The Big Four

The four areas of health on which I have been focusing – sleep, nutrition, movement and stress control – are the fundamentals, the bedrock, of my health. I focus on no, or very low, cost interventions that anyone can implement. I was going to list my top recommendations to optimize each of these when I realized they are all elements of one main thing – health! They aren’t separate and alone. Each of them feeds the success of the others, and its impossible to say that what you eat does not impact your sleep, or vice versa.

Having said that, here’s what is working for me right now:

Eating a ketogenic diet and fasting intermittently each day (limiting eating to the hours between 11 am or noon and 6 pm)

Moving for a minimum of one hour each day, including some HIIT and some balancing.

Keeping a gratitude journal daily.

Thinking happy thoughts  😉

And … getting 8 hours of sleep every night, enhanced by:

1. A very dark room. No lights but moonlight.
2. Cooling the room, the bed, and my body.
3. Getting away from blue light well before bed time and reducing EMFs as much as possible. Basically, the mobile device must be put in another room, in airplane mode, in the earlier evening.
4. Generating my own melatonin by walking outside in the mornings.
5. Reducing nasal stuffiness by reducing histamine-rich foods, particularly red wine, dark chocolate, and aged cheeses. (I know, could I have listed three foods I love more?)
6. Getting enough vitamin D (with K2) and enough magnesium.
7. Drinking sleepy time tea before bed.
8. Getting to bed by 10 pm so I have at least three hours of sleep before the witching hour of 1 am.

 

Every stupid thought I have

Brain Tree

One of the doctors I have learned about in my quest to improve my health is Daniel Amen. He runs a number of clinics focused on optimizing brain health and decelerating the aging process, among other things, and one of his recommendations is this:

Don’t believe every stupid thought you have.

The brain is noisy, and skews negative. There is no imperative that you must believe every thought that is rattling around up there. Instead, ask yourself, “is it true?” This will help reframe the thought, and re-focus your mind.  I have found this helpful and I hope you do too.

September Focus: Sleep

Sleep is one of the four main pillars of good health, and something I continue to focus on. I used to be a sound sleeper, but in the past five years have found myself awake for significant hours of the night, or waking in the morning with no sense of being rested. I’m focusing on building some new sleep habits in September to continue to optimize my health.

Recent research from the University of Rochester shows that when you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins (by-products of neural activity when you’re awake) from its neurons. Your brain can only adequately remove these toxic proteins when you have sufficient quality sleep. When you don’t get high-quality deep sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc.

Besides the obvious attention I give this area of my health – a good mattress, keeping the room cool and dark enough, going to bed early, and limiting exposure to my iPhone for the last hour of the day – I found an article on Inc. yesterday that had some tips that were either new to me, or framed differently. I summarized it below, but urge you to read the article at the link if you believe your sleep could be improved.

Titled This Is What Your Overactive Brain Needs To Get A Good Night’s Sleep and written by Dr Tara Swart, it suggests:

“While falling asleep might seem like a passive process, there’s a whole cocktail of neurotransmitters involved in it, including histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine. But that means there are many physiological “levers” you can pull on your way to a better night’s sleep. Get your evening routine right, and you’ll be able to enjoy the spoils that come with it–better concentration, memory, and moods, enhanced creativity, and reduced inflammation and stress.”

Dr Swart’s recommendations include:

Lose the routine glass of red wine before bed. Why?
Because your liver uses more resources to try to break down the toxin, your brain is starved for the energy it needs to recuperate effectively for the next day.

Eliminate as much artificial light as possible after the sun sets. Why?
Because darkness triggers the pineal gland to release melatonin, and it may be confused by all artificial light. Try switching to either paper books, or an activity that doesn’t rely on light once the sun goes down. I think campfire light is sleep enhancing!

Skip the snack before bed. Why?
Many foods stimulate the brain, at a time we want to be calming it.

Smell some lavender, or jasmine. Why?
Lavender is a powerful neuromodulator, which means that it lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, making you more relaxed and likelier to fall asleep.

Drink nut milk with turmeric before bed. Why?
Make your own relaxing bedtime drink using almond milk (full of magnesium that reduces the stress hormone cortisol) plus turmeric (anti-inflammatory) plus a little Manuka honey (boosts immunity).

Soak in the tub with Epsom salts. Why?
It is a great way to relax – both the warm water, and the cool down afterward – signal your body that it should get ready to sleep. Plus you can add magnesium salts to the bathwater, and that helps decrease cortisol levels.

