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We think these principles represent some of the very best and most sound advice available anywhere. But if we had to toss it all out and give you just one pearl of wisdom gleaned from all our research, it would be this:

More important to your health than any other single behavior is your mindset – your will and commitment to being healthy and whole. 

So don’t settle for what passes as “average” health, and don’t settle for oversimplifications, no matter how handy or how tempting they look on the newsstand. Instead, go for the real thing: honest-to-God optimal health.

Here’s how …

  • Educate yourself about your body, its miraculous engineering, the integration of its systems, and take responsibility for fulfilling its basic requirements for ideal operation. Don’t settle for just the “Top 10 Tips” — ours or anybody else’s. Get the whole story: your story.
  • Notice when something is wrong — no matter how minor or inconsequential it may seem — and perceive your symptoms not as the enemy, but as messengers telling you that something deeper and more important isn’t working quite right.
  • Don’t live in ignorance about what creates a healthy body and a good life, and don’t buy into the traditional “break-down, diagnose and repair” program of Western medicine. Reject, too, the “purchase and prosper” model of consumer culture.
  • Learn to change your life to support your body, rather than treating your symptoms in ways that repress them and attempt to “outwit” your body’s innate intelligence.
  • Commit to a program of active, enthusiastic preventative maintenance, and if things ever seem “off” or wrong, learn how to heal yourself using nutrition, rest, life changes, alternative therapies and common sense.
  • Remember, you are a self-maintaining, self-healing, self-evolving organism. To enjoy optimal vitality, you mostly just have to provide some very basic ingredients and then let your good health run its course!

1. Quit poisoning yourself (from the inside and the outside).

Internal poisons include: smoking; excess alcohol and caffeine; recreational, over-the-counter and prescription drugs (see below); processed meats; refined flours; processed sugars, and artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors; mono-sodium glutamate (MSG); most preservatives, stabilizers and other additives; regular and diet sodas; commercially prepared meals and snacks; fast food; and most margarines and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats).

External poisons include: most household cleaners, laundry products and drain cleaners; garden chemicals and commercial fertilizers; pesticides; petroleum products; most cosmetics, perfumes, hair and skin products; most antibacterial and chemically based cleansers; most sunscreens and bug repellants; most toothpastes and mouthwashes; all antiperspirants and most deodorants; artificial fibers; plastics; lead-based paints; many glues and adhesives; off-gassing household materials; many residential building products and finishes; radon; indoor molds; industrial pollutants, etc.

Suggestions: Become aware of how prevalent toxic ingredients and compounds are in virtually all commercial foods, and learn how to avoid or minimize them in your diet. In particular, read up on the dangers of acrylamide (present in great quantities in many baked and fried foods, especially crackers, fries and chips); of neurotoxins (like MSG); of artificial sweeteners (like aspartame); of hydrogenated, denatured and rancid oils (including most supermarket oils and fats found in prepared foods) as well as pesticide residues, genetically altered foods, etc. If you can’t quit a particular food or drink habit cold turkey, start cutting back now. Do not assume that because a product is available at the grocery store or cosmetic counter that it is safe for you, your family or the environment! Also, consider an air-filtration system for your home.

2. Minimize pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drug use.

Particularly avoid those products that suppress symptoms or conditions you could cure yourself with diet, lifestyle changes, nutritional support and alternative therapies. Drugs confuse your body and can send it more seriously off-kilter than it already is. They can also prevent you from identifying and truly curing the root cause of many problems. In some cases, of course, prescription drugs can be lifesaving, but adverse drug events are among the top leading causes of death in this country, and virtually all pharmaceutical drugs have side effects and put a certain amount of strain on your system, especially your liver and kidneys.

Suggestions: Don’t get lazy, don’t turn over control of your body to someone else, and don’t believe pharmaceutical companies’ advertising hype! In the past few years, direct-to-consumer spending for TV drug advertising has increased markedly. The result? More consumers are requesting drugs from their doctors. According to Lancet (April 6, 2001), in a nationally representative survey, two-thirds of adult Americans recalled seeing a prescription advertised, and about 10 percent asked their doctor for that prescription. Of those who asked, 73 percent received a prescription. Get skeptical about the notion of “buying” your way to health with pills. With the right natural support (see below), your body can probably heal itself perfectly well.

