As we count down the final days of 2017, I’m sure you’re probably doing some reflecting on the year. If you’ve downloaded The Gorgeous Guide to Goal Conquering, you’ve probably been doing a LOT of this! As I work through it myself and get clearer on what I want 2018 to look like, I’ve been thinking about everything I do in effort to optimize health and wellness. In other words, every routine and ritual I’ve tried in order to feel awesome.
We’ve been told a lot about what we should do to be “healthy”. Things like…
- it’s a great idea to start the day by drinking warm lemon water, doing a work out, practicing yoga, dry brushing in the shower, oil pulling after brushing our teeth, and enjoying a nutrient-dense breakfast in the morning.
- We need to ensure we cover our nutritional bases and make up for deficiencies by taking probiotics, multi-vitamins, omega-3s, digestive enzymes, minerals, greens powders, antioxidants etc etc etc…
- We should schedule regular appointments with our naturopaths, massage therapists, acupuncturists etc because ongoing maintenance is key for prevention.
- We could all benefit from a mid-day walk outside of the office
- In the evening, it’s a good idea to cook dinner with 100% organic locally-grown produce, chewing every bite at least 20 times and minimizing al distractions.
- We should switch off all electronic devices after a certain digital witching hour, and meditate before bed in order to achieve optimal sleep – ideally in a cool, completely dark room.
Oh, and most of us have jobs to be at from 9-5 too. Somewhere in all that, we know we should make time to nourish our relationships and sleep, because both impact our longevity. And there are how many hours in a day?
With new studies and so much information coming at us about what we should and shouldn’t do to be “healthy”, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by daily self-imposed laundry lists of wellness to-do’s. We could spend every hour of every day tending to these activities and still have a hard time fitting them all in – let alone our other responsibilities.
I’m genuinely fascinated by wellness and the progress being made in this area, and am always up for trying new things. What I don’t love however, is feeling like I’m doing something out of obligation or because everyone else is, even though I’m not really enjoying it or feeling any better as a result.
Truthfully, I’m not the warm-lemon-water-drinking-in-the-morning type. I wish I could tell you I begin each day by meditating on a cushion for 30 minutes, but I don’t. I have a brush for dry brushing in my shower, but I can count on one hand how many times I’ve used it in the past 3 months. I haven’t delved into crystals because they just seem a little too woo-woo – at least for where my head is at right now. But that’s just me.
Everybody has their own practices that bring them joy AND work in terms of the wellness benefits. Whether the benefits you reap are real or placebo, in my mind, if something feels like it’s working, keep it up! I’ve tried plenty of new things related to nutrition, fitness, and overall well-being, but it’s the ones that have really moved the needle that I’m most consistent with.
These are the 4 wellness habits that delivered serious results for me this year:
1. Trading chronic cardio for lifting weights
As a former cardio junkie whose weight training always came secondary to running, I never trusted people who suggested it was possible to achieve the body composition I wanted by exchanging the majority of their cardio time for lifting weights. It wasn’t until I physically couldn’t run due to an injury in October of 2016 that I was forced to find another way to get my endorphins.
Giving strength training the attention it deserved and making it the main focus of my workouts was a game changer, and a shift that has had so many benefits:
- Anemia is no longer the massive struggle it used to be: my ferritin is consistently much higher than it was throughout 2013-2016. Although supplementation and reintroduction red meat in my diet are contributors, I attribute a lot of the progress to decreasing running mileage (and susceptibility to runner’s anemia), and reducing the overall stress on my gut as a result of chronic cardio.
- Higher energy levels – again, likely linked to the anemia issue, but I no longer feel completely depleted after every workout
- A changed body composition – In all my years of running, I was lean with not much muscle. It wasn’t until ditching long cardio in exchange for lifting heavy things that my body composition shifted and I put on some muscle – in combo with a clean diet, of course. Lesson learned: you don’t need to pound miles of pavement for flat abs.
