For folks like me who live in the Earth’s northern hemisphere, this past Saturday, March 20th marked the spring equinox—which heralds the arrival of warmer temperatures and increased sunshine after a long, dark winter.
A much-welcomed, new beginning, the spring is a great time to develop (or resume) some healthy habits. So, today, I thought I’d share some sensible tips for jumpstarting your healthy routine—benefitting both your body and mind.
But first, let’s talk a little more about the importance of equinoxes…
Equinoxes herald many physical changes
Equinoxes occur two times a year on planet Earth. At noon on these special days, the sun sits directly over the equator. So, the lengths of night and day are (nearly) equal. (The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus [equal] and nox [night].)
After the spring equinox, as we head into summer, the sun begins to take a higher position in the sky. As a result, more and stronger wavelengths of light start to reach the Earth, welcoming warmer temperatures. The look of the light changes too, as any landscape artist will note. And we tend to get more rain.
Birds begin to follow these cues from the natural world and migrate back North to find their summer nesting grounds. Hibernating animals awaken from their deep slumber. And plants begin to bloom after their long periods of dormancy below ground.
In humans, extended daylight hours and increasingly warm temperatures also awaken physiologic processes in our bodies and minds. And we naturally begin to feel more energized, uplifted, and inspired. (I’ve personally started swimming laps again in the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to the pool.)
Of course, we can also think about spring as a symbolic, fresh start…
For example, in Japan, the spring equinox is a public holiday for appreciating Nature and all living creatures. In China, they enjoy balancing eggs (another symbol of spring) as a sign of good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
The spring equinox also marks the start of the Persian New Year or Nowruz (pronounced “no-rooz”), which literally means, “new day.” Nowruz originated at least 3,000 years ago during ancient times (before Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam) with the Zoroastrians (today’s Parsees). Traditional foods associated with Nowruz include apples, eggs, fish (salmon), and greens.
In preparation for Nowruz, people traditionally deep clean their homes and discard unused clutter. Many people in the West undertake this kind of annual spring cleaning, too.
From a literal point of view, spring cleaning means taking time to really dig in and refresh your living space—by opening the windows, scrubbing the floors, and removing the soot, dirt, and grime that accumulated indoors during winter.
But I also like to think about doing some spiritual “spring cleaning”…
Cleaning out and taking stock organizes the mind
Studies show a strong correlation between keeping a clean, organized environment and lower stress. It also contributes to feeling better, healthier, and more productive.
On the flip side, studies show that living and working in disorganized spaces can cause more stress, less exercise, a poor diet, and a lower mood.
In fact, most people in the U.S. report that a disorganized, dirty home is among their top-five sources of stress. (Remember, the best way to measure a person’s stress is to simply ask them how much they’re feeling.) Women, in particular, seem to have chronic, high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) when they see clutter in their homes.
Your adrenal glands produce cortisol when stressed or anxious. And studies show when cortisol levels remain high for prolonged periods, it can lead to any number of problems—including chronic inflammation, high blood sugar, weight gain, and high blood pressure.
So, this spring, take some time to declutter and clean out your living space. And while you’re at it, I recommend the following simple tips for extending this process to your body as well…
Five ways to kickstart healthy living this spring
1.) Eat more locally grown, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors, as part of a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet that also includes plenty of:
- Full-fat, whole–milk dairy, including butter, eggs, cheeses, and yogurt. (Remember, in the Mediterranean, they eat cheese and/or yogurt at each and every meal. But health experts typically overlook that point because it doesn’t fit their “anti-fat” “antidairy” narratives.)
- Wild-caught fish and seafood.
- Grass-fed and -finished, free-range, organic beef, chicken, and especially lamb; lamb has the best nutritional profile of all meats.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Alcohol, in moderation.
2.) Cut out sugars and processed foods. Take this opportunity to really rework your diet by cutting out sugar and processed foods, which studies show cause aging and diseases. One easy way to keep the junk out of your diet is to avoid the center aisles of the grocery store. Instead, stick to the perimeter of the store, which contain whole, unprocessed foods. Or better yet, find a local farmer’s market. In many parts of the country, they’re already back up and running! (If you’re in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C.-area, try out our family market. You can learn more at www.CozziFamilyFarm.com.)
And remember, the natural sugar (fructose) found in fruits does not cause the same metabolic impact as sucrose (table sugar). So, feel free to enjoy the bounty of fresh fruits and berries becoming available at this time of year, too.
3.) Drink more water. As I’ve always said, you don’t need to guzzle gallons of water every day to stay healthy. Just strive to drink pure water, instead of colas or processed juices, whenever you’re thirsty. And remember, the quality of the water you drink is important. Try to limit your consumption to filtered water or natural spring waters—bottled at the source in glass.
4.) Get outside in Nature. Now that the temperatures are rising in most parts of the country, spend more time outside in the bright sunshine. I suggest going for a hike, working in the garden, swimming, or even playing with your grandchildren during the extra daylight hours.
This kind of healthy, outside activity will help lower stress and help get your vitamin D blood levels back up. And, as an added bonus, it will contribute to your sensible goal of getting a total of 140 to 150 minutes of light-to-moderate exercise per week.
More specifically, you should aim to spend about 15 minutes a day in the sun with as much skin exposed as possible, without sunscreen—especially once we get into May. You can even slowly add more time each day. But when you know you’re going to be outside for longer periods of time, simply wear some protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses to help protect your skin, rather than reaching for toxic sunscreens.
5.) Spend some time practicing mindfulness meditation. As the weather begins to warm up, we may tend to get a little busier. But don’t forget to take a few minutes each day to slow down, reflect, and meditate. Studies show this simple habit can help you feel connected to others and improve your outlook on life. You can learn all about how easy it is to incorporate five minutes of mindfulness meditation into your life in my book with Don McCown, New World Mindfulness.
In the end, as the seasons of the calendar year change, so do the patterns in our lives. So, this spring, invest in creating a new pattern of health and positivity for your mind and your body.
Welcome to spring.
P.S. As I report in the current March issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Spring cleaning for your mind, body, soul—and medicine cabinet”), another place that needs some “spring cleaning” is your medicine cabinet. Not yet a subscriber? Click here to become one!