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SPRING CLEAN YOUR WAY TO HEALTH: WAYS TO MAKE 1% IMPROVEMENTS THAT REALLY ADD UP

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SPRING CLEAN YOUR WAY TO HEALTH: WAYS TO MAKE 1% IMPROVEMENTS THAT REALLY ADD UP

When we talk about staying healthy, typically we think immediately of our physical health: cardiovascular health, strong immune system, and physical fitness. But our health doesn’t end at if you eat healthy and make healthy choices. Emotional and mental health is just as important as physical activity and health. In fact, our emotional state has huge side effects on our physical health, which is why we need to take some time to tend to our mental health as well to keep up overall good health.

This sounds like a big project, but if we pare it down to achievable, concrete steps, it becomes a lot more manageable. The following steps to improved mental, emotional, and physical health can be split into 1% improvements; if you just make a 1% improvement here, another there, eventually they will become habits that add up to a 100% more empowered and revitalized life with far better health benefits.

Importance of Social Interaction1

We live in a time where we spend more of our time looking at a screen than we do making eye contact with one another. Many will say that, with modern technology, we have never been more connected, but that is false. We are actually more disconnected because true communication requires visual input, which an email or text message just cannot offer. To understand fully and completely what another person is feeling and experiencing, we need to be able to observe the nuances of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Studies have shown that the alteration in language usage (Twitter and texting) further restricts the development of sophisticated thought processes and the ability to think critically2. Dr. Susan Greenfield, a renowned British neuroscientist, has found that technology, besides affecting our thinking and behavior, also impacts our brains. The presence of the important chemical dopamine is reduced in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, the place in charge of “executive function.” In other words, our abilities to reason, make decisions, think abstractly, and maintain self-control are seriously hindered. 

What does all of this have to do with social interaction? With an increase in technological communication and a reduction of face-to-face contact due to social distancing and Coronavirus, we lose out on the truly sensual aspect of human interaction, meaning that we restrict ourselves to simply communicating with only two of our five senses. 

Additional studies have shown that lack of social interaction during the pandemic, and thereby fewer genuine relationships, impacts all of our biological systems. Fewer genuine connections lead to higher levels of stress hormones and less blood flow to vital organs, which in turn impacts the immune system, cardiovascular system, and ultimately central nervous system. These changes can lead to increased inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s.  

Further studies show that regular social interaction strengthens healing and physical resilience, particularly in heart attack patients. It also supports a sense of “purpose and meaning,” thereby reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Public health plays a major role in a communities health and you don't need perfect healthcare to make those social interactions.

So, by simply adding 1% more social interaction a day, you can boost your immune system, increase your lifespan, lessen your risk for heart disease and heart attack, and improve your mood! 1% can look like a coffee date with a friend, or maybe talking to the other person waiting at the bus stop instead of looking at your phone. Maybe it’s as simple as making eye contact with people as you walk down the street, rather than focusing on your feet or a phone. Remember, just 1% steps, but they can add up to a world of difference!

Find “Micro-Moments of Positivity”3

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, coined the expression “micro-moments of positivity” when referring to the importance of taking small moments out of our day to think positively. She has done a great deal of research on the importance of positive thinking and its impact on our emotional and physical well-being, and she maintains that brief moments of positivity throughout the day can protect us from the negative impacts of stress and depression. It is important to note that she is not preaching against feeling - there is definitely a place where sadness, anger, loneliness, and worry are appropriate - but ruminating on negative thoughts will ultimately bring us mental and physical harm. Drowning in negative thoughts not only has an affect on you, but also your loved ones who care about your well-being

The good news is that our brains are, as some researchers say, “plastic,” which means that we are able to build new neural pathways and generate new cells in order to change our thinking patterns. A lot of psychotherapy is oriented towards changing thought patterns by introducing small daily changes that, in time, build new connections that allow us to bypass the detrimental thoughts and behavior. 

Dr. Fredrickson and others have developed a list (and this is by no means comprehensive!) of ways to bring positivity into our daily lives:

  • Do good things for others
  • Appreciate the world around you
  • Develop and bolster relationships
  • Establish realistic goals and complete them
  • Learn something new
  • Choose to accept yourself, flaws and all
  • Practice mindfulness

Taking short (1%!) moments throughout the day to reflect on something positive - maybe the warmth of the sun, the sweetness of an apple, the sound of child’s laugh - will help us build a routine of looking for the positive. Over time, as we build new neural pathways in the brain, these moments will become habitual and we will consider them more frequently, increasing our resiliency to stressful situations, and ultimately our ability to stay healthy and better our quality of life.

Practice Good Posture4

I have a feeling you are thinking, “What does good or bad posture have to do with my health?” Good question.

