Modern medicine focuses on cures, not on lifestyle interventions that can prevent many diseases depending on a healthy immune system. Let’s actively boost our immune system to overcome deadly pathogens, carcinogens and self-inflicted wounds driven by anxiety and stress. Let’s realize that our immune system is at the core of our wellbeing, regulating our organism’s response to infections, cancer and autoimmunity.
Basics of the Immune System
The immune system is a sophisticated set of proteins, cells, tissues and organs working together to protect any organism. Even trees have rudimentary immune systems! Although its main goal is to repel infections, it also plays a role patrolling and controlling cancer while potentially able to trigger autoimmune diseases.
The immune system consists of a number of important players, described as members of a detective task force in chapter 2 of the free kindle book Mindful Framing:
T Cells: These are the major orchestrators of all the components in the immune system. Some types of T cells are able to recognize infected and cancerous cells and directly kill or destroy them. Other T cells assist or regulate the activities of other immune cells.
B Cells: These cells play a major role in producing billions of antibodies, tiny molecules that are always on the look out for pathogens and unwanted cells. B cells play a crucial role in controlling infections by tagging pathogens and cancer cells to be recognized by macrophages, but can also generate antibodies causing autoimmune diseases.
Macrophages: These cells recognize pathogens or unwanted cells that need to be removed while interacting with T cells, informing them which cells are allies or enemies.
Natural Killer Cells: These are rapid-response cells able to kill infected and cancerous cells, like the T cells, but just relying on certain markers not requiring the intervention of other immune cells.
Age and the Immune System
The elderly are more susceptible to infectious diseases, and unfortunately, more likely to die from them. This is because as we age, our immune system is less effective at combating infections, and less responsive to vaccines.
Why is this? As we age, the total number of T cells remain the same; however, the number of naïve T cells decrease. Naïve T cells are T cells that learn to recognize specific pathogens. They then develop into cells that are specialists in future encounters with those specific pathogens.
Additionally, senescent T cells, which are T cells that have deteriorated with age, are easily exhausted after becoming active and start producing inflammation-causing substances potentially leading to chronic systemic inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis or lupus.
There also seems to be an association between nutrition and immunity in older individuals. The elderly can display micronutrient malnutrition, a form of malnutrition which occurs when one is deficient in various essential vitamins and minerals. This is because they tend to eat less and have a less diverse diet.
You can optimize your immune system by using these 4 infallible lifestyle interventions to boost its function:
Eat a healthy diet
There are many definitions of what a “healthy diet” is, but the general consensus is that it is one that is rich in fruits and vegetables and poor in processed foods. Research has shown that fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E, which can boost your immune function. In addition, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants which fight inflammation.
In particular, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that not only reduces disease-causing inflammation, but also boosts the immune system by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables.
Likewise, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that aids in the destruction of free radicals. It also boosts the immune system in a number of ways. For instance, it promotes the production and coordinated function of T cells and B cells, and protects them from free radical damage. Lastly, vitamin C strengthens the skin barrier, preventing pathogens from entering the body in the first place. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, lemons, red peppers and other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that it increases the T cells ability to form an effective immune synapse. An effective immune synapse means having a close contact between immune system cells, essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. You can get Vitamin E from nuts, seeds, broccoli and spinach.
Having a balanced diet leads to a healthy gut, essential for a healthy immune system. That’s because the majority of your immune system resides in the gut, in fact, up to 80%.
In order to maintain a healthy gut, you need to maintain a good balance between the good bacteria, and the bad bacteria in your gut. One way you can do this is by consuming probiotics, either in supplement form or in food. Good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables.
Another way in which you can improve your gut health is to avoid or limit your consumption of highly processed foods. This is because highly processed foods can cause inflammation of the gut.
Get enough sleep
We all know the importance of sleep for rejuvenating our mind and organism, but did you know that it can also boost our immune system?
Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a reduction in immune function. For example, research has shown that people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are more likely to have suffered a recent cold.
Why is this so? Well, in order for your T cells to destroy pathogens, they need to come in close contact with them. Sticky substances called integrins facilitate this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens.
Stress hormones make these integrins less sticky. When you get enough sleep, your stress hormones drop, causing the integrins to stick better. And when they’re stickier, your T cells are better able to adhere to pathogens, boosting your immunity.
In order to get enough sleep, it is critical to optimize your sleep environment. For instance, you’ll want to reduce your exposure to blue light from blue-light emitting devices such as TVs, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. This is because blue light reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for good sleep.