3. Eat plenty of real, fresh, live organic food. 

Living, raw foods support your brain, your body, and they maximize your energy stores. Make them the core of your diet, or at least include one or two helpings of raw food with every meal. Make sure you get enough healthy omega-3 fats and naturally occurring fiber, and quit being such a baby about vegetables: Decide to love them! Taking a good multivitamin and mineral supplement is great, but remember, no amount of supplements or “health products” will make up for a lackluster diet, and nothing can do more for your health than eating right. Learn how to shop, cook and eat as though your life depended on it. Because it does.

Suggestions: Start juicing fresh fruits and vegetables at home. Aim for variety and color in your grocery cart (colorful foods, not packaging), seek out top-quality, minimally processed foods, buy local when you can, and reduce the number of packaged and prepared foods you buy. If you don’t have any time to shop or cook, ask yourself: Just exactly what is it you are doing that is worth sacrificing your health? For more information and inspiration, read a book likeNutrition Made Simple by Robert Crayhon, M.S, or Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Dr. Walter C. Willett, et al.

4. Drink plenty of clean water.

No matter how much you want to believe that “someone” is watching out for the water supply, the fact is, our planet’s water is badly polluted, and until something changes dramatically with industry, agriculture and EPA standards, it’s just gonna get worse. But your body needs clean water – lots of it – for processing and distributing nutrients, for flushing out wastes, and for lubricating and maintaining your cellular structure, which is almost entirely liquid.

In Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj provides evidence that dehydration is an important causal factor in many serious conditions, including asthma, arthritis, depression, migraine headaches, hypertension, high cholesterol, angina, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Getting enough water, he says, can in many cases significantly improve or even totally eliminate such problems.

Suggestions: Stop buying soda today, and with the money you save, get a reverse-osmosis or other high-quality water purifier for your home and a big decanter for work. Be selective about bottled water, which varies widely in quality (many bottled-water products are worse than tap water). Can’t remember to drink? Put eight rubber bands around your water glass or bottle in the morning and peel them off as you refill throughout the day. Drink most of your water at room temperature and without anything in it — it’ll get absorbed much faster.

5. Keep your body clean, inside—and out.

Sure, you want to shower and de-lint your belly button. But it’s also a good idea to detoxify your insides – by eating clean, live, high-fiber foods and drinking enough water on a regular basis; by getting ample exercise; and also by doing cleansing diets and fasts seasonally to help clear out accumulated gunk in your colon, liver, kidneys and lymph. There’s no way you can be healthy when you’re carting around a bunch of toxic garbage and chemical waste. It prevents you from absorbing your nutrients properly and wreaks havoc with your digestive and immune systems. It also ruins your skin. When your body is clean and healthy inside, you’ll be amazed how many fewer “health and beauty” aids you need to look and smell great.

Suggestions: Make sure your bowel elimination is regular (i.e., you’re doing No. 2 at least once and preferably two to three times a day, ideally within 30 minutes after each major meal). If it’s not, change your diet (more live foods, more water). You might also look into internal cleansing advice and herbal support from an expert. (Call 1-800-HERB-DOC for a free, very informative catalog featuring high-quality herbal internal-cleansing products and funny, upbeat, near-evangelical cleansing advice from Dr. Richard Schulze himself.)

6. Exercise.

That means at least an hour of some moderate activity every day, and ideally (combined daily or over the course of each week) it means a three-pronged program, including cardio, strength and flexibility training. Adequate, balanced exercise is important not just for fitness and weight control, but also for circulation, coordination, emotional and mental wellness, chemical regulation, bone generation, your nervous system, and sleep patterns.

Suggestions: Do it first thing in the morning to make sure you fit it in. Or break up your hour of exercise into smaller chunks (keep a jump rope in your desk drawer and jump for five minutes every few hours). Just make sure you are moving — with intent — for at least an hour a day and that you’re doing a variety of activities. Lastly, respect your body’s architecture: Look at your posture, gait, coordination and balance, work to improve them, and don’t undertake any exercise program that undermines them. (See “25 Ways to Make Time for Fitness” for more ideas to make sure you’re finding time for fitness.)

