20 Health Tips for 2020

20 Health Tips for 2020

As we start the New Year many people are making resolutions, only to break them within weeks.  Here are the top ten resolutions that seldom make it past the first quarter!

Instead of setting ourselves up for failure by setting lofty goals and making resolutions we know we won’t adhere to, let’s examine twenty simple behaviors or choices we can start practicing now and continue to cultivate through not only 2020 but years to follow.

1. Develop a healthy relationship with food.

Eat to live, don’t live to eat! Instead of focusing on how many pounds you can lose in the shortest amount of time by implementing programs that are being heavily marketed to you in the media this time of year, make a decision to learn what real food looks and tastes like.  Learn why it is such a challenge for many people to shed the holiday pounds if they don’t cleanse their bodies from excess sugar, processed foods and alcohol. Make a commitment to seasonal plant based food cleanses supported by a few carefully selected nutritional supplements which will support you through the process.


2. Start your day with a glass of lemon water, three minutes of breath work and a soothing tune.

Many of us hit the snooze button over and over and then hurriedly start our day often bombarded by a barrage of bad news or irrelevant trivia from the morning show on TV.  Why not take a moment to savor a healthy start by drinking 8-12 oz of room temperature lemon water to alkalize our cells and hydrate our bodies while concentrating on slow breaths accompanying a piece of soothing music.  Such a ritual can significantly improve blood pressure and give our day a healthy start.


3. Incorporate more organic greens into your daily routine.

Everyone knows we should be getting in between 5-9 servings of veggies and fruit a day.  How are you doing on that front? One of the easiest ways to achieve this is by starting your day with a 90 second green smoothie - literally thousands of recipes exist, so experiment and find your own favorites.  I recommend you fortify it with a nutritious pea protein shake and you will be fuelled for hours.  You will have also easily met half of your daily “green” requirement.  And why organic? We have so polluted our environment and altered our agricultural practices to include herbicides, pesticides and GMOs, that choosing “clean fifteen” and avoiding the “dirty dozen” should be everyone’s goal.


4. Support your gut!

We’ve all heard it: “gut is your second brain”, “healthy gut - healthy immune system”, “optimize your gut microbiome”, “heal the leaky gut”.  But what does all of this really mean? It is a fact that there are more serotonin receptors in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract than in our brain, so a happy gut describes a happy person.  Likewise, over two thirds of our immune cells reside in so called GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue). It is therefore not surprising that integrity of this largest organ in our body is needed for optimum functioning.  Yet the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria that reside within our gut is a science in and of itself. To make it simple, learn to love the probiotic containing foods that provide and replenish good bacteria - sauerkraut, pickled beets, kimchi - and add to your diet prebiotics, food for the good bacteria.  In many cases, dietary measures alone are not adequate, so finding an appropriate dietary supplement is the key to restoring integrity and function of our digestive tract.


5. Beware of detox promises.

The buzz around detox is no longer a novelty, but a true meaning of detoxification is likely quite far from the promises of hundreds of fad detox teas, powders, restrictive eating programs, and fasting protocols. While promoting unsubstantiated claims of getting rid of toxins and helping you lose weight effortlessly, some of those may be downright dangerous.  So how are you to choose a program and why do we even need to consider detoxification? I promise to devote a whole post to this incredibly important topic soon, but for now, suffice it to say that we are bombarded by dangerous chemicals all day long: from the water we drink and bathe in to the air we breathe and food we consume.  Pesticides are so widely used in our food system that it is easy to assume that they must be safe. This is unfortunately far from the truth and we must arm ourselves with knowledge about them from reputable sources.  Fortunately, if we stick with what is good for our bodies, real whole foods, we are likely to support our liver, kidneys, gut and skin in a way that optimizes their role in getting rid of toxins that accumulate in our bodies, mostly in our fat cells.  Whether you need to shed a few holiday pounds or lose a lot of weight or none at all, you should make 2020 the year you adopt seasonal cleansing in order to get your body to optimum function and keep it there year round.


6. Add clean, organic animal products to your diet.

While plant based diets can definitely provide adequate nutrition, adding animal derived products can provide additional valuable nutritional content and offer significant palatal pleasure.  If you chose to add meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, do try to make those choices from the organic pasture fed, antibiotic and hormone free, wild caught and free range offerings. Learn to prepare delicious meals that take 30 minutes or less from the shopping bag to the table and enjoy them in good company. Click here for healthy and delicious recipes!