You’ll also want to make sure your sleep environment is quiet, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep. If you live in a noisy neighbourhood, you may want to wear earplugs, or turn on a white-out machine to drown out noise.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not too hot or too cold, as either factor can result in poor sleep. You can do this by wearing night wear that keeps you at a comfortable temperature, adjusting your thermostat accordingly, and using appropriate bedding.
Practice anxiety management
Anxiety and chronic stress affect not only your mind, but your immune system too. Chronic stress decreases the number of T cells and B cells. This in turn increases your risk for viral infections, such as colds and cold sores. Chronic stress also activates latent viruses, viruses which have been dormant in your body. The activation of latent viruses due to chronic stress causes wear and tear on your immune system, making it exhausted and “burnt out”, unable to deal with everyday assaults to your body. Lastly, chronic stress results in chronic inflammation, causing autoimmune diseases.
Due to the effect of chronic stress on the immune system, it is important to practice anxiety management. You can do this in a number of ways. One way is to practice mindfulness-based meditation. This lowers your cortisol levels, which in turn reduces inflammation. Mindful framing also achieves this effect by transforming your anxiety into vital energy while developing a mental framework focusing on connecting to nature, emotional intelligence and invigorating your organism. Practicing yoga also lowers your cortisol levels and relaxes your nervous system, thus reducing inflammation.
Besides practicing these mind-body activities, simply spending time in nature can boost your immune system. When you’re out in nature, the sounds, smells, and sights can also induce feelings of calm. Additionally, some research shows that phytoncide, an antibacterial substance released by trees, increases Natural Killer Cell activity. So, the next time you’re under stress, go for a walk and while you’re at it, practice some mindful framing.
Engage in regular exercise
You know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?’’. Well, that saying can also apply to exercise. In a study examining the effects of exercise on the immune system, participants who walked at least 20 minutes a day, a minimum of 5 days a week, had almost 50% less sick days than those who walked once a week or less. What’s more, when they did get sick, they were sick for a shorter period, and their symptoms were milder.
Engaging in regular exercise becomes even more important as you get older. That’s because research shows that exercise can increase the number of T cells, and even improve the response to vaccines in the elderly.
However, exercise intensity matters. You want to aim for moderate intensity exercise, not high intensity exercise. This is because engaging in prolonged high intensity exercise, without enough recovery time, may increase the risk of illness. So, go ahead and get some exercise, but try not to overdo it.
We live in an increasingly hostile environment to our bodies and minds, and despite many miracle therapies in today’s medicine, prevention is still better than cure. So, take the time to boost your immune system in a holistic manner. Your very life could depend on it.
With so much going on in our hectic lives, is it wise to ‘waste’ time every day… sleeping? With so much anxiety, fear, loneliness and everything going on inside and around us, it can be hard to focus on a bedtime routine and improving our sleep. Let’s discover why quality is just as important as quantity for a sound and restorative sleep.
What is Sleep Quality?
- You spend a minimum of 85% of your bedtime asleep
- It takes you 30 minutes or less to fall asleep
- You don’t wake up more than once a night
- You don’t stay awake longer than 20 minutes when you do wake up in the middle of the night
- You feel rested when you wake up
Importance of Sleep Quality
Sleep can impact all areas of your life. For instance, after a poor night’s sleep, you may find yourself in a mental fog. This can lead to poor decision making, memory problems, and slower reaction times. This in turn makes you more prone to injuries and accidents, not to mention, poor performance for any task.
You’ll also find it harder to regulate negative emotions and stay calm under pressure.
Poor sleep quality also increases your risk for heart disease, depression, various cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ulcers, and obesity.
Sleep Quality and Immunity
Do you want to boost your immunity? Improving your sleep quality is the right prescription!
Good sleep quality improves how well your T cells fight off infections. T cells are immune cells that fight pathogens in your body such as virus-infected cells and tumor cells. In order for your T cells to fight these pathogens and abnormal cells, they need to be in direct contact with them. Sticky molecules called integrins promote this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens and cells.
Cortisol, a key stress hormone, decreases the stickiness of these integrins. When you sleep well, your stress hormones fall, making the integrins stickier and T cells more effective, increasing your immunity.
There are 5 natural ways to improve sleep quality:
Exercise During the Day
Aerobic and cardio exercise are important for many aspects of health, including sleep quality. A study found that in patients with chronic insomnia, engaging in moderate aerobic exercise reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 55% and the total amount of nighttime wakefulness by 30%.