7. Rest.

That means get enough sleep, but also get enough downtime between all period of exertion — physical, mental and emotional. Repair and recovery are essential parts of our natural rhythm, and you ignore them at your peril.

Overtax your muscles, and you’ll cease making gains. Overtax your adrenal glands with too much stress, and you’ll soon find yourself wiped out, chemically imbalanced, sick and generally unable to cope. Keep in mind that the amount of rest you need varies with the seasons, your activities and your mental state, and that shortchanging yourself in this department usually creates even bigger shortfalls somewhere else.

Suggestions: If you need to lie down, lie down. If you need to call in, call in. If you need to switch to a less stressful job or opt out of a stressful relationship, do it: Whatever they’re paying or giving you isn’t worth nearly what it’s going to cost you to deal with and recover (if you’re lucky) from stress-induced diseases like ulcers, digestive disorders and cancer. If your life is making you sick and tired, it isn’t sustainable. Don’t wait until everything breaks down and you’re totally lost to make a basic course correction that you could and should make right now. This is your life. Don’t sell it down the river for a handful of baubles, a “go-getter” reputation or martyred pride.

8. Breathe.

Break your shallow-breathing habit and learn to breathe with your whole body – while you exercise, while you work, while you relax. Deep breathing not only oxygenates your blood and tissues, the action itself is a key component in your body’s complex energy-management and healing system. (See “How to Breathe” for a deeper look.)

Suggestions: Yoga, Qi Gong and meditation classes can help you learn the art of breathing. If you tend to forget to breathe deeply when left to your own devices, for a few days, set a travel alarm with a snooze button (or program your computer’s reminder feature to make you aware of your breath every few minutes). It’ll be annoying, but you’ll soon adopt a new, healthier breathing habit and reap the rewards. Check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s CD, “Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing.”

9. Get Outside.

Fresh air and sunshine are essential to your health and well-being. Being cooped up inside where light levels are low tends to depress your metabolism, your energy level and your mood. The reduced range of vision and artificial lights strain your eyes and upset your circadian rhythms, and the poor air quality exposes you to various bugs and toxins. The lack of sunshine also affects your hormonal balance and inhibits your body’s ability to make and process essential nutrients, like vitamin D and K.

Suggestions: If you want to lose weight, improve your mood or change your life in just about any other way, start by spending at least a half-hour of uninterrupted time outside each day — even when it’s cold, even when it’s rainy. Get yourself outside, and preferably out into nature, at every opportunity. Radiate your gratitude for the weather, the air, the sun, the trees and birds – for nature in general. It will change your life.

10. Make the Mind-Body Connection.

In case you haven’t picked up a science magazine or medical journal lately, here’s the news: What you think of as your “brain” is not just in your head – it’s spread all over your body. And it’s not just what you think – it’s what you feel. The concept of the “global brain” (illuminated in books like Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine by Candice Pert, PhD) has recently emerged as a result of a bunch of major research breakthroughs in neuroscience and brain-imaging technology. All the talk about opiate receptors and neuropeptides is fascinating, but basically, it comes down to this: If you are stressed and miserable, it affects not just your mental health, but your whole body’s biochemistry and function – your hormones, your immune system, everything. Your mindset can even alter your reality, and not just in some cloudy, airy new-age way. It’s medically proven that your brain’s activity is affected by your thoughts and feelings. Your habitual thought patterns also determine what you do and don’t see, and what information your brain does and doesn’t process. Thus, your thoughts and attitudes (both conscious and unconscious) go a long way toward creating the reality you experience. If you want a healthy body and a whole, happy life, learn to fully identify, process and express your thoughts and emotions in healthy, full-hearted ways.

Parting Look

We hope you can keep some or all this stuff top-of-mind by clipping or printing this short list of Top 10 Tips and tucking it into your day planner or posting it in another handy spot. But even if you forget it all, remember this:

Your body is a reflection of your life.

If you’re cheating or short-changing it, abusing, ignoring, overworking or abandoning it, you are probably doing the same thing (and feeling similar effects) somewhere else in your life, too. So take a good, loving look at your body. Listen to what it is trying to tell you. Give it what it needs. And then get out of the way.

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