Steve Sjuggerud’s note: This essay isn’t our typical DailyWealth fare. But I believe it could be one of the most useful things you’ll ever read. (I certainly found it useful.) After all, if you’re the type of person who is interested in building long-term wealth, chances are you’re interested in living long enough to enjoy the freedom that having wealth provides. On that note, here’s my colleague Dr. David Eifrig’s “Top 12 Ways to Improve Your Health in 2012″…

Top 12 Ways to Improve Your Health in 2012
by Dr. David Eifrig

Every year, I provide readers of my Retirement Millionaire advisory one of the most valuable lists in the world.

Before compiling the list, I spend time researching and thinking about the most important handful of things readers could do to improve the longevity and quality of their lives into retirement.

None of the stuff is hard to do. All of it is based on scientific evidence, as well as my personal experience. The list changes from year to year, but the “big themes” remain the same.

[ad#Google Adsense 336×280-IA]I encourage you to take your time with the 12 items on this year’s list… These ideas will change your life for the better. Try one a month, or one a week. (I’ve heard some readers post the list on their refrigerators.) I hope you enjoy reading the list as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together…

1. Sleep: Try to sleep at least eight hours a day (include naps in the total). This has been No. 1 on my list for seven-straight years. Poor sleep is linked to heart disease, obesity, colds, and even cancer. Without enough sleep, the immune system doesn’t work right.

Getting good sleep is hard to do in December and January. The pressure of parties, socializing, traveling, eating sweets, and drinking alcohol all lead to poor sleep.

Most people who struggle with sleep fail to focus on good “sleep hygiene.”

Here’s what I do: I darken the room as much as I can. I remove TVs, radios, electronics, and cell phones from the bedroom. Electronic gear and the transformers used to run them emit electromagnetic radiation that disturbs sleep cycles.

Make your bed a place of relaxation, sleep, and sex. And never argue or fight in the bedroom.

Turn the temperature down in your bedroom. When your legs and arms are cooling down, it triggers chemicals to your brain telling it that it’s time to sleep. 60 degrees is the ideal sleeping temperature.

Also, maintain a set time of day to either wake up or go to bed. I try to set my bed time… when I’m fully rested I’ll wake up seven to eight hours later. If I’m not rested, I’ll sleep until I am. But if I feel a cold coming on… or everyone else around me is getting sick… off to bed I go for some extra sleep.

2. Movement: It’s critical to move at least 20 minutes a day. Moving is a sign that you’re alive. It triggers the body to produce chemicals and hormones that improve mood and increase bone density. Weight-bearing exercises, like walking, increase your bone density the best and even improve your immune system.

But if you’re lazy or it’s cold outside, the cheapest and easiest movement to do is stretching – you can do it in your pajamas. And you don’t need any other equipment… not even shoes. The benefits are nearly equal to walking.

One more thing about movement is that it improves your mood. Exercises like tai chi and yoga have been shown to effectively combat depression.

Do what I do… Lie down on a soft floor and stretch several times a week.

On other days, try to jog or walk. When traveling, getting out for 15 minutes in the neighborhood is a great way to learn more about the area and the people you’re visiting. I’ll occasionally seek out a yoga studio and do a beginner class.

If you don’t know how to stretch or what’s possible, the best book on the topic is Stretching by Bob Anderson.

3. Meditate: Meditation – the act of sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, a sound, or a word – is the physiologic equivalent of a good workout. Scientists have studied the meditation state, and it’s probably as good as the best aerobic workout for short and long-term health benefits.

Meditation brings lower blood pressure, less heart disease, and more VO2max – a fancy physiologic measurement of fitness using your body’s ability to consume oxygen.

You probably suspect it, but meditation and long sessions of prayer have very similar effects on the body. The only difference for meditation is you don’t need to be religious to do it and capture the benefits. It’s easy, too.