And you don’t need much aerobic exercise to sleep well. In fact, just 10 minutes of cardio exercise can dramatically improve your sleep quality. So, go for a walk or whatever gets your heart pumping.
Avoid Caffeine in the Evening
In order to sleep better, you want to watch your caffeinated beverage consumption. That’s because caffeine blocks the sleep-activating chemicals in your brain. This makes it harder for you to both fall and stay asleep. Furthermore, caffeine decreases your REM sleep, the part of your sleep cycle where you have the most restorative sleep.
And it takes time for caffeine to clear from your system. That’s because its half-life is 6 hours. So, it takes a full 24 hours to clear from your system completely. Ideally, you want to have your last cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage at least 6 hours before going to bed as studies show that consuming caffeine up to 6 hours before bed decreases sleep quality.
Avoid Blue Light at Night
Blue light has a big impact on your sleep quality. That is because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, a lot of our modern devices emit blue light. These include television, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Using these devices 2 hours before going to bed affects your sleep quality in several ways. It makes it harder to fall asleep and reduces the rejuvenating REM sleep phase, making you feeling less rested even after sufficient hours of sleep.
How can you limit your blue light exposure in the evening? I you can’t avoid watching your favorite show, sit as far away as possible from the TV and don’t try to sleep right away after turning it off, do some chores, read a book, take a walk or meditate…as possible to avoid the blue light emissions.
Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment
Your sleep environment plays a big role in how well you sleep. Too hot or too cold a sleep environment can affect your sleep quality. Ideally, you want your room to be at a temperature between 65 to 70°F. Find the right pajamas to find the right body temperature while sleeping. If your feet get cold, wear some socks.
Make sure that you have a comfortable mattress and pillow so that you’re not tossing and turning in the middle of the night. Additionally, you want your room to be quiet. If you live in an area where you have night-time traffic or loud neighbours, this can be easier said than done. In that case, you may want to invest in a good pair of ear plugs or use a white noise machine, even a fan can do the job.
Watch out for the humidity of your bedroom, particularly if you live in an arid environment. Dryness can cause headaches and sinus congestion, which may interfere with your sleep quality.
Follow a Bedtime Routine
While participating in high-energy activities just before bedtime decreases sleep quality, the opposite is true. Having a daily relaxing bedtime routine increases your sleep quality by signalling to your body that it’s time to sleep.
One of the best things you can do as part of your bedtime routine is meditate. In a 6-week study in which insomnia participants practiced mindfulness-based meditation, such as mindful framing, participants halved the amount of time it took them to fall asleep. In addition, at the end of the study, 60% of the participants no longer had insomnia.
You can also relax by having a warm bath, deep breathing, listening to some relaxing music, or a combination thereof. I avoid stressful activities such as watching news or engaging in difficult conversations. For my body, I don’t take any food or alcohol several hours before going to bed and have an Ayurvedic self-massage mixing myself body butter and ashwagandha fluid.
Once I’m in bed, I start clearing my mind, focusing on my 5 senses: how my skin touches the cotton of the sheets and my pyjamas, the sounds of white noise, the residual smell and taste and I watch the lights and forms appearing when I close my eyelids.
Let’s learn how to leverage our sleep as a powerful way to decompress and reduce our anxiety every night. By improving the quality of your sleep, you’ll be better equipped to handle life’s stressors with a source of unlimited energy and resilience.
Imagine no more misplacing your car keys or forgetting names, missing appointments. Imagine being able to be present, mindful of the moment while confident that anything you want to memorize is easily retrievable and safe, backed up in your synaptic cloud. Imagine having an indestructible hard drive inside your brain. Discover and develop your ‘Memory Palace’ right now!
Memory and the Hippocampus
The hippocampus, located inside the middle section of the brain, plays a crucial role in helping us learn and remember things. It is involved in two types of memory: declarative memories and spatial relationship memories.
Declarative memories are memories related to facts and events. For example, when you are trying to memorize lines in a play.
Spatial relationship memories are memories related to routes or pathways, connecting ideas. For example, when you are trying to learn a new route through the city.
The hippocampus is also where your short term memories are transformed into long-term memories, mostly when an emotional tag is attached to them, which are then stored somewhere else in the brain, the limbic system.
Recent research suggests that the hippocampus may do more than help us remember things. It may also help us see, touch and hear. It is truly a remarkable brain circuitry.
Disorders of the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is quite sensitive, susceptible to neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, depression and stress. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain that is affected. In the early stages of the disease, patients suffer short term memory loss, and may find it hard to follow directions. Meanwhile, upwards of 50 percent of patients with epilepsy show damage in the hippocampus.