- Fewer injuries – In 2015 and 2016, I sustained way more injuries – even if we’re just talking about little aches and pains – than I have this year. Lifting has taught me to be far more connected to my muscles, forcing them to become efficient at moving in multiple planes – not just the repetitive forward-and-back of running and cycling.
2. Doing yoga at least 1x per week
This is something I started early in the year. Unless I was travelling or doing something else like a hike during the summer, I’ve been pretty consistent. Hot yoga is my preference, although once in a while I’ll mix it up with some yin or hatha if my body needs a more slow-moving, restorative class – something my formerly hard-charging, intensity-driven, type-A self never really allowed. I crave this once-a-week ritual and absolutely love it when Fridays roll around.
Noticeable benefits so far include:
- Better mobility – Doing yoga in combination with strength training has improved my range of motion, as well as the ability to get into muscles that were previously underused because I was using others to compensate. Doing lying leg raises used to killllll me because my hips were SO tight and I was over-compensating with my hip flexors, but they’re a million times more doable now.
- Fewer injuries – Similar to the comment under strength training benefits, these 2 have been really effective in preventing muscle over-use, strains, sprains etc.
- Feeling a greater sense of calm – Definitely something I needed more of in my life. I can’t say I measure my cortisol on a daily basis, but I have a pretty good hunch it’s lower on the average day now than a year ago.
- I’m more patient – Said another way, I think I’m just a nicer person because of this habit! The same could probably be achieved with regular meditation or other mindful practices, but this has definitely been a great way for me to work on patience and being ok with moving slow.
- Yoga forces me to slow down and be in the moment – If my head is racing a million miles a minute, there’s no way I can keep my balance in dancer’s pose, tree pose, or anything else that requires mind-body connection during a yoga class. It’s carried over into other areas of my life and I’ve realized single-tasking is absolutely more effective than multi-tasking.
3. Keeping a gratitude journal
It occurred to me the other day that the notebook I write in each night now has almost 365 days of entries in it, each with at least 5 things I was grateful for that day. Keeping this journal was one of the goals I set out to accomplish at the beginning of 2017, and it has absolutely made a positive impact. Some days I write just 5, and on others I’ve written up to 2 pages.
- I’ve learned about new ways to restore myself: Looking back on the entries, it’s clear that there are really little things that bring me joy and re-energize me. Stuff like taking 5 extra minutes to stretch each morning, having a quick FaceTime with a family member or friend, listening to a 90s pop playlist (throwbacks!), crawling into a bed made with crisp clean sheets, and taking an extra long shower are some of those little boosters.
- Overall happiness: It’s hard to quantify, but that’s ok. I just feel like a happier person, and isn’t that the whole point?
4. Cleaning up my home cleaning + beauty routines
I’m the type that needs to know the why before deciding to change up what’s working, so educating myself on the potential dangers of ingredients in the personal care, cosmetics and home care products I was using was the first step. Once I knew the why, as well as what to avoid, making the cleaner non-toxic choice was a no-brainer.
I’m proud to say I’ve eliminated artificial air fresheners from my home and car, replacing them with essential oils in my diffusers. I’ve also been using my essential oils in DIY personal care products (like lip balm and lotion bars), household cleaners and remedies for things like headaches muscle pain and colds. The old me would have popped some sort of drug store remedy if I felt a headache or cold coming on, but now Peppermint Halo and my Saje Pocket Pharmacy are now the first things I reach for. My skin care routine and makeup bag got much-needed makeovers (and some fave picks can be found here!)
The results so far:
- Decreased toxin exposure – The benefits of this are probably far greater than I’m consciously aware of right now
- Fewer migraines – In previous years I’d experience a migraine that had me completely knocked out and in bed for a full 24 hours, at least every couple of months. I’m pretty sure I’ve had less than 5 this year, which is a significant improvement.
- Lower risk for disease – Of course, I can’t say I’ve scientifically measured this result. But if what research is suggesting about the impact of toxic ingredients in our personal and home care products is true, surely removing them from my daily environment would be having this impact.