7. If you smoke, stop; if you drink, moderate!

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, yet approximately 14% of Americans continue to smoke.  While the best is never to start, it is never too late to quit. There are many programs that can be utilized along with acupuncture, behavior modification and medications to help set a quit date and relieve physiologic consequences of nicotine addiction.  Working with your primary care physician or a trained addiction therapist will help achieve and maintain abstinence.
While “social drinking” is an acceptable form of behavior, habitual use of alcohol, even in moderation, may have serious health consequences in susceptible individuals.  Women metabolize alcohol differently from men and should not consume more than one drink a day. It has been noted in a recent study that alcohol consumption among women is on the rise.  The “mommy wine culture” has become quite widespread, particularly among college educated women. This disturbing trend may stem from multiple reasons. From the stress of managing career and family, the stress of facing “empty nest syndrome”, to self medicating social anxiety, or insomnia.  If you are noticing that you are having problems keeping your alcohol consumption in check, take a moment to examine reasons for your behavior and consult a physician before it is too late. Help is readily available.


8. Start moving!

If you are already a fitness enthusiast, great!  Keep it up but make sure your jog near a 6 lane highway ends with a recovery drink providing adequate antioxidant support to neutralize free radicals released during your exercise.  If you are minimally physically active, make a promise to yourself that you will do something that involves movement for at least 10 minutes a day: a further walk from the train to the office, stairs instead of elevators, a walk at lunch time.  Once this becomes part of your routine, increase it to 30 minutes a day and start adding targeted activities such as strength training, core body work, Yoga or a favorite sport.  Mix and match and make it fun rather than a dreaded chore. Find a buddy even if it means exercise with a virtual community, following your favorite online fitness class. 


9. Learn to manage pain without drugs.

Your newly discovered zeal for exercise may occasionally come with a price of a muscle sprain, achy back or sore knee.  Combined with daily neck and shoulder assault from our computers and laptops and likely poor ergonomic design of our workplaces you are most likely reaching for a pain pill.  Chronic use of analgesic drugs, even non opioid types, is likely going to wreak havoc on your body and only temporarily put a bandaid on your symptom of pain. Find an acupuncturist or body worker such as a highly trained chiropractor to help you manage the pain and consult with doctors or therapists skilled in using dynamic neuromodulation to help your body activate healing pathways and achieve homeostasis. Click here to learn about the FirstTx approach to pain management.


10. Get adequate sleep.

Many people take pride in their ability to function on a very limited amount of nightly sleep.  While this habit may have gotten us through college and early careers, it can contribute to a myriad of health problems as we age.  Most of the body repair occurs while we sleep and the process requires a minimum of 7-8 hrs for most adults. Daily stress frequently makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.  Here are a few helpful tips to ease into restorative sleep. Keep your bedroom cool and completely dark to help with the natural production of melatonin. Limit use of electronic devices prior to bedtime - no cell phones, e-mails, e-books for an hour prior to bedtime.  If you must read an e-book, make sure you use appropriate filter / night screen light adjustment.
Drink a soothing herbal tea with passionfruit and valerian and help calm your mind with botanicals which balance your HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal).


11. “Unplug” at meals.

Meal preparation and participation unfortunately exist in too few households.  We are busily bringing in take out foods, starting an evening meal with the almost compulsory “unwind” drink and sitting down at the dinner table set with another utensil, the cell phone.  While “dry January” is catching on as a popular concept early in the year, after indulging a bit too much during the holidays, we may wish to try it longer than a month. I suggest drinking 8 to 12 oz of spring water before dinner as that will help digestion and create a feeling of satiety and help with managing healthy weight.  We should also proclaim a device free dining experience for families or while dining out with friends. Once you unplug at meals, you may discover that the art of conversation becomes even more fun when everyone is engaged in helping prep whole foods needed for simple yet delicious and beautiful mealsYou may wish to start this practice on weekends and ease into it during most if not all week nights. 


