Last time you travelled for business, probably not so fun. Me? I got to stay at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshire Mountains to start planning the wellness weekend Health magazine is organizing there next May (yes, you’ll be invited!). Of course, I went knowing there’d be lots of restorative spa moments; but I didn’t expect to learn so much, too. You might say I went from Ahhh to Aha! Here are my top takeaways.
Make health a habit
Food and diet fads are just that: popular one day, out of favor the next. Don't chase every new “scientific” approach to better eating—and then diet to drop pounds, says Bettina Martin, M.D., an expert in women’s integrative health. Instead, stick to some basic rules, like eating an array of fruits and vegetables; finding well-sourced foods, like organic dairy and produce, and grass-fed meats; and aiming for 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days. Aha moment: Maintaining a healthy array of gut bacteria, through live-culture organic yogurt and fermented foods like kombucha, will boost your nutrient uptake and aid in weight loss and healthy-weight maintenance.
Don’t fear carbs
This is true especially if you’re trying to build and maintain muscle, says Judy Deutsch, R.D. Ready to hit the gym? Deutsch advises having a high-carb, low-protein, low-fat snack like an apple before you head out. Grab protein when you’re done: Your recovery eats should be 2:1 protein to carbs. Aha moment: For muscle health, a full 40% to 60% of your diet should come from complex carbs, and 20% to 30% from protein.
Sleep it off
We all know healthy weight loss isn’t as easy as calories in, calories out—or just about tougher, longer workouts. You also have to move less (well, sort of). People who are sleep-deprived aren't as successful at dropping pounds and maintaining an appropriate weight, notes Dr. Martin. Aha moment: Sleep deprivation means, on average, routinely getting fewer that 8–9 hours a night, says Martin. So we need far more shut-eye than most of us think!
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Live like a farmer
Rise early, dine early. In Ayurveda (Sanskrit for “science of life”), an approach to medicine that originated in India over 3,000 years ago, the day is segmented into doshas, called vata, characterized by air and movement, pitta (by fire and energy) and kapha (by earth and strength). Aha moment: Aim to get up and get going before 6 a.m., says Ayurveda educator Ashish Pandya, during the first vata period; eat dinner before 7 p.m., so food is fully available for digestion at the beginning of the day’s second pitta period, which runs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
As in yoga class, so too in life
Yoga is as much breathing as it is pose, and you can harness the same practices throughout the day to battle stress or start the day with more energy and awareness, says Pandya. How? Use the common yoga practice of ujjayi breathing, in which you sit with spine straight and inhale and exhale while slightly constricting your throat (and sounding more than a bit like Darth Vader). Just eight breath cycles at night can help you drift off; 15 or so upon waking will prepare you to take on the day. Aha moment: We already possess the tools we need to ease anxiety or recharge; we just have to learn their power and put them to use.
You can stave off cognitive decline
Great news! You’re not a slave to your genes when it comes to developing Alzheimer’s or other dementia as you age, says Mark Liponis, M.D., the spa’s medical director and author of UltraLongevity. Simple measures to help preserve memory and mental acuity are at hand: Consume less added sugar, less saturated fat, and fewer calories; get 30-40 minutes of cardio at 70% of your maximum heart rate most days a week; chow down on 8-10 servings of foods rich in anti-oxidants (think a rainbow of richly hued fruits and veggies), eat more turmeric (yummy in egg dishes and soups, or on veggies)—even take a 200 mg ibuprofen daily (check with your own doc first). Aha moment: Symptoms of dementia can begin as early as 20 years before diagnosis. All that repeated simple forgetfulness—as in “Why do I keep losing my keys?”—might be a sign of decline too.
Focus on your feet
Lots of us use foam rollers to release kinks in muscle fascia, especially to keep our IT bands healthy. But to take the best care of your legs (and improve your foot strike for running and walking), don’t forget your feet fascia. Aha moment: The 20-minute Sole Energizer class I took eased my recurring foot pain and brought more of my soles in full contact with the floor as I walked. Check out the cool, and kinda cute, tool Canyon Ranch developed for daily use.