Do what I do… Sit quietly in a chair or bed for 15-20 minutes. Concentrate on a word, noise, or sound… and your breathing. Let your mind go where it wants, but slowly try to bring it back to your original point of focus. I meditate two or three times a week, usually in the morning.

After five or six times, you’ll easily appreciate the feeling of relaxation and peace… Some people I’ve turned on to meditation report a benefit in just the first session.

If you want to know more about the science behind meditation and a couple other methods to induce the physiological response, read a book called The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson.

4. Sun: Getting regular sun on your skin is critical in the production of vitamin D – a key component for proper immune system functioning (and fighting everything from cancer to colds). Vitamin D also regulates sleep and even mood.

One challenge is to avoid getting burned. Burned skin leads to skin cancers and leathery skin. So avoid going out during prime burning times of 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. in the summer. If I have to go out midday, do what I do… Wear a long-sleeved shirt and a hat. Also, slowly adapt your time in the sun if you’re not going out regularly.

And stay away from sunscreens. They contain known carcinogens. Several of the chemicals are known to slow sperm and reduce the count. I rarely put on anything stronger than SPF4. Anything stronger and you’re poisoning yourself.

During the winter, it’s harder to get enough sun at northern latitudes. Many researchers and clinicians are starting to recommend supplementation with pills. I’m not convinced yet. There’s documented danger in all fat soluble vitamins– so be careful.

Do what I do… Try to get out for 30-45 minutes in the sun during the winter on a long walk and kill two birds with one stone (exercise and sun). If I can’t get out for a few days, for whatever reason, I’ll take no more than 600-1,000 IU of Vitamin D3 every other day or so.

5. Massage: Massage gets rid of aches and pains and modulates the immune system. That means less inflammation. Swedish-style massage is my preferred choice as it moves toxins out of the muscles and body tissues, while assisting the immune system in its functions.

Massage is a great way to relieve pain, too. Most people with regular headaches could be cured with massage because the muscles surrounding the neck often lead to headaches.

This is one of the more expensive health tips on my list, but well worth it. Instead of spending money on dining out or cable TV, save some money up and try a couple of massages this year.

And you can always get a free massage by exchanging them with a partner. You can practice and try with hands or feet and lotion or massage oils. Try it the next time you’re sitting together watching TV.

6. Clean Air: Up from No. 10 last year to No. 6 is clean air. Research keeps showing how important clean air is to health. Research even suggests the increase in heart attacks on Christmas day (the No. 1 day for heart attacks) is due to smoke from fireplaces and grilling.

Whatever you can do to breathe clean air will help your health. Dirt, dust, and smoke in the air lead to acute and chronic inflammation in the body.

That means more cancer, colds, and pain.

For decades, I’ve kept my bedroom air clean with an air filter. We spend one-third of our life in bed, so it makes sense to keep the air there clean. Also, change your other air filters regularly.

One great secret is to remove your shoes when you enter your house. This lowers the amount of particulate matter by 50%-60%. Keep a pair of house slippers right there to switch into, or do what I do… Simply walk around in socks. This strategy results in less sweeping and vacuuming, as well.

Finally, avoid breathing manmade chemicals around the house whenever you can (compared to the natural oils I mention in the next section). This includes spray cans of oil, paint, hairspray, disinfectants, and cleaning chemicals. A report this year from the National Academy of Science showed that detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets are full of harmful chemicals.

7. Stimulate Your Sense of Smell with Aromatherapy: Natural smells can be uplifting and health-giving. Roses, lilacs, vanilla, and cinnamon all invoke memories and chemical change in our bodies. The fond memories flood the body with chemicals that keep you healthy.

Different scents have different effects – I use air fresheners of lavender for relaxation and orange for invigoration… I spray pine for cleanliness on the bathroom rug… And I sprinkle bergamot or patchouli on the living room rug to lift my spirits.

Aromatherapy is easy to do. I usually go to a nearby Whole Foods or any health food store and ask for the essential oils. These are the concentrated oils and liquids from the material. It takes 100 bergamot oranges to make three ounces of bergamot oil. The salesperson in the area can help with the scent that’s meant to serve your purpose.