12. Make your home radiation free.

We are becoming more and more aware of possible adverse effects of electromagnetic radiation from cell phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, smart TVs, antennas and cell towers to microwaves, WiFi routers and smart meters.  Symptoms of overexposure may vary and may be nonspecific and vague such as fatigue, headaches, joint pain, anxiety, depression, changes in appetite, lack of energy, dizziness, changes in memory, fertility challenges and sleep disturbances and can therefore frequently go unrecognized for a long time.  There are studies that clearly link some exposures to leukemias, neurologic disorders and some types of cancer. Young children are particularly at risk. (link to
So what is one to do?  We can measure the EMF strength in our home utilizing readily available measuring devices but it is unlikely that we will be able to avoid it especially in highly populated urban environments.  So, from a practical perspective, we should turn off the router at night, limit screen time, particularly limit children’s use of devices, place laptops and tablets on a surface rather than your lap while working on them, remove all electronics from your bedroom, replace cell phone alarm with a battery operated one, use speakerphone or tube earphones for calls, use grounding mats for desk and bed, turn your phone on airplane mode while in a car as it acts as a metal amplifier for EMFs. If needed for GPS, use Google Maps and airplane mode so the app will still track location but on a much lower frequency than in full use.  Bring in more plants. NASA suggests 12 to 15 plants per 1,000 square foot in an area to clean up the air. Spider plants, cactus, snake plants, aloe vera and peace lilies are all great to help absorb radiation and help oxygenate indoor air.


13. Implement EMF protected lifestyle changes.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps support the body to ward off environmental toxins and their effects.  Specifically, do seasonal cleanses (link to CBS Cleanse), get regular massages to assist lymphatic system flush.  Do infrared sauna sessions to increase circulation and get rid of toxins via perspiration. Use adaptogenic herbs such as chaga, reishi, astragalus and schizandra berry to support the immune and nervous system.  Practice simple deep breathing exercises to help oxygenate the blood and bring oxygen to the cells. Practice daily meditation for increased immunity and a calm nervous system. Take supplements containing herbs that help induce healthy sleep and balance hormones.  Ground naturally into the earth allowing for 20 minutes barefoot on grass, sand or soil, whenever that is seasonally feasible.  Maintain seven to eight hours of sleep each night allowing the body to fall into natural circadian rhythm.
If you suspect you are highly sensitive to EMFs (or if you want to take it to the next level), here are a few additional options for protection against EMFs. Check if your house has a smart meter or digital RF meter from the utility company, or an analog meter. If you have a smart meter, call or write your utility company and request to opt out and receive an analog.  Disable Bluetooth in your car. Shut down circuit breakers at night, or at least the power to the bedroom(s). Use battery operated clocks and lights in the bedroom at night. Move your bed at least six inches from the nearest wired wall. Replace light dimmers. Dimmers are a major contributor to dirty electricity. Replace all dimmers in the house completely, or use specific dimmers that work with LED lighting.  Reduce your use of electricity and appliances between 7 - 9am and 4 - 5pm as this is when the citywide electrical grid is in use, thus increasing flow of electricity and increasing dirty electricity into the home.


14. Detoxify your kitchen and bathroom.

In an effort to clean our bodies by getting rid of toxins seasonally, start doing the same in your kitchen and bathrooms.  Start by removing one chemical containin product a week as you simplify your cleaning routine to use water, vinegar, baking soda and salt for spic and span surfaces, fresh smelling fridge and sparkling windows and mirrors.  Next, open your cupboards and pitch the processed “food lookalikes”, stock your fridge with colorful produce and make sure it does not stay there for more than a few days. Use it! Bathrooms are potentially hiding hundreds of toxins in the form of parabens, phthalates and sodium laureth containing sudsing cleansers and shampoos.  They all need to go! Use personal care products that are simple and contain none of those and many other harmful chemicals that lurk in beauty products. Simplify! A gentle facial cleanser, shampoo and conditioner, body cleanser and mineral bath salts along with a hydrating body moisturizer, vitamin (A, C, E) and antioxidants enriched  facial serum, hydrating serum, a natural sunscreen and day and night moisturizer should be all that is needed. Fragrances are mostly unhealthy unless formulated from plant essential oils. Many well known brands are moving in that direction.


15. Learn to meditate.

A newly available report based on data from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that U.S. adults’ use of meditation tripled between 2012 and 2017 The use of meditation by U.S. children (aged 4 to 17 years) also increased significantly. People who are not meditators sometimes fear that it is difficult to meditate.  Not so! You should give it a try.
Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improve psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being. Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior. There are many types of meditation, but most have four elements in common: 1. a quiet location with as few distractions as possible, 2.  a specific, comfortable posture (sitting, lying down, walking, or gentle movements / positions), 3. a focus of attention (a specially chosen word or set of words, an object, or the sensations of the breath), and 4. an open attitude (letting distractions come and go naturally without judging them).
Many studies have investigated meditation for different conditions, and there is evidence that it may reduce blood pressure as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have inflammatory bowel disease. It may ease symptoms of pain, anxiety and depression, and may help people with insomnia and reduce stress.  The simplest form of meditation is learning how to slow down one’s respiratory rate which results in an activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and a relaxation response. I suggest starting and ending one’s day with 5 to 10 minutes. You will like the results!


