We’ve all been told by physicians to eat our vegetables and exercise regularly, but have you ever wondered what else a naturopathic doctor would advise you to do to stay healthy? Naturopathic doctors, like their MD counterparts, are educated in all the basic sciences, but also study holistic, nontoxic therapies with a heavy emphasis on prevention and general wellness. We picked the brains of four naturopath doctors (NDs) and asked them what they really want us to start doing—all the time—to unearth our best mental and physical selves.
1. Set a sleep time and stick to it every night.
“If you are able to put yourself to bed at a consistent time, it will help to manage stress, increase your immune function, balance your hormones as well as increase your energy in the morning,” Kristi Wrightson, ND, RD, owner of Nest Integrative Medicine Spa, tells LivingHealthy. The amount of sleep you need is individual to you, but note that the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours for adults ages 18 to 64. Our ancestors (who were healthier than us) got six and a half hours or even less.
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2. Avoid screen time at least 30 minutes before bed.
You probably had rules similar to this when you were growing up (“No TV before bedtime!”). And as usual, your parents were right: Staying away from electronics gets you into proper sleep mode. “Looking at a screen will cause photoreceptors in the retina of our eye to detect light and inhibit our natural ability to produce a hormone called melatonin [that helps you fall asleep],” Nadine Khoury, ND, tells LivingHealthy. “Ensuring that you’re getting good-quality sleep is extremely important for hormone balance, mood balance, libido and energy.”
3. Smile and laugh more.
Smiling, which gives you that “feel-good” emotion by releasing the “happiness hormones” serotonin and endorphins, has been proven to boost your mood, relax your body and decrease stress, according to Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW, in an article she wrote for Psychology Today. There’s more: “Smiling and laughing boost the immune system, and it’s more fun than eating spinach,” explains Sharon Stills, NMD, founder of YourRedLife.com and physician expert on WomensHealthNetwork.com.
4. Accept change as a matter of fact.
“Become friends with it. The only constant in life is change,” says Stills. And don’t beat yourself up if you have a hard time coping with change. “We are not wired to accept change so easily,” she continues. Becoming friends with change is actually more important than you may realize because not accepting it can cause stress to your nervous system and prevent you from relaxing, Stills explains. Stress can also cause excess cortisol secretion, which can lead to many health conditions such as insomnia, fatigue, memory loss, weight gain and high blood pressure.
5. Be your own health detective.
Treating the patient is a naturopath’s main concern, but a lot of the work will still have to be on you, especially if you’re experiencing specific issues. “Start a health journal to record how you are eating, exercising, sleeping and feeling each day,” advises Allana Polo, ND, owner of Polo Health + Longevity Centre. “If there is an underlying problem, take this journal to your naturopath and sit down for a long chat, which may also need to be followed by some tests. Working with a naturopath means getting to the root cause—no Band-Aids, please—and the information in your health journal will be very helpful in doing this.” Naturopaths are able to order specialized testing such as food allergy testing, salivary hormone testing, heavy metal testing, vitamin status testing, general blood chemistry values, thyroid panels and more. Using these tests as tools to get to the root cause of an ailment is of utmost importance.
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6. Put yourself first.
You know when a flight attendant tells you to make sure you put your oxygen mask on before helping others? The same can be said for life in general. “Life can get so busy with family, work and life commitments, and we need to make a conscious decision to put ourselves first and prioritize self-care. It’s not selfish—it’s necessary for good health!” says Polo.
7. Learn to say no
“This goes along with putting yourself first,” says Polo, who advises that you analyze all your commitments and choose only those that serve and fulfill you. “Learning to say no will open the door for all of the good things that serve you to flow into your life and eliminate some of the things that are causing you stress, which results in you getting run-down and sick.”
8. Take good care of your gut
“Gut health may be at the root of a wide range of diseases such as anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and skin issues, among others,” explains Khoury, who says some of the primary determinants of gut health include eating healthy, removing inflammatory foods and making sure that there is a healthy balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Naturopaths (as well as medical doctors) often recommend probiotics (“good” bacteria) to help create that equilibrium in your gut.