In severe depression, the hippocampus can shrink to 80% of its original volume. For those with chronic stress, cortisol affects the level at which neurons are added or eliminated, thus reducing the size of the hippocampus. This effect can be reversed by controlling stress.
The Memory Palace
A memory palace is a visualization technique based on creating a mind map based on different spaces or rooms in an imaginary building. It may include walkways to connect memories, plans and ideas. This methodology leverages a familiar environment, such as your home or town, to connect declarative and spatial memories. To ensure memorization you visualize specific locations that you always recall in the same order. Try it out!
And to keep your memory palace in mint condition, let’s make sure your mental capacity and intellectual abilities are in top shape with these 5 building blocks:
We all know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it is good for the mind as well? The saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks doesn’t work for humans. Getting older doesn’t mean that your brain will deteriorate.
Regular aerobic exercise can lower the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration that may occur as we age. In fact, aerobic exercise is the most effective way to improve your memory as you age. In healthy adults, aerobic exercise improves not only memory, but attention span and the speed at which information is processed as well. And in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, exercise can definitely improve memory.
Why is this so? Animal studies show that when you exercise, the hippocampus grows new neurons, so-called neuroplasticity is taking place. Aerobic exercise also improves blood flow to the hippocampus, thereby improving memory.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and delivers more oxygen through your body, including the brain. You don’t have to go the gym and go on a treadmill or the elliptical, just pick an activity you like and move your body, such as a brisk walk.
Have you noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep you are more forgetful? You may also find that when you don’t get enough sleep, it is harder to learn new things at the office, or at school. And for good reason. We need sleep in order to consolidate memories. Therefore, getting a good 7 to 8 hours of sleep is essential to solidifying new memories, as well as storing long term memory.
You know that practice drives mastery, right? Well, resting may be just as important as practice when it comes to learning. According to research, the breaks that you take while learning is where the true memorization takes place. In fact, your brain needs a break about every 90 minutes to reach peak efficiency. So, listen to your body and let your brain reset at regular intervals. In a study with participants doing a typing test, those who took a regular 10-second rest got faster as time went on. And brain scans showed that the brain was not just relaxing, it was actually processing what had just been done, and forming memories of it, so that it could perform even better.
Research has shown that those who regularly engage in the practice of mindfulness meditation have less age-related brain degeneration, better brain function, and show improvements in memory, particularly long-term memory and working memory.
This is because mindfulness meditation appears to increase your brain’s ability to form new neural connections, which in turn improves your memory.
Want to learn a visualization-based mindfulness practice? Try mindful framing, in which you become more mindful by visualizing different types of memory palaces, controlling your anxiety triggers, leveraging your 5 senses and imagining and connecting with Natural landscapes, Emotional relationships and caring for your Organism, the NEO Chi lifestyle.
You know the saying that “You are what you eat?” Well, it applies just as well to your body as to your brain. We all know that increased sugar intake can lead to obesity. But did you know that it may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well?
The Framingham Heart Study found that consuming too many sugar laden drinks, including so-called healthy drinks like fruit juice was associated with a lower brain volume, an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
So, it is imperative to reduce your consumption of sugary beverages. Eliminate sodas. Not only are they sugary, they are devoid of any nutrition. Try diluting your juice with water if you are so inclined to drinking juice, or better yet, swap the fruit juice for fresh fruit instead, or just add slices of fruit into your water.
Reducing your caloric intake is a great way to lose or maintain your weight. Reducing your calorie intake may also improve your memory. A study found that elderly female participants who reduced their caloric intake by 30%, were able to improve their verbal memory scores.
In addition, certain foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, or omega-3s, such as seeds, nuts, fish and green leafy vegetables, will improve your memory.
A lot of people have problems with their memory because they don’t actually make the effort to memorize. Indeed, memory is all about visualization, using your mind’s eye to imagine. If you create an image to represent an idea, a person or a task and place it somewhere in your memory palace, the greater the probability that you will recall that information.
Are you trying to remember the name of someone that you just met? Try visualization and association, if you just met a lady named Bee and she told you about her job as a chef, just imagine a bee flying around in the kitchen of your memory palace.
Are you trying to memorize a shopping list? Try linking, to remember to buy soap and sugar, imagine a cloud of soapy foam with floating sugar cubes pouring from the store entrance.
Life is full of distractions and we rely more and more on gadgets that make our life easier. However, we should devote time and attention to maintain our minds fit and ready. A healthy body needs a healthy mind.