Buy one small bottle and start sprinkling a drop or two near you on a rug or in a small dish and enjoy. (One of my favorite books about humans and smell is A Natural History of the Senses.)

8. Don’t Share Food or Drink: This time of year, colds and flu abound. One of the fastest ways to guarantee you get sick is to share cups or food with others. I just violated this rule last week, and… voila… the whole group I was sampling Ecuadorean food with has colds.

I used to share food and drink with family and friends all the time: “Here Dave, try this X or Y, it’s really good.” But I’ve followed this “do not share” rule for years now. And I’ve avoided the usual colds, sore throat, and GI distress… until last week.

So next time someone says, “May I try it?” just get them a clean glass, fork, or spoon. And only let them come in once for a taste – no double-dipping on their food, either.

9. Alcohol Beer, Wine, or Hard Liquor: In past years, I’ve focused on wine, but the literature is pretty clear… A moderate amount of alcohol regularly puts you squarely in the healthier camp versus teetotalers and fall-down drunks.

Men should drink about two glasses a day and women about one a day to maximize the benefits. I regularly drink one four-ounce glass of wine each day. My French friends have a small glass at lunch and a small glass at dinner… It’s meant to relax the mind and improve moods.

Wine also improves digestion and decreases the risk of diabetes, stroke, arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease. I prefer red wine because it contains more of the colorful antioxidants from the dark grape skins. These are suspected of even greater benefit than just the alcohol effects.

The important thing is to drink responsibly – and that means never driving after more than two drinks of any kind.

And remember the classic German proverb… “There are more old German wine drinkers than there are old German doctors.”

10. Salt – Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium: This is new to the list this year. (It kicks music off the list.)

Most doctors don’t have a clue about what they’re saying when it comes to salt. They keep parroting the nonsense of how “salt” is bad for you. Regulators in some cities, like New York City, are considering restricting salt. That’s nonsense and dangerous.

The salt they’re talking about is sodium. (Chloride is the other half of the molecule and is found in many other salts.) The best research shows a U-shaped effect from sodium chloride. If you have too much or too little, you’re ripe for strokes and high blood pressure. The key is consuming the right amount.

Many medical groups are pushing for less than two grams a day. But it’s based on short-term studies with small numbers of people. On the other hand, a recent study showed that up to 6.5 grams a day of sodium isn’t any different than two grams a day. And this study was done on 49,000 people with hypertension and diabetics.

If it doesn’t affect those already sick, it’s hard to imagine how it would be harmful to others. I’d always suspected this was the case from my first day of medical school, but now there’s good research to back it up.

The gem to take from the study was that another salt – potassium – was protective. People consuming more potassium had lower mortality and morbidity (other disease problems).

Potassium is found in many foods lacking in our modern day, on-the-go diets. Do what I do… Focus on eating high-potassium foods regularly: avocados, potatoes, beans, bananas, fish, raisins, apricots, dates, and cocoa powder (think chocolate). Occasionally, I’ll take a little bit of potassium bicarbonate.

Finally, more research is coming out about a third chemical element – magnesium. Evidence shows the modern-day diet is also low on the stuff. Magnesium helps muscles relax (counters the effects of calcium) and is critical in most enzymes in the body. I’ve seen people take magnesium supplements and within days feel like the cloud hanging over them all their life has gone away. There is good evidence magnesium helps with mood, energy, and mental stability.

It’s a powerful salt found in many healthy foods, including seeds, brans (wheat, rice, and oat), spinach, and cocoa. Any leafy greens have a high amount of magnesium because the center of the chlorophyll molecule is magnesium.

Stop worrying about sodium… and concentrate on increasing your potassium and magnesium from healthy foods.

11. Aspirin: This drug is perhaps the most powerful drug known to man… and it’s made the Top 12 since my first list. As I’ve said before, the drug has so many effects (good and bad), that it would likely never get through the FDA approval process today.

