Take Our Quiz! 5 Simple Steps to Better Health


In the quest to stay healthy, we hear the same advice again and again: Eat right, exercise and don’t smoke.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But what else can we do? What additional steps we can take to increase the potential of a long, healthy life?

We put that question to four local experts—two M.D.s and two holistic practitioners—an approach we took, primarily, to give the article balance. But we also thought it might be interesting to see how similar or dissimilar their answers would be.

Here are five of their collective tips.

As you read each item, try and guess which camp it came from—conventional, holistic or both. After you finish the story, check at the end to see how well you scored.

Our distinguished panel of experts:
Thomas Balsbaugh, M.D., family practice, UC Davis Medical Group
Julia Logan, M.D., family practice, Sutter Medical Group

Holistic practitioners:
Nyna Nelson, R.N.-C.S., F.N.P., G.N.P. (registered nurse-clinical specialist, family nurse practitioner, geriatric nurse practitioner),  Alternative Wellness Solutions, Folsom
Cari Thachuk,  N.D., P.T. (naturopathic doctor, physical therapist), Bukovina, Auburn

1. Get your zzzzzzzzzs. It’s an epidemic, all right: One in 10 adults has chronic insomnia and one in three occasionally struggles with the sandman, according to the National Institutes of Health. No surprise, then, that members of our panel emphasized the importance of getting adequate sleep. Too little shut-eye, especially over prolonged periods of time, can damage our health in myriad ways both large and small, from having trouble focusing on tasks to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart problems. Resolving the issue may not be easy, but good habits—including establishing a sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine close to bedtime, relaxing before bed and creating a sleep-friendly (i.e., comfortable, dark, cool, quiet) room—should help. And do you really need that TV in the bedroom? For more tips, visit sleepfoundation.org, the National Sleep Foundation website.

2. Stay on top of screenings. Postponing that colonoscopy? Time for another cholesterol check? The potential benefit of health screenings is obvious but worth repeating: They can save your life. Equally important, they can render peace of mind when you’re imagining the worst. For a handy-dandy guide to screening tests, one of our panelists suggested healthfinder.gov/prevention/.

3. Catch some rays. With all the panic about slathering on sunscreen, the sun has gotten a bit of a bad rap. But getting out-of-doors is important, and a little bit of sun—say, 10 minutes a day—offers more benefits than risks, experts say. Science has long known that vitamin D, which sunlight helps the body manufacture, aids calcium absorption, helping to build strong bones. We’ve also known for a while that sunny skies can foster a sunny mood. But more recently, researchers uncovered exciting new evidence that vitamin D also is a vital immune system booster and may offer protection from everything from cancer to autoimmune disease. That’s big.

4. Support your adrenals. Maybe you’ve never heard of them, but guess what? Your adrenal glands “dictate much of what happens in your body,” according to mayoclinic.com. These little glands—one near the top of each kidney—secrete a variety of hormones, primarily adrenaline (adrenal/adrenaline —get the connection?) and cortisol, which help to control blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism and other functions. It’s the adrenals that manage the body’s fight or flight response—the “revved up” feeling that rushes over you when you are suddenly stressed. That’s why some experts believe that chronic stress can lead to adrenal burnout, better known as “adrenal insufficiency,” whose symptoms may include fatigue, body aches, nervousness and sleep disturbances. So, how do you protect these precious little glands? Maybe it’s obvious: Reduce stress. By calming the body and mind and leading a more balanced life, the adrenals will be better able to do their job. A few adrenal-supporting suggestions from one of our panelists: Scale back on sugar; engage in meditative exercise such as yoga or tai chi; take the B vitamin pantothenic acid; try ashwagandha, an herbal stress-reliever. Vitamin C also is recommended, as is catching your zzzzzzzzzs (see No. 1).

5. Get regular. Apologies for using the unmentionable B word. But having a regular bowel movement was mentioned by one panelist as possibly the most important step in maintaining good health. Why? The exact quote: “It’s the way our body takes out the trash.” Experts differ on what constitutes normal frequency. But it’s doubtful anyone would support the notion that carrying waste around in your body is a good thing. It’s also agreed that constipation—meaning having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse—should not be ignored. The good news is, it’s usually nothing serious—in most cases, it just means you’re not getting enough fiber or exercise—so reversing the problem is often as simple as increasing fruits, vegetables and other fibrous foods and ramping up the workouts. But it also needs saying that bowel problems can sometimes signal something more serious—colon, rectal and intestinal problems, for starters—so raising your awareness on this subject is not a bad idea.

Answer key:
1. Both. Three of the four interviewees—M.D.s Thomas Balsbaugh and Julia Logan and naturopathic doctor Cari Thachuk—stressed the importance of adequate sleep, suggesting this topic carries some extra weight. “People today are more chronically sleep deprived than ever,” says Balsbaugh.
2. Conventional. Balsbaugh offered this tip.
3. Both. Both Logan and Thachuk recommended getting a small dose of sunshine every day—or, at the very least, spending some time outside.
4. Holistic. Adrenal fatigue isn’t currently an accepted diagnosis in mainstream medicine, but it’s a hot topic among the holistic community. Holistic practitioner Nyna Nelson spoke vehemently on the critical role of adrenal function. “Most people don’t even know what our adrenals are,” she says. “But they are our backup immune system.”
5. Holistic. It was Thachuk who was brave enough to raise the subject of bowel movements. “It’s one of those things we don’t want to think about or talk about,” she admits. “But it’s so important.”