While we have made tremendous leaps over the past century in extending how long we live and increasing our lifespan, we are living in an epidemic of chronic disease, with those added years not necessarily coming with good quality of life and health, also called health span.
Recent research has brought attention to the topic of health span, and how we can make sure we make the most of the years we have, and optimise health to be able to fully thrive. And while there are some advanced drugs and tools out there that take this to the next level, there are some simple tricks you can add to your daily routine that will make all the difference.
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1. Belly breathing for a count of 4
While this may sound a little woo-woo at first glance, research has looked into this in detail in the past years, and found that the simple act of ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ – ie our belly coming out as we breathe in, rather than the often shallow and nervous chest breathing most of us practise as we run away from that perceived tiger (stress!) that is chasing us all day long, and slowing things down to about a count of 4 each inhalation and exhalation, turns on our vagus nerve. Vagus what? The vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in our body, extending from the brain into most of our organs. It is part of our parasympathetic nervous system (rest-digest-and-heal), which is opposite to our fight-or-flight mode. Being constantly in fight or flight, and pumping out the stress hormone cortisol, makes us ‘age’ from the inside, and contributes to a whole range of symptoms from being wired to a lowered immune resilience, being more prone to allergies and digestive discomforts, to hormone problems, PMS and cancers! So shifting over to the rest-digest-and-heal mode via belly breathing can work wonders in opposing it! So simple, yet extremely effective!
2. Placing an ice pack on your neck and upper back – or jump into a full ice bath.
While ice baths have become somewhat trendy, there is good scientific reason to it. Research suggests that cold exposure, and in particular around the neck and upper back area, stimulates our fat cells to turn ‘beige’, improving our metabolism and lowering inflammation – both welcomed effects to live not only longer but feel better along the way! Another suprising effect is that it increases HRV – heart rate variability- which is a measure of both of how healthy our heart is and how well we are dealing daily stressors.
3. Switching your juice habits for real fruit and vegetables.
While fruit juices contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals, and they have gained popularity under people striving for a healthy lifestyle for that reason, their lack in fiber usually makes for quite drastic blood sugar spikes. Every time our blood sugar spikes, our cells basically ‘rust’ a little via process called ‘glycation’, and our immune system gets shut off temporarily. A better option would be to eat the whole fruit, as both the process of chewing, and its fiber content, have beneficial effects on our digestion, gut health, and it slows the absorption of (fruit) sugars. Another bonus is that eating the real deal provides a larger satiety signal than simply drinking it, making us less prone to overindulging.
4. Having dinner slightly earlier for better sleep and improved blood markers
While this may be a tough nut to crack due to work and social timing difficulties, the earlier one has dinner, the better. Research suggests that the timing of when you eat may be just as important as when you eat. And moving your dinner to earlier, ideally 4 hours before bedtime (!) has been shown to allow for better and more youth restoring sleep, a slimmer waistline, but even improved blood markers like cholesterol, triglycerides and more!
5. Cuddles, orgasms and the love hormone oxytocin
Did you know that when we touch or are being touched, including a pet, or getting a massage, we release a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin counters our stress hormone cortisol, and has been shown to be a wonderful antidote to stress-related health decline. It even helps curb hunger, lower inflammation, and much more. The most effective way to boost oxytocin is to have an orgasm, but if that is not on the cards, any of the above methods, but even stretching, or spending quality time with loved ones (even if no touching is involved), can stimulate the production of oxytocin.