By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
As the seasons change, many of us are looking for a fresh start or a way to renew our health. It can seem overwhelming to take on a whole new lifestyle – better nutrition, packing lunches, cutting out sugar, regular exercise, getting to bed earlier, etc.
What I suggest as a starting point is to just choose one thing to begin with, and commit to this change for 30 days. You will be amazed at the difference you will feel. Below is a list of scientifically proven ways to change your life in less than 30 minutes a day.
My challenge to you is to choose one thing from this list, and let us know which one you have picked. Just send a quick email here, with the subject line indicating your choice. We will email back at the end of 30 days to check in with you. Remember, small things can make a huge difference! Download a chart for tracking your progress here.
1) THE 7 MINUTE WORKOUT
You may have heard about the 7 minute workout, a quick sequence of high intensity circuit training (HICT), that has shown some impressive results. It consists of 12 high intensity exercises that use just body weight or a chair, with brief periods of recovery (10 seconds).
Health benefits have been shown to be:
- Reduction in body weight and body fat
- Improvement in metabolic markers for up to 72 hours after exercise
- Increased VO2max, a marker of cardiopulmonary health
- Reduction in insulin resistance
Pretty impressive for just 7 minutes! Here are some helpful links:
- Article in the New York Times, which illustrates the exercise sequence: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/
- Apps that display the exercises and keep time for you: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/7-minute-workout-free-daily/id650762525?mt=8 or https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/seven-daily-7-minute-workout/id650276551?mt=8
- Klika, B; Jordan, C. HIGH-INTENSITY CIRCUIT TRAINING USING BODY WEIGHT: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: May/June 2013; 7(3); p8-13.
2) SPRINT 8 WORKOUT
The “Sprint 8 Workout” is an 8 week exercise program designed to increase growth hormone production. An increase in growth hormone will reduce body fat, tone muscle, increase energy and improve cardiovascular endurance.
Each session lasts 20 minutes, an it is repeated 3x per week for a period of 8 weeks.
20 minutes session consists of:
- 3 minute warm up
- 8x 30 second full sprint cardiovascular activity
- 90 second recovery intervals between the sprints
- 2.5 minute cool down
In a study conducted 2011, the Sprint 8 protocol had impressive results in a group of women with an average age of 46 years, reducing body fat by 27% over 8 weeks without dieting. Other positive changes were results in the women’s lipid panels with lowered cholesterol and especially a reduction in triglyerides.
- Braden D, Ross J, Gray LC, Walker, C, et al. The Sprint 8 exercise protocol is a novel approach to fighting obesity efficiently among middle-aged females by substantially increasing GH serum levels naturally. Published online: Ready Set Go Synergy Fitness http://www.readysetgofitness.com/obesity_research2.shtml .
- Stokes KA, Nevill NE, Hall, GM, et al. The time course of the human growth hormone response to a 6 s and a 30 s cycle ergometer sprint. J Sports Sci, 20(6), p487-494.
- Gilbert KL, Stokes KA, Hall GM, Thompson D. Growth hormone responses to 3 different exercise bouts in 18- to 25- and 40- to 50- year old men. App. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 33, p706-712.
Caution: Both of these exercise programs are quite intense, especially the Sprint 8 workout. Please consult with a healthcare practitioner before beginning these exercises, especially if you are pregnant, in the first 6 months post-partum, have any joint injuries, or cardiovascular health issues.
RELAXATION / STRESS MANAGEMENT
3) 12 MINUTE KUNDALINI MEDITATION (Kirtan Kriya)
Kirtan Kriya is a Kundalini yoga meditation that has been practiced for hundreds of years. It involves chanting the sounds Saa Taa Naa Maa along with repetitive finger movements, or mudras. The basic practice of 12 minutes per day has shown some impressive health impacts, including:
- Reduction in stress levels
- Decreases in inflammatory gene expression
- Dramatic increase in telomerase expression, which literally slows aging – this simple meditation practice is one of the most effective ways to do this!
- Better memory, and reversal of memory loss
- 65% improvement in depression scales – again, extremely impressive response
- Improved sleep quality
Full instructions for the Kirtan Kriya meditation are found here:
And a very helpful soundtrack to practice with:
(Credit to Dr. Kelly Brogan for sharing this amazing tool: http://kellybroganmd.com/change-your-life-in-12-minutes-a-day/)
- Black DS, Cole SW, Irwin MR, Breen E, et al. Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Mar;38(3):348-55.
- Lavretsky H, Epel ES, Siddarth P, et al. A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;28(1):57-65.
- Moss AS, Wintering N, Roggenkamp H, Khalsa DS, et al. Effects of an 8-week meditation program on mood and anxiety in patients with memory loss. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jan;18(1):48-53.
