Leverage two powerful tools for better health

You have the power to impact your own health and well-being. The actions we take, the choices we make, the way we think, the way we act or react to situations, and the way we move through life all impact our health and wellness more than we may realize. There are shifts you can make in how you think and act that will affect better health.

Routine daily activities we take for granted can impact our health and wellness. The beauty of these activities is that we do not need a medical or healthcare practitioner to pre- scribe them. Two such activities that you can use to impact your health and wellness are movement and sleep.

Movement and exercise

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.

According to WHO, physical activity reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, and breast cancer in women. There is even evidence to suggest that increasing levels of various types of physical activity may benefit health by reducing hypertension, osteoporosis, and risk of falls; improving body weight and composition; and decreasing the incidence of musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis and low back pain.

WHO recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days per week to improve and maintain health; the 30 minutes can be accumulated over the course of a day in blocks as short as ten minutes.

We tend to think of exercise as running, playing a sport, swimming, using workout equipment, or some other activity that requires extensive physical exertion. There are other options that have benefits, including walking, low-impact exercise, or other mild fitness practices.

In addition to the conventional forms of exercise popular in the West, there is another type of activity that promotes wellness. In China there are two movement programs that have been used for thousands of years and are becoming very popular in Western cultures: t’ai chi and qigong. These programs impact not only the body but also the mind.

T’ai chi (pronounced tie chee) is an ancient program of gentle, slow, fluid movements and coordinated breathing. The movements are designed to stimulate the flow of the energy force (chi or qi) and to promote balance in mind and body. T’ai chi originated as a martial arts style and has been adopted as a movement program because of its health benefits.

Qigong (pronounced chee gung) is another ancient movement program based on gentle movements with coordinated breathing that includes visualization. It has been described as a self- healing art that, like t’ai chi, cultivates the energy force within us and plays an active role in maintaining health.

When gentle movements are integrated with full, relaxed breathing and deep relaxation of mind, the body enters an especially healing and restorative state. This has a positive effect on the blood, the nervous system, the immune system, and oxygen metabolism.

Yoga is another practice that may serve you well. Yoga is a mind-body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy. The various styles of yoga that people use for health purposes typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.

Sleep and Rest

Although getting adequate sleep and rest is essential to health and wellness, most people take it for granted. Your body has remarkable healing power, and rest and sleep play a large part in the healing process. When you don’t get enough, it impacts your body’s healthy functioning.

The National Sleep Foundation maintains that seven to nine hours of sleep per night is optimal for most adults and that sufficient sleep promotes overall health and alertness. Sleep debt is the result of not getting enough rest and can cause physical, emotional, and mental fatigue. Studies have shown that sleep loss impairs immune function and the healing process.

When we sleep, our blood pressure is lowered, hormones are secreted, kidney functions change, sensory and motor activities are relatively suspended, and the immune system is impacted. The hormones produced during sleep pro- mote growth, help build muscle mass, repair cells and tissues, and work to fight infections. Sufficient sleep not only pro- motes healing when you are ill or sick, but helps create a positive environment in your body which may reduce the occurrence or severity of disease or illness.

All bodies are unique in how much sleep they need to function optimally. Your body knows how much sleep you need and will be your teacher and alert you when you aren’t getting enough. What shows up in your body when you have had insufficient sleep?

The routine daily activities of moving and sleeping affect our health and wellness. Making a shift to recognize their potential and to make appropriate changes in these areas will have a positive impact.

Marc Levin is the author of the book Eight Shifts for Wellness: Practical Transformative Steps to Enhance Health, Wellness, and Well- Being

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