If you’ve ever started January full of New Year’s resolutions, only to find that by about mid-February, they’d fallen by the wayside, you’re not alone. It’s human nature to want to make changes—to do things differently—at the beginning of a new year. However, the reality is that making a change and sticking to it is hard, and it can take three to six months for that change to become a habit. Despite the challenge of making changes, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to switch things up to be a little healthier. And the New Year is like opening a new chapter; it’s a good time to start.
Based on research-based evidence and clinical Chinese medicine, here are a number of change-worthy habits to improve your health in 2022:
1. Get enough sleep. I know, this is stating the obvious, but the reality is that many people don’t get enough shut-eye. And beyond being drowsy during the day, the ramifications of being sleep deprived are clear. Researchers have found that people who get less than five hours of sleep a night have twice the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke than those who get more sleep.
2. This is the year to get a handle on your stress. Scientists know that the caps at the end of your chromosomes, called telomeres, unravel and shorten as you age. However, stress accelerates the speed at which your telomeres shorten and unravel, which translates into a shorter life. The good news is that by effectively relieving stress, say through meditation or breathing exercises, the damage to your telomeres can be slowed and even reversed.
3. Let go of your anger. In addition to stress, other strong emotions such as outrage, anger and frustration can negatively impact your health. In Chinese and Western medicine alike, negative emotions are considered to be one of the primary causes of illness, from heart disease to digestive issues.
4. Eat locally and seasonally. According to Chinese medicine, each season has an energetic theme for optimal health, and the food growing around you supports that seasonal theme. For example, the produce that’s ripe in the summer, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and melons are energetically cool and full of water. They help you cool off on hot days and keep you hydrated. In contrast, winter squash, root vegetables and legumes that are harvested later in the fall are energetically warmer, heartier and can be stored longer to keep you healthy and sustain your energy during the winter.
5. Spend time outdoors. The foundations of Chinese medicine are based on patterns in nature. From eating seasonally to the pathogens of heat, cold, wind, dampness and summer heat that make you sick, much of what we understand in the Chinese medical paradigm comes from our understanding of nature. A great deal of research in the past decade or two has documented the benefits of simply going outside to take a walk in a natural setting. It can lower your blood pressure, relieve stress, reduce depression and boost your immune system.
6. Incorporate movement into your life. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the health benefits of physical activity. It’s good for your heart and lungs, your mental health, strong bones and just about every other system in your body. In Chinese medicine, however, movement is about more than exercise. It also maintains flow within your body, and good health is all about flow. This includes the flow of blood in your vessels, food through your digestive tract and even the flow of smooth emotions. Flow also relates to external factors, including your ability to change, flexibility and trying something new. So how to incorporate movement into your life? Certainly move your body in a variety of ways, but also be open to new activities and ideas and be flexible and open to the possibility of change.
7. Pay attention to your digestion. While this may seem like an odd item for a New Year’s list, it’s actually pretty basic. Your energy and your body’s ability to function comes from the food you eat. If your digestion is funky, your energy is suffering. How do you know if your digestion is below par? Any symptoms, such as heartburn, poor appetite, gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea are tipoffs that your digestion needs help. The good news is that acupuncture can be a great way to get your digestion back on track.
8. Nurture compassion within yourself. In being kind to others, you’re also being kind to yourself. Kindness encompasses being of service to others and generosity. And compassion helps to dissolve anger, outrage, annoyance, fear and jealousy, which are emotions that only serve to diminish the richness of your life.
Let’s face it; we all want to be as healthy as possible, but sometimes doing what it takes can be a struggle. It’s important to know, however, that research has found that making even small changes can have a big impact on your health. Making those changes, especially with a little help in the form of acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional guidance and emotional support can be a great way to enhance your health at the beginning and throughout the New Year.
Cindy Chamberlain is an acupuncturist in Overland Park, KS and the founder of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC. She is licensed in Kansas and Missouri and has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine since 1996.