As a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) I have the privilege of hearing thousands of people tell me intimate details about their health and lifestyle. With every patient that walks through the door there is a story that follows them; a story that I try to piece together, like a jigsaw puzzle. It helps me understand why they are dealing with whatever ailment that brought them in.
One of the first questions I ask them is “why they believe they have the signs and symptoms they have” and I am saddened when I hear time and time again, “Well, I am over 40 so I guess my health just got worse.” They say this as if the body is now ‘broken’ and that it starts malfunctioning once you hit 40 (or 50 or whatever age you happen to be at). I don’t buy it, I never have and never will.
You see, I have seen so many people under 40 who are more sick, tired, inflamed and burnt-out than their older counterparts and I have seen countless over 40 people who feel better than they ever have. They run marathons, triathlons, travel, and have abundant energy to burn. It’s not a ‘broken body’ that holds people back, it’s their mentality towards health and the choices they make that can either improve or hurt their overall health.
If you fall into the "Well, I am over 40 so I guess my health just got worse" category, here are several things to focus on and apply to get your vitality and energy back.
1. Eat your greens: I do not just mean eat a salad a day, I mean focus on getting in greens at all meals. Those dark green leafies, including kale, broccoli, collards, swish chard, bok choy, spinach, etc., are chock full of nutrients that every cell in your body needs to function.
If your cells do not have the nutrients they need to work optimally, they will only function at a suboptimal rate and that leads to suboptimal health. Add greens to your morning smoothies, have a salad with lunch or supper and ensure half of your plate is covered with greens for the other meal.
You can steam greens, lightly boil or bake them. You can add them to the side of your plate with whatever you are eating. You don’t have to let picky eaters stop you from incorporating greens into your family’s weekly menu; there are lots of ways to feed greens to kids who tend to be picky eaters. Find recipes that incorporate, or even hide, the greens. Do not let the pasta, potato, rice or meat fill up your plate. Move them over and fill it with power punching greens!
2. Drink more water: It's pretty common that many people fall far below drinking the amount of water that their bodies expect of them. 6-8 cups per day is a minimum. Water is what the body uses to help clean you out, like a shower on the inside. Without water your body becomes a storage bank for toxins and impurities which can certainly impact your health.
Pure water is needed, not flavoured, pop, carbonated water or caffeinated tea, but plain water. If you need some flavour in your water to make it more palatable, try adding lemon, oranges, raspberries, cucumber or a splash of pomegranate or blueberry juice. Herbal teas can also count as water intake as they do not have the diuretic effect from the caffeine.
3. Exercise: There is no better time than now to be active! The more you move, the better your body functions. There are so many options nowadays for unique, fun ways to get and stay fit. You could join a yoga studio, try Orange Theory, rowing classes, tennis lessons, running groups, kickboxing, ultimate frisbee, boot camps, weights, the list goes on. Most are now offered virtually as well, so you can do them from home if needed.
Choose what calls to your heart and go for it! You can also try something new; this helps expand the brain and helps decrease your risk of developing conditions like Alzheimers. Recruit a family member or friend to help with accountability. If you have kids, choose a family-friendly exercise you can all enjoy together.
4. Get out in Nature: Numerous studies have shown that nature can help people feel a sense of calm and help re-energize them. Taking the time to enjoy the beauty around you and get fresh air and sunshine brightens moods and can help reduce stress. Go for a walk on your lunch break or after supper. Hike on the weekends with friends or family or enjoy some solitude in nature. The extra oxygen and vitamin D are two main reasons we know why getting out in nature can help.
5. Reduce stress: High stress levels can be very harmful for your health. High stress increases blood pressure, decreases immunity, and depletes your energy.
We can not get rid of all stress: we will never be able to live stress free because life happens, but we can aim to be in a place where we can find our "peace in the chaos." I have a sign in my office that I read to each patient which says: “Peace – It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, heist or hard work. It means to be amongst these things and still be calm in your heart.”
This should be a lifelong goal that includes techniques like meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing. One of the easiest ways to do this is to add deep breathing into your day. There are many different breathing techniques you can use. A basic one I teach is to breathe in for a count of 5, hold for 6 and breathe out for 8. If you try this, you'll see that your blood pressure will be lower than when you started. Your reading would indicate this after just 10 of these breaths. Amazing that just breathing deeper can actually lower your blood pressure and help mitigate the harmful effects of stress.
6. Embrace being over 40: You no longer have to impress:) You never had to impress anyway, but a lot of people find that once they hit 40 they no longer care as much about what others think. Many realize that they have put too much attention on what others have thought and not enough on what they themselves think.
It’s your time to do and say what you want. Bend the rules a bit and do what your impulses tell you to do (as long as they're healthy impulses of course). Find your voice and say what you want to say. Follow your heart and your gut; you no longer have to overthink your actions.
Be spontaneous, go wherever your heart takes you, and make the changes you, and only you, want to make. Don’t let yourself be caught up in others’ opinions. Know that your opinion matters, you matter and now is the time to treat yourself with the utmost respect and honour. You deserve this and more!
7. Women and perimenopause: Embrace the changes that come with perimenopause. Your 40s can be a time of a lot of hormonal shifts as your body adjusts and prepares for menopause. Feel empowered by these changes by preparing and reading about what the changes may entail. Some women go through periods of irritability or anxiety. Sleep can be disturbed due to hot flashes. Knowing what to expect can help make the transition easier and help you understand why your body is acting the way it is.
Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor (ND) about your symptoms; there are many alternative and non-invasive remedies out there. Menopause can be a beautiful transition, a time for women to shed their former responsibilities like taking care of kids and family and truly blossom. Follow your dreams and if you have lost them along the way, go back and rediscover them or create new ones: they are worth searching for!
If you are overly tired, make sure to check your iron, vitamin B12, cortisol, and thyroid levels to rule out any underlying deficiencies or hormonal imbalances which could be causing your fatigue.
If you are not feeling your best, book an appointment with an ND who can help you understand the underlying reasons why you are not feeling great and work towards changing your ‘over 40’ story. Your 40s and beyond can be a time of abundance, clarity and joy. Start shifting your thoughts and replace your mindset to make this the new norm. Start enjoying the freedom that health and happiness over 40 can offer.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Tanya O'Brien ND