What does it take for women to be healthy these days?
Maureen McDonnell, RN
Health Editor WNC Woman Magazine
Given each woman’s uniqueness and the fact that our readers are in varying ages and stages of life, an attempt to create a “one-size-fits –all” list of recommendations on what it takes to be healthy might be considered by some to be futile. However, I do believe that there are several general tips regarding our health that apply to all women – at any age.
When you consider how much our world has changed in the last 100 years – from the onslaught of toxins & the havoc they wreak on our hormones & immune systems, to the way our food is grown, to our evolving understanding of the interconnection between our thoughts & our health, a new model that takes these changes into account is needed.
As a holistic nurse for almost 40 years, I’ve been blessed to learn about women’s health from many wise and knowledgeable teachers, doctors, healers and friends and it is both my passion & pleasure to share these pearls with you:
Tips for staying healthy in today’s world
- Trust your gut (both figuratively and literally) I believe first & foremost, in order for a woman to be healthy, she must trust her intuition. Because we are bombarded with messages & opinions from so many directions, it’s often difficult to tune in to our inner voice. Taking time to quiet our mind by going for long walks, practicing yoga, meditating or just breathing deeply helps us get back in touch with our inner guidance system. “The mind shouts & the heart whispers” is a quote that reminds us that in order to make good choices we must first connect with that deeper part of ourselves. Not being afraid to act on the messages from our intuitive selves allows us to feel empowered – which I believe is a foundational component of health (especially for women!)
“Literally” trust your gut: “The road to good health is paved with good intestines!” The digestion & absorption of nutrients as well as the elimination of toxins that take place in our gut (or intestines) are critical to the optimal functioning of every organ and system in our body. Thanks to many pioneers in integrative medicine, we now understand that substances such as allergenic foods, excess sugar & environmental toxins lead to a disruption of our gut flora and/or an irritation of the gut membrane (which can cause it to become porous -referred to as leaky gut syndrome.) When this occurs, toxins & undigested food enter the blood stream which in turn trigger the immune system to create antibodies to those substances leading to generalized ill health and a weakened immune system. Health truly begins in the gut! For information on ways to heal the gut, here is a previous article I wrote on Digestive Wellness http://www.wncwoman.com/2012/03/02/common-sense-health-5/
- Positive self-talk … We can’t always erase the messages laid down when we were young that linger in our subconscious minds and negatively impact us as adults both psychologically and physically. But the science of Neuroplasticity offers new insights & tells us that we can override old thought patterns with new more positive message that work on our behalf to help us feel better about ourselves, create improved health and ultimately help us achieve our goals & dreams. Dr. Shad Helmsteader is a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity. You can learn more about the amazing self talk tools he offers via this link https://yk272.isrefer.com/go/selftalk/bleejones/
- What to eat & why? So many opinions (regarding which diet is best – ranging from veganism to Paleo) are hurled at us these days that it can get downright confusing. However, when you take into account that: over 87, 000 chemicals have been created (just in the past 100 years -most of which have not been tested for their impact on our health) & 40% of adults and 54% of children have one or more chronic illness, don’t you think it is high time we cut through the confusion and BS and started making better choices regarding what to feed our bodies to stay in optimal health? Here are my top dietary tips:
- Eat lots of fresh organic, non GMO vegetables, fresh made green juices, low glycemic fruit, healthy fats, lean healthy sources of organic protein (take your pick from beans to grass- fed beef, eggs, chicken, turkey, tempeh etc.) and add in a few superfoods (see article on superfoods http://www.wncwoman.com/2014/02/05/common-sense-health-superfoods-for-a-long-healthy-life/
- Keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day by getting off the sugar-insulin roller coaster ride created by consuming processed, sugar-laden foods and instead have a small healthy protein based meal or snack every few hours throughout the day. This one shift will not only minimize mood swings, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, sugar cravings, & anxiety, but it will also reduce inflammation which is now considered the underlying cause of many chronic illnesses including Dementia, type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease and Cancer. See article on the importance of balancing blood sugar levels http://www.wncwoman.com/2015/07/30/common-sense-health-the-benefits-of-balancing-your-blood-sugar/
- Don’t forget the fat: Once sugar has been eliminated or greatly reduced, don’t be afraid to add healthy fats. Good fats don’t make you fat…sugar and processed foods make you gain weight! Use organic olive oil for salads and health promoting organic coconut oil for cooking (as it can handle the high heat)
- Water and wine: The experts tell us we should drink ½ our weight in ounces of water per day. While keeping us well hydrated, that amount also helps flush out toxins in our system. Obviously drinking half your body weight in ounces of wine each day is not recommended. But a little- 1-2 glasses of red (organic if possible) will – the experts tell us, be good for our heart and help reduce inflammation. Of course, this is coming from a woman who is 100% Irish, so – consider the source!
