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young couple walking along pond with dog

Playing the Long Game of Good Health

There is nothing like a global pandemic to make a person take a good, long look at their health, right?  For me, the past few months have made me slow down and evaluate what steps I can take to be my healthiest and keep my immune system in tip-top shape. And these words really resonate with me:

“You can’t out-supplement or out-medicate poor diet and lifestyle.” 

I hope they resonate with a lot of people. I care a lot about the health of individuals and the health of my community. And what this quote means to me is that good health isn’t a quick fix. You’ve got to play the long game.

The first place I look when I’m examining my own or a patient’s habits to improve health is diet. It seems like a lot of people want to inject something or restrict calories for 30 days or so to lose weight and get healthy. Then they go right back to eating fast and processed foods and wonder why the weight comes back and why they feel terrible again. It’s definitely a sign of our “quick fix” culture and I see a couple of issues with these weight loss strategies. First, weight loss is not necessarily the golden ticket to optimal health. For example, if a person is thin and his or her blood sugar is high, there are still going to be problems with the individual’s inflammatory response and immune system. Second, without sustainable, healthy changes to the diet, those bad habits will always come creeping back. Dietary changes are not a quick fix; they are a long game.

The second place I look is how I’m moving or how a patient is moving. Exercise certainly has the potential to keep us healthy in many ways, from decreasing joint pain to balancing the immune system. Without any kind of meaningful exercise, these benefits are not going to be gained. With too much exercise, which is usually my struggle, the benefits of exercise decrease. Like diet, I see people trying to do 30-day challenges to get six-pack abs or a better booty. Just like establishing a healthy diet, getting fit and maintaining fitness isn’t a quick fix. I often advise patients to work with a personal trainer to get them moving so that they don’t do too much too soon and to make sure they are moving properly. The chances of getting injured go way down when a trainer is involved! Exercise, fitness and movement are a long game, too.

It’s also worth taking a look at stress levels. Yeah, living in the world is always stressful, but these last few months have really been over the top. None of us has total control over what’s going on around us, but we do have some control over our reactions to outside stress. And I know that, personally, I could overcommit myself less and decrease my own stress levels in that way. Anyone else in the same over-commitment boat? In my office, I talk to patients about how to decrease stress and often advise that they see a counselor to develop a whole box of tools to help deal with their stress. Being overstressed is detrimental to the immune system, so it’s worth taking some steps to decrease stress where it can be decreased. And go easy on yourself, stress reduction is another long game and it takes time to unlearn patterns that send us directly into that super-stressed fight or flight mode.

Does all of this mean that I don’t take supplements or prescribe supplements or medications for my patients? Of course not! Sometimes targeted support is needed in the form of supplements or medication. Knowing what support is needed for my patient is part of the expertise I offer as an experienced naturopathic physician. But you know what? All of that support is going to work much, much more effectively if diet and lifestyle are on point.

If you weren’t already inspired to get healthier, I hope this article helps to inspire you! And, if you need help getting healthy, I hope you seek out a fantastic naturopathic physician.