How a little personal spring cleaning can help you lose the winter doldrums.
As we cope with the lingering effects of the pandemic, it may feel difficult to get out of our Groundhog Day mentality. You know, the same Zoom meetings, remembering to grab a mask as we head into a store, wondering if we’re making the best health choices for our loved ones. Yes, the research is clear that it’s all taken a toll on our emotional well-being. But the longer, warmer days are arriving and that means we can bust our way out of the winter malaise.
For starters, sunshine is an elixir. We feel better when it’s sunny outside. So put a dose of sunshine at the top of your six ways to spring-clean your health routine.
Yes, I know prolonged exposure to the sun brings its own risks, but sunscreen on exposed skin provides protection. So make a plan to get outside every day. Research finds the sweet spot is 20-30 minutes. Sure, a walk in the woods is tops, but a stroll around your neighborhood also does wonders for your mood and subsequently for your overall health as well. It’s been shown that time spent in nature helps lower blood pressure and stress hormones, and it can also reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease.
Number two on the spring-cleaning list: Check the expiration dates on not only your sunscreen but all prescription and over-the-counter medications. Ditch them, responsibly, when they’re out of date because they lose effectiveness.
Third on the list: Create a morning routine. Too often we get going with no plan, which means we may fritter away time better spent another way. Set an intention before your feet hit the ground, as in “Today I will answer all emails by noon” … or “Today I will pause before eating to appreciate and really taste my food.” And here’s a thought about that: Too often we rush through a meal and overeat because our brains can’t catch up with our stomachs. Yes, there’s a lag between the stomach being filled and the brain recognizing what’s happening. That’s why you can experience that “I can’t believe I ate all that” feeling. Simply put, it went in faster than your brain could register.
Fourth on the list for spring-cleaning your health routine: Schedule time to move. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of the two. It doesn’t have to be anything fancier than walking. The key is to do it and be consistent.
Fifth on the list: Review and amend what you eat. Take a close look at your sugar consumption. Sugar is hidden in many processed foods in the form of corn syrup, rice syrup and words ending in “ose” like fructose, sucrose, maltose, and dextrose. Too much dietary sugar has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. As you trim your sugar consumption, you’ll find your desire for sweets decreases. Replace that sugar with the sweetness of fresh fruit. And while you’re at it, it’s recommended that we fill half our plate with vegetables, limiting carbs and protein to one-quarter of the plate each.
Sixth on the list, revamp your nighttime routine to get your ZZZs. Adults should get seven to nine hours nightly. So power down your life at least half an hour before bedtime. Make sure the bedroom is cool and dark. Avoid alcohol. It may help you fall asleep, but it can prevent you from reaching the deep-sleep stage and make you more easily awakened during the night. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, avoid it at least four hours before bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night with the intention of waking at the same time every morning.
And let me throw in a bonus seventh item for your list: Practice mindfulness. That means slowing down and being in the moment, fully experiencing what you are involved in. In short, smell the roses. Their scent is wonderful in springtime.