It’s Friday. Movie time.

It is the last Friday in June folks. Today you are as old as you have ever been, and as young as you will ever be. One of life’s dichotomies – two parts of a whole, both true.

I’d love everyone to watch this 2-minute animation about the benefits of meditating from Happify and narrated by Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier. Meditation is really that simple and that impactful. Another dichotomy.

“There is no out until you become aware.” Minimalism: a documentary about the important things is a film that came out in 2015. Our stuff is our disease. It’s killing us and killing our planet. This will get your attention.

I learned about the Love Your Brain foundation from a Brain Health Summit webinar recently. It is about snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s accident and traumatic brain injury (TBI) just prior to the 2000 Olympics. The Crash Reel is a film about his journey back to health. The foundations site is very polished, and worth visiting.

Finally, October is just around the corner, and the second annual Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette, Michigan. We attended this festival last year and came away changed by it. Fun, funny, and inspiring.

I hope your weekend is the same!

My Morning Routine

I love reading about people’s routines. One of my favorite email subscriptions is the weekly feature sent from mymorningroutine.com. It features the same 18 questions every week, asked of a selection of working American adults. I can’t wait for them to interview me, so I thought I’d take matters into my own hands and answer these same questions now, as a baseline for myself (and maybe for you).

What is your morning routine?

I wake up when the birdsong outside my window is too loud to ignore, and when the sun is full on up. This varies significantly from summer to winter at latitude 45° north, so in theory at least, I sleep longer in the winter. I immediately put on my headphones and meditate for at least 25 minutes. Then I get up and take my Parkinson’s medicines. Because these do not kick in for 45 minutes or so, I climb back into bed after taking the meds, and use my phone to check weather, mail, news, and Instagram while I wait. I also note ideas I want to explore more fully later using the voice dictation feature in the Notes app. When my meds kick in, I rise, get ready for the gym, and use the hour or so between that time and 8:20 am to write at my desk. By 8:20 am or so, I am heading to the gym.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

About one year, and I have been evolving this routine over time. The biggest recent change has been relocating to a northern climate, without air conditioning, where the windows are open all night. It is remarkable to wake up connected to the nature outside.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

When I last worked, in 2015, I would wake up, check mail, jump up and get showered and dressed to go to work, all in a mad rush. Most of what I would have called healthy habits were ignored or postponed until I “had time.” I have been focused on a more healthy lifestyle since I stopped working.

What time do you go to sleep?

I try to get into bed by 9:45 pm and have lights out by 10 pm. I’d like to evolve both my bedtime, and my rising time, even earlier if possible. I find that the mornings are my most creative and solutions oriented hours, and I’d like to extend that time.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

My meds and my gym clothes are all laid out. I have a glass of water next to the meds.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I rarely use an alarm.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

I usually drink one glass of water in the morning, and otherwise do not eat or drink until about 10:30 am when I return from the gym. Breakfast is usually a green smoothie or coconut/almond flour muffin, both from the Plant Paradox cookbook, which is the lectin-free diet I follow.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

I participate in a classes at either a gym every morning – Pilates class three times a week, yoga once per week, and a boxing class for Parkinson’s patients once per week. I try to do all my gym-related workouts in the morning. In summer, almost all the rest of my exercise comes from working in the yard, or riding my bike on one of many nearby trails.

Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

I do a breath based meditation for 25 minutes first thing in the morning. I also use a guided meditation occasionally when I see one that appeals to me.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I answer email as I can, depending on my mobility and the urgency of the email. I don’t segment my email time.

Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

I track my sleep with my Apple watch using an app called AutoSleep. I also use an app for meditation guidance – Insight Timer, Buddify, or Mindfulness.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

I use my phone to meditate in the morning, but all notifications are turned off, and I don’t open any app but the meditation app first thing.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Meditating, and getting my medicine into my system so I can move.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water is first, followed multiple hours later by coffee or green tea.

How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

My partner is instrumental in enabling us to get to bed early. When she comes to bed later than me, I often don’t sleep as long or as well. In the morning, she knows my routine, and she has her own, so we support each other and check in often during the morning.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

I rarely go to the gym on weekends, so I tend to sleep a bit longer.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I just go with the flow now, and because I am trying to evolve this routine to be more and more healthy, I expect it to change.

Anything else you would like to add?

Just that meditating is the best addition to my morning routine I have ever made, and I’d recommend it highly.