- Develop nurturing, self-love habits around food. Providing your body with optimal levels of nutrients and having a healthy well-balanced diet shouldn’t feel like a boot camp. Love yourself enough to want to feel good. Do it because you are worth it, not because someone told you this is what you “should” do!
- Periodic detoxing: Did you know that we store toxins in our fat cells? Our body does this in an attempt to protect our vital organs – which is why it is so important to do a periodic cleanse especially when we are attempting to lose weight. When fat cells break down they release toxins into our blood (so we may get thinner), but if we don’t detox simultaneously, we’ll remain toxic. This in turn can, at the very least causes us to regain the weight. In addition to specific cleansing herbs like Milk Thistle & Nettles – ample fluids, exercise, sweat, good bowel movements & saunas all help to assist in the detoxification process.
- What we put ON (not just in) our bodies really matters: Our skin is our largest & most permeable organ. The FDA reports substances applied to our skin can be found in our cells within 26 seconds! Mineral oil, a cheap filler found in many lotions & cosmetics inhibits our skin’s ability to “breath” or release toxins. Do not use products with the following ingredients: mineral oil, formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, talc, BPA, triclosan (often found in toothpaste & anti-bacterial soap) etc. It helps if they are also vegan-certified (no animal testing or animal parts contained in products), organic and or non GMO, free of artificial fragrances (one perfume can have up to 200 chemicals) & free of artificial colors. We are just beginning to recognize the role toxins play in our country’s high rates of women’s hormone related disorders including: infertility, birth defects, breast cancer, PCOD (polycystic ovary disease) PMS, precocious puberty, endometriosis and obesity.
- Seek out health care providers who are not only well-versed in natural methods of healing, but who by encouraging questions & not speaking down to you, generate a sense of trust and personal empowerment.
- Exercise: Pumping up those endorphins makes us feel good, but in addition, a growing body of research shows that regular exercise improves our immune function by increasing the number of natural killer cells that fight off viruses and bacteria as well as reducing our risk of developing cancer. Regular exercise also slows the aging process and combats inflammation Having a balanced routine that includes some cardio (interval is now the rage), stretching (such as yoga) and some resistance work with weights will provide enormous benefits to your health.
- Sleep: the great healer: Sleep helps repair the body from damage that may have been caused during the day from exposure to toxins, infection, sun exposure etc. A good night’s sleep reduces blood pressure, damage caused by stress, it helps reduce inflammation and improves memory. Sleep also helps regulate the hormone balance that affects and controls your appetite.
- Joy, Laughter & Community: When people give me advice on health or try to tell me how to live my life, I measure their “Joy Factor”. If they are living a joy-filled life, if they can laugh (even at themselves trying to be the experts) and they have soulful fun connections with others, you know what? I’m going to listen to them! No one can underestimate the health promoting aspects of happiness, laughter and having great friends!
- True preventative health care isn’t just getting a yearly flu shot or doing an annual mammogram (both of which new research indicates carry some risk & may not be as effective as once thought.) Instead, real prevention has everything to do with listening to & honoring messages your body gives you in the form of symptoms. Headache, fatigue, PMS, palpitations, joint stiffness, gas, bloating etc., are nudges from your body to take head. Next time a symptom arises, sit quietly & ask your body what it needs. You may “hear” that rest, eliminating dairy, removing grains, taking a yoga class, drinking green juices, using toxin-free cleaning, laundry or personal care products, taking a nap, going for a walk or sitting quietly in meditation are just what your “inner doctor” ordered. In essence, listening to the body helps you address and thereby short circuit the underlying causes of illness before they evolve into a full blown condition requiring more complex interventions.
“Follow those who seek the truth, but flee from those who say they’ve found it”. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that with the amount of toxins our bodies are dealing with, the rising incidences of women affected by cancer & other illnesses and the tendency by mainstream medicine to over prescribe pharmaceuticals & perform unnecessary interventions, a new health paradigm for women is needed. The best shot we have is to become aware, arm ourselves with credible information, partner with knowledgeable & sensitive care providers and trust in our own inner guidance system.
I’m interested in your experiences and what tips you may have regarding what you do to stay healthy in today’s world! Please write to me at [email protected]
Maureen is available for private one-hour health consultations. Call 609-240-1315