absent from our environment a century ago. That might be why the rates of diseases (including cancer and liver disease) linked to toxic exposures are increasing, say experts. Although no long-term studies on the benefits of detoxification have been done, chances are good that your health will improve if you lower the level of synthetic chemicals present in your body. Digestive issues, fatigue, breakouts or muscle pain are often signs that you could benefit from a detox program, most of which require you to limit meats and avoid wheat, sugar, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. (See naturalhealthmag .com/detox for an easy, safe plan.) You can also purge toxins by sitting in a sauna or taking Bikram yoga classes, which are practiced in a hot room. Cleansing homeopathic or mineral baths might help, too. Talk to your doctor before embarking on a detox program of any length. If you’re pregnant or nursing, have an eating disorder or suffer from any kind of chronic health condition, it’s especially important to detox only under the supervision of a health care provider.
10. THEY TAKE MORE NAPS. Sleep deprivation has the same biological effect as stress: Overtired bodies ratchet up production of the hormone cortisol, which gives you energy but restricts production of human growth hormone, limiting your body’s ability to repair itself. Just like stress, sleep loss has a degenerative effect on your health, and lack of sleep is also tied to compromised immune function. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that the number and effectiveness of immune cells decrease without enough sleep. A counterintuitive napping tip: Consider drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage right before your nap. Because it will take about 20 minutes for the caffeine to travel through your digestive system, you can fit in a short snooze before it takes effect. Japanese researchers found that subjects who did this were more alert when they awoke than those who didn’t, and that their post-slumber work productivity was higher.
Adapted from The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick (Workman Publishing, 2010) by Gene Stone