Have you ever felt a magnetic pull to be out in the woods or simply stroll in a park nearby? Why is enjoying nature so important when you need vacation or just look for relaxation?
This the law of attraction to nature!
Let’s explore the major benefits of embedding yourself in nature, observing, being mindful of your surroundings… not just sitting while scrolling through inert bits and pieces! Research shows that connecting with nature can significantly boost your mental and physical health, even reduce your blood pressure up to 10%. It’s like a natural pill to boost your wellbeing!
Are your energy levels low? Well, it’s probably time for a nature break! According to a study, spending time in nature makes people feel invigorated, independently of the physical activity or social interactions.
How much time should you spend in nature to improve your energy levels? The magic number is 20 minutes, enough to significantly boost your energy levels. Improving your energy levels not only allows to you do the things you want to do, it also makes you less likely to get sick.
So, the next time you’re feeling sluggish, don’t instinctively grab a cup of coffee. Instead, go outdoors, just walk around, admire plants and trees or… sit on a bench and smell the roses!
Stress is a part of our everyday life, affecting our mental and physical health as well. It can make you engage in activities that increase your risk of heart disease such as smoking, eating too much or not engaging in regular physical activity.
Again, just 20 minutes a day connecting with nature can lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and lower physical signs of stress such as muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate. Just sitting in natural environment, not even hiking or walking, will enable you to reap these benefits.
Why is connecting with nature helpful in reducing stress? According to the stress reduction theory, being in a natural environment helps us recover from stress. This is because peaceful natural settings led to favorable living conditions that improved the chances of survival. As a result, we innately respond seek contact with nature.
A recent study found that walking in urban parks can elevate your spirit to the same levels you might feel on Christmas eve. Research also shows that your risk for mood disorders, such as depression is lowered when you regularly spend time connecting with nature.
Why is that? If you are aware and present in a natural environment, you have less tendency to ruminate over the past or worry about the future, a common feature of depression and anxiety. Nature has a way of filling you with a sense of awe, feeling that you “are in the presence of something bigger than yourself.” This in turn makes your worries and cares pale in comparison.
What’s more, even seeing nature with your mind’s eye has these effects. Practicing mindful framing, which includes visualization of trees and natural landscapes, will have a positive effect on your mood and reduce your anxiety.
Improved cognitive performance
Do you find your attention waning after a couple of hours focused on a task? Well, that’s completely normal. In order to perform cognitive tasks including analyzing, planning and organizing information, we need to pay attention. When we are tired, or after significant and prolonged mental activity, our attention starts to wander and our cognitive performance decreases.
Being in nature allows our minds to rest and reset, thus restoring our attention. Just a couple seconds or minutes is enough. We don’t even have to be outdoors to have a more focused mind. Just looking outside a window, mindfully looking at tree branches, the color of its leaves, or listening and gazing at the birds will do the trick.
Improved sleep quality
After a poor night’s sleep, you may notice that you have trouble concentrating. You may also feel irritable. These may be temporary inconveniences at best. If you experience poor sleep on a regular basis; however, you are at increased risk of developing a number of medical conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and mood disorders. You are also more prone to die earlier. In fact, if you sleep 5 hours or less a night, your risk of dying from all causes increases by 15%.
Research shows that spending more time in nature can improve your sleep quality, particularly if you are over the age of 65. This effect is driven by resetting your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural clock, to a more natural sleep cycle. In today’s world, our circadian rhythm can be behind on average 2 hours, and this can wreak havoc on the quality of your sleep.
And you don’t have to necessarily spend time outside to reap the benefits of connecting with nature. Even just sleeping in a room with smells from essential oils, nature sounds, or a window showing a natural landscape can improve sleep quality.
Bringing all together
Try to find at least 2 hours per week to reap the mental and physical health benefits of nature. Ideally you should target an average of 20 minutes outdoors per day, truly being mindful or learning how to visualize nature while indoors.
If you live in a city, it will be tougher to carve out time to connect with nature. Do not give up, here some tips:
- Spend part of your lunch break taking a walk or just sitting by a tree
- Spend part of your weekend strolling in your neighbourhood park
- In summer, take a sandwich and go for a picnic
- When it’s time to go to bed, replace screen time with calming nature sounds or images
- Have some plants and pictures of nature at your home and office
- Be mindful of nature, connect using your 5 senses; sight, smell, sound, taste and touch
- Learn about forest bathing
Explore and connect with nature as a path to discover your true nature!