But that doesn’t stop me from taking about one 325-milligram aspirin every week. The chemistry of aspirin affects the body’s platelets for about 10 days.

Aspirin is originally from the bark of the willow tree and has been used for centuries by healers. Aristotle used it as a tea for pain, and others since have applied its magic. Today, it relieves pain, lowers fever, and reduces overall inflammation.

Even in small doses, aspirin has some amazing effects. Just one baby aspirin (81 milligrams) a day reduces the rate of colon and lung cancer and second heart attacks. Recently, aspirin was found to increase the rate of survival FROM colon cancer.

For people older than 50, the benefits of one baby aspirin a day probably outweigh the risks. The main risk of aspirin is gastrointestinal bleeding. I take aspirin with an enteric coating that keeps it from sitting in my stomach as the drug is released. This helps me avoid that minor side effect…

I also take one 325-mg aspirin when traveling, as there are studies showing it lowers the risk of getting a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – an uncommon but life threatening problem where blood clots in your legs from sitting too long.

12. Fruit: Last but not least… fruit. I almost kicked it off this year in favor of music. But when you recognize how many fruits have potassium and magnesium, it makes sense to keep it in the Top 12.

The benefits are many. The micronutrients found in fruits, especially those with darker colors, are powerful antioxidants. The fiber from whole fruit appears to lower risks of colon cancer. And mounting evidence shows fruit blocks cancers, lowers blood pressure, and reduces joint pain.

This year, a study showed women who ate one cup of apples (roughly a fist-sized apple) per day for six months lowered their LDL (“bad” cholesterol) 26%. They also raised their HDL “good” cholesterol and even lost weight.

Apples were also shown to reduce plaque and inflammation in the heart’s artery walls. This gives new impetus to the old saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away. The skin of the apple contains pectin, which makes bowel movements more pleasant. And the older we get, the more important this becomes.

I’ve written about berries for years… and can recommend eating blue and blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries as well.

Berries lower bad cholesterol, fight cancer, and improve your immune system because they’re packed with vitamin C. The high amounts of potassium and salicylate (an ingredient in aspirin) helps protect against high blood pressure. Blueberries lowered it by 10% in a recent study.

Strawberries are unique in that they’re thought to help relieve rheumatoid arthritis – and other forms of pain – although the mechanism isn’t clear.

So what’s the downside? Well, as long as you stick to whole and dried fruits, you’re probably OK. The danger is when you start taking in juices of all kinds. You may have read about the arsenic problems with apple and grape juices this summer – confirmed recently by several independent researchers. Arsenic and other heavy metals, like lead, easily concentrate in juices through their water sources.

Also, there’s a real concern that orange juice (and maybe other juices) gets the blood sugar so high so fast that it leads to elevated triglycerides (TGLs). These fat molecules are super-inflammatory and lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

Do what I do… If you “juice,” do the whole fruit (preferably organic), pulp and all, and don’t have more than one or two whole fruits worth of juice at any sitting. It’s especially good to drink juice before a workout, as the body will use up the sugars quickly and not convert to the fatty TGLs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s list. As part of my Retirement Millionaire service, we spend the year looking for simple, cheap, and safe things to do that are guaranteed to improve the long-term quality of our lives. Please try some of the suggestions on the list this year. You’ll feel better almost instantly with many of them… and others will take just a few weeks to start working.

Here’s to our health, wealth, and great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig

Sponsored Link: Dr. David Eifrig is the editor of Retirement Millionaire, a monthly publication focused on common sense ideas to boost investment income… how to pay less for everything… and simple, cheap tips on living a longer, healthier life. A former Goldman Sachs trader turned board-eligible eye surgeon, “Doc” has shown tens of thousands readers how to live a millionaire’s life on less than one-tenth the cost. To learn about coming on board as a subscriber, click here.

Source: Daily Wealth