Many of the health issues affecting Americans today are not acute problems like infection or broken bones, but rather chronic, systemic issues like diabetes, metabolic syndromes, or autoimmune disorders, a large quantity of which can be linked to a series of lifestyle choices.
While Western medicine can manage these chronic illnesses, there is a deeper, more pervasive way of preventing them. If you ask Adrienne Nolan-Smith, board-certified patient advocate (BCPA) and the founder of the company WellBe, it all boils down to 100 small choices we make every single day.
“Obviously, when you have an acute emergency, Western or conventional medicine is the greatest thing on Earth, and we should all go in that direction to save our lives or save a limb,” she says, noting nevertheless that “every single individual choice” we make in a given day contributes to – or hinders – our health, and these choices can be the difference between feeling poorly and feeling well on a day-to-day basis.
These choices are myriad, but by and large, they can be broken down into five major categories:
- Food: choosing clean, mostly plant-based foods
- Move: moving our bodies, whether that’s going to the gym, going for a hike or just taking the stairs to our apartments
- Sleep: creating an environment where we can get a good quantity of uninterrupted sleep
- Clean: choosing cleaning products, cosmetics, and homeware devoid of endocrine disruptors
- Unplug: turning off our devices, meditating, and taking steps to reduce stress
One hundred choices may seem like a lot, but in reality, looking at our health as being made up of tons of small steps can be liberating, tempering hindrances that can cause some to balk – like spending a bit more on organic or getting up early for a spin class.
“There’s a large volume of choices," says Nolan-Smith, "and it's about the majority of your choices encouraging health, and really thinking about each one of those choices as preventing chronic disease.”
And above all, these small changes cut back on the money, effort, and stress of relying on medicine to improve issues resulting from making the wrong choices.
Where to Start?
While each of these categories is important, some may be more important than others.
“I personally believe that I can’t do anything if I’m not sleeping,” says Nolan-Smith. “When you're sleeping better, your immune system is so much stronger. You get sick less, you feel better, and then these other things, like finding the motivation to do extra steps, or finding the motivation to prep your meals, is, I think, stronger.”
Other people, Nolan-Smith notes, would say that food is the foundation of disease prevention, an argument backed by science. Evidence in support of a plant-based diet made up of organic foods continues to build, and the profound link between mental health and food – the so-called "brain-gut connection" – lends even more credence to this theory.
But at the end of the day, these choices will depend most of all on what each individual believes is important and worthwhile. Nolan-Smith explains that if you don't believe you have the time or money to make a change, it ceases to be a priority. The key isn't necessarily to force yourself to make the change anyway, but rather to uncover why it wasn't a priority in the first place.
“If you don't truly believe that you can heal a chronic health issue, or if you can't imagine not being sick, or you really don't believe that organic food is worth it, of course you're not gonna make time for it!” she says.
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“Would you have to go see a crop to see the difference between organic or not to decide that you're gonna go to the health food store to shop instead?" she continues. "Then maybe that's what you need to do. But stop trying to make that commitment to yourself before you're ready.”
Just a Few Small Choices that Can Make a Huge Difference
When health is boiled down to 100 small choices, it makes it far easier to take steps – even just one or two – to improving health. Here are just a few options that are easy to build into your regular routine:
- Eat organic whenever possible, especially when it comes to the Dirty Dozen
- Commit to cooking at home a certain number of days a week, offsetting the slightly higher cost of organic
- Cook mostly plant-based, which will also offset the slightly higher price of better-quality food and will contribute a host of health benefits
- Prepare your lunches on Sunday and take them to work, further offsetting the cost of better-quality food
- Integrate a regular intermittent fasting practice, for anti-inflammatory benefits
- Try an elimination diet, like the Whole30, to identify inflammatory foods
- Commit to a free exercise regimen on YouTube, like Yoga with Adriene
- Take your phone calls outside, and get your steps in while you chat
- Take the subway one less stop on your way home and walk the difference
- Take the stairs to your apartment or office
- Plan a physical activity with friends or family, like a hike
- Plan to eat your last bite of food three hours before going to bed, to encourage better sleep
- Sleep in a completely dark room
- Pick a bedtime and stick to it every day (even on the weekends!)
- Cut out caffeine, or reduce your consumption
- Buy natural soaps and shampoos, like Dr. Bronner’s
- Switch to all-natural beauty products
- Transition to endocrine-disruptor-free cleaning products for your home
- Replace any plastic food storage containers with glass
- Start a 10-minute morning meditation practice
- Turn off your phone two hours before bed
- Opt for one device-free day per week, like Sundays
- Begin an acupuncture practice
Nolan-Smith suggests picking one or two new practices and adding them to your routine for 60 days.
“At the end of 60 days, assess," she says. "'Did that help my life?' 'What am I getting out of it?'"
If the changes seem beneficial, make them commitments, “like an appointment with yourself, the way that you would with a doctor or a friend you're meeting for coffee, and don't let any other things encroach.”
Real life is complicated, and making changes to routine is never easy. But small changes can make a huge difference, and the path to better health can begin with one simple step.
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