When we slump, either over a desk or phone or in front of a tv, we impede our own circulation, making the heart work harder to get oxygenated blood to all of our vital organs and also slowing down the reception of that blood. Furthermore, poor posture can impede our oxygen intake by as much as 30%, affecting the amount of oxygen that reaches our vital organs, particularly our brains. Additionally, sitting in a hunched position can alter our peristaltic processes (digestion), thereby hindering effective digestion and bowel function. 

Posture trains our muscles and tendons to lengthen or shorten, depending on how we hold ourselves. Poor posture can make muscles tense and put undue stress on various joints, leading to pain and arthritis. 

Gravity also plays a role in affecting our energy levels. As we have a constant force pulling us towards the ground, any poor posture will put unnecessary strain on our muscles as they work extra hard to hold us upright, resulting in muscle fatigue and even pain. This, in combination with impeded oxygen and blood flow, will result in generally less energy and below-average performance. Depression, anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction are all byproducts of increased fatigue, pain, and poor productivity.

So, a good 1% change: every time you notice that you are slouching, straighten up. Feet flat on the floor, shoulders stacked over your hips, spine neutral (allow it to have its natural curve), shoulders rested back, neck and head extended towards the ceiling, eyes straight ahead. If you work at a desk most of the day, adjust your chair so that you are neither looking up nor down to see your computer screen. If you stand, keep your feet hip-width apart and balance your weight on both, rather than leaning to one side or the other. 

Get Better Rest

Of course, a key element to excellent mental health is getting enough rest, both at night and throughout the day. This will give our brains (and consequently, our bodies!) a chance to restore resilience and hormone balance.

Restorative activities are not relegated to napping, or meditation, or yoga. It’s not conceivable that we all take a 10-15 minute yoga break in the middle of the office each afternoon! It is possible, however, to take 5 minutes to breathe deeply and focus on gratitude. That is actually very healthy! The term “mindfulness” has also been appearing more frequently in relation to preventive health practices. Mindfulness is simply taking a moment to be in the moment. Practice diaphragmatic breathing and identify 2 things that you notice with each of your five senses: taste, touch, sound, sight, smell. It takes 2 minutes, but in that time you reduce cortisol production, balance your hormones, lower your blood pressure, release tension in your nervous system, and achieve an overall sense of calm and balance. 

The Institute of Functional Medicine has compiled a list of possible restorative activities to try throughout the day, as well as a list of conditions proven to be helped to some degree by restorative practice.


Restorative Practices

Conditions Helped

  • Meditation
  • Gratitude Journaling
  • Deep Breathing & Breathing Technique
  • Guided Imagery / Visualization
  • Massage / Sauna / Water Therapy
  • Mindful Healthy Eating / Walking / Body Scan

*Note: this list is NOT all-inclusive! There are many other activities that are restorative & restful!

  • Anxiety / Depression / Mood Disorders
  • Risk of Cancer
  • Chronic Pain / Fibromyalgia
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • Sleep Disturbance / Stress Disorders
  • Heart Disease / Diabetes / Hypertension
  • Hot Flashes
  • Asthma

*Note: Restorative activities are NOT cures for any of these conditions. This list is NOT meant to replace a medical professional’s expertise / advisement.


*Note: Restorative activities are NOT cures for any of these conditions. This list is NOT meant to replace a medical professional’s expertise / advisement.

This is a lot of information, but a good 1% change would be to try and schedule just one of these activities into your day. Pick a time, put it on the calendar, and stick to it! As you continue to practice and try out these different practices, you’ll find yourself beginning to incorporate them into your daily life without even planning to. And eventually, you will have conditioned yourself to take restorative breaks as often as your body and brain say you need them, and you will be all the healthier for it!

The Takeaway?

1% changes can have an astronomically positive impact on your emotional, mental, and physical health. The important thing to remember is that when we do something, whether physical or mental, it doesn’t just impact that one aspect of our health. Our emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical health is all tied together. Good posture is physical, but it also affects our energy and mood. Thinking positively is mental, but it also reduces stress and risk for heart attack

Don’t be daunted by big ideas expressed here. Do not put the expectation on yourself to change everything right now. All you will achieve is frustration and discouragement. Instead, remember the 1% rule. A 1% change here, another there, and before you know it, you will be living life with 100% more vitality and empowerment!




https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/well/live/having-friends-is-good-for-you.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fpersonal-health&mtrref=www.nytimes.com&auth=login-email 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201105/technology-virtual-vs-real-life-you-choose 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/03/well/live/turning-negative-thinkers-into-positive-ones.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fpersonal-health&mtrref=www.nytimes.com 

https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/28/posture-affects-standing-and-not-just-the-physical-kind/?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fpersonal-health 

The Power of Rest in Creating Optimal Health & Wellness. The Institute of Functional Medicine


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