4) GRATITUDE JOURNAL
Being grateful and acknowledging it on a daily basis has shown to have tangible benefits. This simple task requires you to reflect on any satisfactory, positive or current blessings on a daily basis by writing in a journal. It is also highly recommended for youth and early adolescents for well-being. Although this activity may only require about 5-10 minutes every day, studies have shown great positive effects such as the following:
- increase in life satisfaction
- enhanced self-reported gratitude
- increased well-being
- significantly decreasing depressive symptoms.
How to do it:
To keep a gratitude journal, simply spend 15 minutes each evening writing down 5 things you are grateful for. Writing them down, rather than just thinking of it is extremely valuable, as the extra attention reinforces the positive changes. You will find that even after the first week, you will start to look for things in your day to be grateful for, and dramatically change your outlook on life. This practice is also excellent for children before bed, to help shift the focus of their day, and develop an attitude of gratitude.
- Froh F, Sefick, W, Emmons, R. Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. J Sch Psychol. Apr 2008. 46(2), p213-233.
- Wood A, Joseph S, Maltby J, Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: incremental validity above the domains and facets of the five factor model. Per Individ Dif. Jul 2008. 45(1), p49-54
- Lambert N, Fincham F, Stillman T. Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion. Cogn Emot. Sept 2012. 26(4), p615-633.
5) TIME RESTRICTED EATING / INTERMITTENT FASTING
Many studies have evaluated daily intermittent fasting, and the results are compellingly positive. Three major mechanisms by which fasting benefits your body, as it extends lifespan and protects against disease, include:
- Increased insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial energy efficiency – Fasting increases insulin sensitivity along with mitochondrial energy efficiency, and thereby retards aging and disease, which are typically associated with loss of insulin sensitivity and declined mitochondrial energy.
- Reduced oxidative stress – Fasting decreases the accumulation of oxidative radicals in the cell, and thereby prevents oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids associated with aging and disease.
- Increased capacity to resist stress, disease and aging – Fasting induces a cellular stress response (similar to that induced by exercise) in which cells up-regulate the expression of genes that increase the capacity to cope with stress and resist disease and aging.
- Preventing many diseases: Fasting has proven to have beneficial effects for preventing and reducing the severity of many diseases. For example; reducing the risk of cancer by having a beneficial effect on metabolism, and Alzheimer’s disease by delaying the onset or reducing the severity. It is also very beneficial for heart health by reducing LDL levels, inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels.
How to do it:
Intermittent fasting is actually quite simple. A starting point is to fast for a full 12 hours every night, including 3 hours prior to bedtime.
On a typical day, this looks like finishing your dinner by 7:00pm if you go to bed around 10:00pm, and not eating again until after 7:00am. That’s a whole lot of benefits for eating your dinner at a reasonable time and skipping the bedtime snacks!
- Barnosky A, et al. Intermittent fasting vs. daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Transl Res. Oct 2014. 164(4), p302-311.
- Heilbronn LK, et al. Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. Jan 2005. 81(1), p69-73.
- Johnson JB, et al. Alternative day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Free Radic Biol Med. Mar 2007 1;42(5): 665-74.
- Siegel I, et al. Effects of short-term dietary restriction on survival of mammary ascites tutor-bearing rats. Cancer Invest. 6(6): 677-80.
- Rocha NS, et al. Effects of fasting and intermittent fasting on rat hepatocarcinogenesis induced by diethlnitrosamine. Treat Carcinogen Mutagen. 2002. 22(2): p129-138.
- Lee J, et al. Dietary restriction increases the number of newly generated neural cells, and induces BDNF expression, in the dentate gyrus of rats. J Mol Neurosci. Oct 2000. 15(2): 99-108.
- Varady KA, et al. Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr. Nov 2009. 90(5), p1138-43.
6) REDUCING SUGAR INTAKE
Although many of us like to indulge on sweets and sugary treats, many studies have shown that sugar is harmful to your health. Reducing refined sugar products has long term health benefits. Try going for some blueberries or raisins after dinner instead of that chocolate bar.
As a challenge, cut out all sugar in your foods, which includes: sugar in coffee, all sweets and treats, and foods with added sugar. When you start reading ingredients listed, you’ll be surprised to find added sugar in foods such as pasta sauce, yogurt, almost all breakfast cereals, most condiments, and more!
As an added challenge, also avoid natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave and dried fruits; and limit your fruit servings to no more than 2 per day. You will notice a tremendous change in your health – energy, food cravings, weight, and even immune system, hormone balance and concentration.
A low sugar diet will:
- reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels – this will reduce chances of heart disease
- prevents you from becoming insulin resistant – preventing obesity and diabetes
- allow you to increase your nutrient intake – this is because sugary foods often have no nutrient value and are full of calories
- allow your immune system to function optimally: sugar leaves your immune system wide open to infection!
- Stanhope K, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. J Clin Invest. May 2009. 119(5), p1322-1334.
- Basciano H, et al. Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipdemia. Nutr Metab. Feb 2005.
- Johnson R, et al. Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. Oct 2007. Am J Clin Nutr. 86(4) 899-906.
I can’t wait to hear from you about your experience taking on one small practice for the next 30 days!