My “Must-Do” Strategies for Staying Physically Healthy
I expect a lot out of my body. I travel frequently for work and for fun, I have a rigorous work schedule with long hours, I churn out work at a high volume, and I’m constantly on the go running my business. I need my “machine” to be in its best shape to function at such a high level, and I want to be able to do so for as long as possible.
Our bodies are amazing, miraculous things, and when we take care of them we’re rewarded—we look and feel younger, we suffer less from illness, we have more energy, we make better decisions, and we feel happier. Practicing self-care for our bodies and minds also helps us to live more authentically, because it helps us to better track and regulate how we are feeling and what we’re thinking. Given all of this, over the years I’ve developed a regimen for my physical health that works well for me, giving me the greatest possible sense of physical wellbeing (my friends call me a total health nut!).
A few important notes before I let you in on my personal health secrets. Firstly, while I’m obsessed with health and wellness, I’m not a health professional who is able to give medical advice. The health practices outlined here are based on what I’ve learned over time about a range of Eastern and Western health practices, wisdom, and research. Each person’s body, ability level, and belief system is different, and I’m a huge advocate for listening to your own inner wisdom about what’s best for you. If you’re considering a lifestyle change, do your own in-depth research and consult the pros!
Secondly, I recognize my privilege in being able to avail myself of a lot of the strategies below, and I know that not all of this will be accessible to everyone. And finally, while I’m focusing on physical health here, I know firsthand how important mental health practices are, too (stayed tuned for my thoughts on that in the future!).
My hope is that in hearing about how I care for my body as a busy professional, you’ll be inspired to find a holistic health regimen that works for you. So without further ado, here’s what I’m doing these days that helps me maintain my physical health.
It’s no surprise that physical exercise is one of the keys to health. For me, doing crossfit and weight training 3-4 times a week (something I’ve done for the past 5 years and rarely skip) and working with a trainer (“Ali, the Answer!”) for at least 3 of these weekly sessions, has been critical. Whatever form of exercise you choose to do, experts agree that moving your body should be part of your regular routine.
Like so many women, initially working out for me was all about weight. I was a teenager in the early 90’s, when being stick thin was in. Even though I was naturally skinny, I was fearful of gaining weight and obsessed about my body, which isn’t a healthy place from which to build a workout foundation. Thankfully, I’ve since developed a much healthier attitude to working out—now, it’s all about strength and being physically fit so that I can function well in my life. For example, I don’t bat a lash anymore about having to lift my heavy suitcases while traveling (I kinda do a version of clean and jerk to get my carry-on suitcases into the overhead compartment on a plane. And you should see me wine up and down when at a Soca fete—all thanks to the bazillion squats I do every week).
Healthy Eating and Drinking
Given what I’ve come to understand about nutrition, and after a lifetime of digestive issues (including a severe gluten and soy intolerance), I’ve learned that I need to be vigilant about what I put in my body.
I’m all about a mostly paleo diet—I eat a ton of veggies, healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and oils, and protein like meat, fish and some legumes. When I eat carbs, they’re complex—I’m a big fan of brown rice and sweet potatoes. I also avoid sugar like it’s the plague, which means I rarely indulge in more than a bite or two of cake, donuts, cookies or other decadent treats. I can tell you that when I have too much sugar, I instantly feel a surge of “grossness” go through my body. If this makes me sound totally boring, please know that I’m not! I’m a huge foodie – I love to eat and I really do enjoy my food. I’m just super healthy about what I put into my “queendom” (ha).
I’m equally vigilant about what I drink. I’ve never been a coffee drinker (like maybe I’ve had 10 cups my entire life, back when I was a student and needed to pull an all-nighter to study). I do drink tea, primarily white or green tea, yerba mate, or tulsi, which is Holy Basil, a herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. I also drink as much water as humanly possible, typically 2-3 liters a day. If I’m feeling dehydrated, I’ll add electrolyte packets to my water or drink natural (as in no added sugar) coconut water. Never underestimate the importance of hydration!
If I’m honest, I do love to drink alcohol, but I’ve made peace with the fact that it’s just not good to drink too much of it (bad for sleep, calories, aging, and hangovers – I get the worst ones ever!). So these days, I don’t have more than a few glasses of wine in a week or a few drinks of hard alcohol (neat or with soda water as my chaser). I’m hardcore about staying under ten units of alcohol a week.
I believe that my skin is an outward reflection of how I’m feeling and doing on the inside. Caring for my skin is important to me because I want to radiate on the outside what I’m feeling on the inside. And, frankly, I want to look as young as possible for as long as I can (lol, but really). There are a few things I do to help with this in addition to exercising and eating/drinking well. As part of my yogic practice, which includes a few forms of physical care, I take lukewarm showers instead of hot ones. This prevents dry skin and hair, improves circulation, and helps to move toxins out of the body. But my real obsession is moisturizer—I moisturize my face and body like it’s my full-time job: I apply, reapply, and apply again! I use natural products (instead of chemical-ridden department store or drugstore products) like almond oil, argan oil, or shea butter from neck down every time I bathe, and I try to do the same for my face.
Also key to my skincare regimen is being sun conscious. I love the sun, and I soak it up every chance I get—I’m all about dark is beautiful, contrary what so many of us were taught growing up! As a Brown girl, I have a higher tolerance than some people for sitting in the sun, but I still wear sunscreen religiously, and make sure I’m out of the sun before I get burned.
When I’m able to, I engage in different forms of body work to maintain my physical (and mental) health. I intermittently do acupuncture, massage therapy, osteopathy, reflexology, reiki, yoga, and facials. These practice help move energy through and out of the body, and have numerous benefits. If you can engage in just one of these practices, it can have a positive impact on your physical health.
I view mindfulness as the ultimate health practice, because it simultaneously cares for our mental, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. I’ve already written about my favorite mindfulness practices, but when it comes to the physical benefits, it bears repeating: how you breathe and how you sit can change your life.
Truckloads of research have come out in recent years about the importance of sleep, so we know that this is a non-negotiable for good health. But this is an area where I personally struggle. There are a lot of demands on my time, so getting the 7 to 8 hours I need doesn’t happen often enough, even though I know it’s important. But I am trying, and over the last year I’ve managed to get a minimum of 6.5 hours a night—even the extra 30 minutes up from the 6 hours a night I used to get has made a difference. It’s a journey, and I’m doing my best!
The regimen outlined here may make me sound like a fanatical, boring, and overly structured human being—but I assure you that I’m not! I’m just disciplined about managing my temple (aka my body) in the best way I can because I want to live a healthy life.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. How are you currently caring for your physical health? Which areas do you struggle with? What changes will you make going forward?