Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Determinants of Health

Some of my personal identities are wife, mother, doctor, friend, WA resident, and so many other titles. I am all of these pieces together but not any one of them alone. It is the synergist effect of the combination of these factors that makes me **ME**. In naturopathic medical school, we often talk about the “determinants of health.” Naturopaths know that physical, psychological, and spiritual wellness, combined with factors such as diet, living environment, genetics, and stress management, create the “big picture” of health.

(For anyone who has taken physics - the determinants of health kind of remind me of vector drawings…you have to know all the forces acting on an object in order to determine in which direction it will move.)

We know that our determinants of health shape the trajectory of our wellness throughout life. Some of these determinants, like our genetics or the intrauterine environment we experienced while in our mother’s womb, are difficult to change. However, there are many areas where we can take a proactive approach and use lifestyle or diet interventions to positively impact the outcome of our health moving forward.

Below I have outlined 3 of the most simple strategies for improving individual health determinants to shape a healthier future. These tips may seem simple or basic, but just setting the intention to become engaged in your personal health determinants is powerful in itself. This shifts the perspective of power from outside of ourselves to inside – allowing us to acknowledge that we have an important role to play in our own life’s story!

1. Get your ZzZzZ’s!!!

We all know that adequate sleep is important to help us feel energized, look our best, and concentrate on the tasks of daily life. However, research has shown us that getting enough sleep can be a crucial aspect of chronic disease prevention. The regenerative nature of sleep is essential for the body to heal and repair cellular damage that happens from just from living our normal lives. For example, your body may repair cells in your heart and blood vessels while you sleep, reducing the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes. Sleeping also helps to balance hormones, supports the immune system, and allows for muscles to grow and repair. With all of these amazing processes happening during sleep, it is a great idea to make every effort to get your fair share of shut-eye! Here are some sleep pro-tips:

· Avoid electronics for 30-60 minutes before bed. Backlit screens, especially those with blue light, are very stimulating to the brain and may prevent you from falling asleep as fast as you’d like.

· If you wake up in the night feeling hungry, have a small snack about 30 minutes before bed. Snacks with mixed carbohydrate and protein may be helpful to keep you full and help to make the neurotransmitters required to fall asleep (like some apple slices and peanut butter or a few brazil nuts and a square of dark chocolate)

· If you are someone who occasionally wakes during the night and then has anxiety about being awake, remember that sleep is still rejuvenating even if it doesn’t happen in 8 hours stretches. As long as you are getting about 8 hours over a period of 24 hours, you should be able to benefit from the regenerating effects.

2. Phone a friend!

Community is an important part of overall health. A sense of connectedness is associated with a reduced risk for both anxiety and depression, and this makes sense. Interacting with people we care about may help us feel more empathetic towards others, give us a sense of meaning and purpose, and reduces feelings of loneliness or isolation. While all of these benefits are wonderful from a quality of life perspective, research recently conducted at UCLA also suggests that social connection may improve immune system functioning and may even increase overall longevity. These are all great reasons to schedule a coffee date, go on a walk, or hug a loved one ASAP!

3. Discover your meaning and purpose

Having a sense of meaning for your life can support several of your health determinants. Spiritual, mental, or emotional health could benefit when one feels that they are fulfilling their purpose in life and that their existence is powerful and has meaning. There are several strategies for manifesting a sense of meaning and purpose, but one way is to identify your core values, and then take actions to support those things that are most important to you. For example, if you identify one of your core values as “knowledge seeking,” maybe that motivates you to take some classes on a topic that interests you, sign up for a webinar series, or read a new book. Taking these steps could help to encourage habits that serve your most treasured goals, and that is healthy in so many ways! For more guidance regarding identification of your values, offers this great resource:

Thanks so much for reading! Now go take a nap, have a good laugh with your favorite friend, and meditate on which values you hold most dear.

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