October is the new January, say health and wellness pros, who see a flood of new patients and clients when the cold and gloom of winter are over and the urge to live well and train hard kicks in. Set yourself up to finish the year strong.
1. To feel younger: Drop and do 40
A study of more than 1100 firefighters found that those who could crank out more than 40 push-ups had a lower risk of a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke, over the next decade compared with guys who could do fewer than 10. The ability to hammer out those reps is a sign of total-body muscular strength, which is associated with good blood pressure and metabolic health. Can’t do 40 in a row? No sweat. Do as many as you can in a row, then rest for 10 seconds and go again; repeat this until you’ve done 40 total reps. Do this three times weekly; you’ll soon build the strength to do 40 straight.
Pro tip: “I start most days with 150 push-ups,” says Dr John P. Higgins, a professor of medicine at McGovern Medical School in Houston. He uses the Perfect Push-up tool. “It has handles that rotate on a base, which helps me be more stable and use correct form,” he says. “Ever since doing 150 a day, my upper body, breathing and abs are better. And it really wakes me up.”
2. To do right by your heart: Focus on high-in-fibre carbs
You might love doughnuts and muffins, aka simple, or refined, carbs – ones that are low in fibre and nutrients and raise your blood sugar quickly – but your heart does not. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people whose diets contained the most of these foods had a 14 per cent higher risk of a major cardiovascular event over 10 years (and a 25 per cent higher risk of death from any cause) than people whose diets had the least. In terms of heart health, too many simple, low-in-fibre carbs may lower “good” HDL cholesterol while increasing triglycerides and unhealthy LDL cholesterol.
Pro tip: Dr Spencer Kroll, a lipodologist (an expert in treating cholesterol issues), noticed that his patients with unhealthy blood sugar and insulin function also had more dangerous blood fats. So he revised his own diet, taking out simple carbs like bread and pasta to cut carbs from 40-20 per cent of his kilojoules. The remaining carbs are high in fibre. For instance, at breakfast, “I’ll eat a small bowl of nuts, berries and a barley cereal,” he says. He’s also switched to high-fibre snacks. “I’ve seen significant improvements in my LDL cholesterol,” Kroll says. “My triglycerides are better, and my insulin function is, too.”
3. To control your blood pressure: Tackle stress
One of the best ways to be healthier is to get your blood pressure under control. When it’s high, it can damage nearly every organ in your body. And one of the most overlooked ways to help it stay low is to manage stress. All-day stress may push your BP high while you’re awake, says cardiologist Dr Christopher Kelly. Even if it becomes normal overnight, it still taxes your system.
Stress may also lead to overdrinking, smoking and other choices that don’t help BP, he says. In addition to seeing a doctor about high BP and exploring the DASH diet, carve out time to reduce stress. Meditation and yoga are far from the the only ways to do it. Lean into your own stress shedders, even if they’re quirky,
like making playlists or solving a Rubik’s cube.
Pro tip: “I love going to Costco when I need a break,” says Dr Jamin Brahmbhatt, a urologist. “Something about that place is calming. I look at the new TVs and might buy something that I may not always need. It’s been a ritual since high school, when my friends and I would go once a week. It brings back memories of those times.”
4. To finally get some sleep: relax your brain
A big reason we toss and turn is that “we are really good at learning how to get pumped up, but we are sometimes not particularly good at winding down and don’t give it its proper space,” explains Dr W. Christopher Winter. “The wind-down process doesn’t need to be elaborate; it’s just important to have a process.”
Shut down screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime – their light can suppress your body’s production of sleep-inducing melatonin – and do something relaxing. Stop thinking of that time as doing nothing and fill it with something you’re into: a podcast, sex, music, jotting down a few great things about your day or your partner.
Pro tip: As a technology-free transition to sleep, Dr Raj Dasgupta, works with his wife on 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles for 15-30 minutes. “With each puzzle piece found and placed correctly, the puzzler gets a little hit of dopamine, which rewards the brain and, in turn, relaxes the body,” he says.
5. To stop languishing: Find what focuses you
As COVID lockdowns drag on, maybe you feel . . . absolutely effing blah. You’re stagnant. Aimless. You’re not depressed but not excited, either. The term for this is languishing, and “I’m seeing an epidemic of it in my practice,” says psychotherapist Allison Abrams. Recognising and naming it is important and helps validate what you’re feeling. One way to help clear it up is to do something that gets you into a state of flow – when you’re fully absorbed and focused on something outside yourself, she says. Take a step toward whatever gets you there: maybe it’s fly-fishing, rock climbing, painting or planting.
Pro tip: “I kiteboard once a week,” says Dr Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine
in California. He considers it “wind therapy”, which is his oceanic version of forest bathing, a tradition in Japan of recharging by spending time in the woods. It requires focus, and “the feeling of wind against my body makes me feel fresh and alive, especially during days of working from home,” he says.