Can you imagine truly enjoying your life, getting through work with a smile on your face even in the midst of uncertainty and stress? Can you imagine sharing love, compassion and gratitude instead of craving for validation, competing endlessly and despairing for unfulfilled expectations?
It can be done, but there is an essential premise, your ability to control excessive release of the hormone cortisol into your body. When you’re in a traffic jam, your jaws are clenched, your shoulders are tense, and you’re just about to scream… your body is releasing cortisol uncontrollably, impacting negatively your mental and emotional reactions while deteriorating your physical wellbeing.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, located above your kidneys. Cortisol is considered the “stress hormone” because our bodies release it when we’re facing physical, mental or emotional stress.
However, cortisol does much more than reacting to stress. Cortisol is an essential hormone that, among many other vital functions, balances our blood sugar and blood pressure, helps us form memories, decreases inflammation and regulates our metabolism.
Having too much cortisol leads to weight gain, mostly abdominal obesity aka “love handles”, diabetes, heart disease, a weakened immune system, and mental and neurological dysfunction, such as irritability, depression, anxiety and forgetfulness.
Cortisol, Stress and Relaxation Response
When you’re under stress your body goes into “freeze, flight or fight” mode. It does so by releasing excessive amounts of cortisol. This sudden hormone release increases blood sugar so that you have the energy to run from stressors (e.g. a tiger) while shutting down non-essential functions, such as the immune system.
Problems develop when your body is in continuous stress mode, a hallmark of modern life. Over the long term, over-activation of the stress response decreases the overall mental, emotional and physical health.
On the other hand, being able to induce a relaxation response will reduce the cortisol release and stabilize blood levels over short and long periods of time.
Here are 4 simple ways to naturally lower your cortisol levels and achieve sustainable relaxation:
In today’s busy world, we often put sleep on the back burner. We have so many errands to do, so many to-do-lists to cross off. And modern technology definitely doesn’t help. We’re glued to our tablets and computers, and our cell phones are always on… just in case.
But sleep is extremely important. Not only does your body rejuvenate itself, but it also completes major housekeeping duties while you’re asleep.
So, how can you make sure you’re getting enough sleep? Well, for one, you can start by creating the right environment in your bedroom and developing solid going-to- and staying-in-bed routines. Instead of snacking and drinking, have a soothing tea. Instead of crashing into the couch to watch TV, take a walk with your loved ones. Instead of browsing news and social media, read a nice book. You will be surprised at how fast you doze off!
A number of foods have been shown to lower cortisol levels. One example is dark chocolate, rich in flavonols, shown to drive many health benefits. In fact, dark chocolate has even more flavonols than well-known super fruits such as acai berries and blueberries.
Why is this important? Flavonols have been shown to inhibit 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, an enzyme that converts inactive cortisol to its active form.
Look for magnesium-rich foods, avocados, nuts, legumes, bananas and consider taking supplements. In fact, magnesium decreases cortisol levels by supressing the release of cortisol.
On the other hand, processed foods, trans fats, alcohol, food additives are considered pro-inflammatory partly due to the excessive release of cortisol.
Do you ruminate on the past and worry too much about the future? Well, the regular practice of mindful framing, mindfulness meditation or even prayer can help you induce the relaxation response.
When you focus on the present moment, either through observation, visualization, concentration, reciting a prayer or mantra, your mind is repealing negative, repeating and circular thoughts. Your mind becomes non-judgemental, living no room for an automatic stress response.
A mindfulness practice not only helps you mentally but can help you physically by decreasing your cortisol levels. A study conducted on medical students found that cortisol levels dropped almost 20% after a 4 day mindfulness meditation program.
Think you’re too busy for a mindfulness practice? Just take a walk in the park, observe the trees and listen how the birds sing. The good news is that you can easily incorporate these practices into your daily activities, even while washing the dishes or just having a short break!
Socialize and Laugh
You’ve heard people say that laughter is the best medicine, and they’re sure right. Laughter decreases your cortisol levels. And it doesn’t even have to be real laughter to work! Even simulated or “fake” laughter helps.
A study done on community members found that participants’ cortisol levels decreased significantly after a series of laughter yoga sessions. Laughter yoga is a mind-body exercise that teaches you to laugh. The premise is to literally “fake it until you mean it.”
So, go ahead and start laughing. Watch some comedies, play with your loved ones, or even do some laughter yoga. Your body and mind will thank you.
Life is too short to be tense, agitated and stressed out. By naturally lowering your cortisol levels, you improve both the longevity and quality of your life and those around you. Take control of your life, teach your mind and your body how to relax. Start today!