16. Get a massage.

Massage treatments are expanding beyond luxury spas and upscale health clubs. Today, massage therapy is offered in many businesses, clinics, hospitals and even airports. There are several types of massages that serve different needs.
Swedish massage is a gentle form of massage that uses long strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration and tapping to help relax and energize you.  Deep tissue massage technique uses slower, more-forceful strokes to target the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue, commonly used to help with muscle damage from injuries.  Sports massage is similar to Swedish massage, but it is geared toward people involved in sport activities to help prevent or treat injuries. Trigger point massage is massage which focuses on areas of tight muscle fibers that can form in your muscles after injuries or overuse. 
Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it is an effective treatment which is now accepted by traditional medicine for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension.  Many other studies have shown a definite correlation between efficacy of adding massage in managing anxiety, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, headaches, insomnia related to stress, myofascial pain syndrome, soft tissue strains or injuries, sports injuries and temporomandibular joint pain.  Beyond the benefits for specific conditions or diseases, some people enjoy massage because it often produces feelings of caring, comfort and connection. So, brush aside any thoughts that massage is only a feel-good way to indulge or pamper yourself. On the contrary, massage can be a powerful tool to help you take charge of your health and well-being, whether you have a specific health condition or are just looking for another stress reliever. You can even learn how to do self-massage or how to engage in massage with a partner at home.


17. Spend time in nature and get some sun.


18. “Purge” your wallet and gain financial freedom.

Many people have overextended themselves shopping for the holiday gifts and falling prey to post holiday sales.  On average, each household with a credit card carries $8,398 in credit card debt.  Total U.S. consumer debt is at $13.86 trillion. 
Make 2020 the year when you learn to simplify your finances.  If you are in debt, consult a financial advisor and create a plan to diminish or eliminate it altogether.  Start by getting rid of credit cards. Keep just one. Choose the one that gives you the best rewards. Pay off the balance on time every month.  If you cannot afford to pay it off right away, don’t buy it. It’s only stuff, anyway. And we all have too much stuff. If you haven’t donated some of it before the holidays, do it now.  Purge your closets, too! Rule of thumb: you haven’t worn it in 6 months or a year, give it away. And the same rule you expect your teenage daughter to follow (“for every new item that is brought in, one needs to leave the closet”) applies to you!  If you don’t have some form of retirement plan, look for one now and start making regular contributions. Your goal should be to live a debt free life as soon as possible.


19. Connect with others.

For many of us, the holidays meant family gatherings, getting together with friends, and participating in special religious, community, and workplace activities. Such occasions give us an opportunity to check in with each other, exchange ideas, and perhaps lend some social support to each other.  Social connections like these not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have social support from family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School, 

“...which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.  Scientists have found that connecting with others helps relieve harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.  Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support, from offers of help or advice to expressions of affection. In addition, evidence suggests that the life-enhancing effects of social support extend to giver as well as to the receiver.

All of this is great news because caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It's inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and we can engage in it in many ways.”


20. Take time for gratitude.

As a physician, I have helped to care for many patients and families whose lives have been turned upside down by serious illnesses and injuries.  When confronted with such circumstances, it can be difficult to find cause for anything but sadness and despair. Yet, learning to give thanks gives us with an opportunity to develop one of the healthiest, most life-affirming and convivial of all habits -- that of counting and rejoicing in our blessings, even amidst the most grave of circumstances. 
Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack.  It helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. 
The first step in any gratitude practice is to reflect on the good things that have happened in your life. These can be big or little things. It can be as simple as finding a good parking space that day or enjoying a hot mug of coffee. Or, perhaps you feel grateful for a close friend’s compassionate support.  Next, allow yourself a moment to enjoy that you had the positive experience, no matter what negatives may exist in your life.
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis: write a thank-you note, keep a gratitude journal, count your blessings each day, pray or meditate. 



Dr. Vesna Skul Dr. Skul is a graduate of Rush Medical College in Chicago, is a board-certified specialist in Internal Medicine, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Rush University. She is also fellowship-trained and board-certified in anti-aging and regenerative medicine. Her career has been devoted to caring for women in all phases of their lives.

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