Declare Your Health Independence!

Are you tired of discovering that your McNuggets and Silly Putty have more in common than just garish packaging? Are you starting to wonder about how you’ll ever get that jiggly pad of lamprey-fat to detach itself from your formerly shark-sleek sides? Or maybe you’re feeling Lombard-Street short-of-breath…when you stroll along the Marina.



So how can you use the sun-soaked energy boost of summer to kick start some healthier habits? Here is a July 4th checklist of simple, easy steps you can take – steps that studies have shown will have a BIG positive impact on your health. Pin this list on your frig. Share it with friends, family and co-workers to create a healthier territory for you to live (hey – maybe it will become a permanent State!). Make these tasks part of your daily to-dos on Tada. Write them on your heart (FOR your heart) as your personal Constitution to improve your daily constitutional. Hey, a three-month commitment is all you need to make – a shorter goal is easier to keep, and, besides, when fall rolls around you can decide if you want to convene again to assess your state of health. Maybe by that time you’ll be feeling nationalistically proud of your united front to achieve a more perfect union of behaviors. You might ratify a few into personal laws.

#1) Declare your soda independence: The data are clear – the tyranny of sugary drinks is taking a tremendous toll on all of us. Have you committed to a soda-free summer yet? Local departments of public health are gathering the troops, ready to march in the streets to let you know that it’s time to throw off the yoke of calories-that-don’t-slake your hunger (or thirst). Sweet drinks, whether they’re sweetened with sugar substitutes, or fructose, or cane sugar, or are just plain old juice, have been shown in numerous studies to be associated with a large increase in excess calories, an increased risk of diabetes (even for people with the same weight/BMI, and EVEN when you drink sugar substitutes). Excess sugar in your diet has also been shown to increase your risk of heart disease. The sugar you drink can be one simple thing to eliminate for you and your family that will have a huge impact on your health. If you declare your allegiance to a soda-free summer, check out the websites for some great recipes for thirst-quenchers (pitcher of ice-cold water with floating slices of tangerine, anyone?), and for motivational boosts to keep going soda-free all summer long.

#2) Declare your support for the little guy: Tired of the queasy-making images and descriptions from the factory-farm front? Are you frustrated and grossed-out, but wondering how to make your food more nurturing while still having it be FAST? One simple and fun step is to commit to a Farmer’s market summer. The Bay Area is rich in agri-resources. Check out these great listings of farmer’s markets in your area. Make a weekly visit to a farmer’s market your summer-long commitment. Try to arrange your schedule so that you go to the chain or bodega grocery stores to shop only AFTER you’re hit the farmer’s market. That step alone will shift your eating habits into less-Silly-Putty ingredients territory. And hey, knowing you’re taking a step to do something about the factory-farming images that haunt you may mean you get to rest easier at night (with less ruminating on the fate of cows). Speaking of resting…

#3) Declare your bedtime: No longer the domain of toddlers and school-children, bedtime needs to be reclaimed as a vital national resource for all Americans. It’s time for a land-grab of mattresses nationwide. The data on the health-hit your body takes when it’s chronically sleep-deprived are impressive. Insufficient sleep can lead to weight gain (11 pounds for women!), diabetes, heart disease, depression and more. You may think you’re functioning fine on your six hours a night – and in the short run, that’s probably true. But the cumulative impact is like constantly having your rights chipped away by a monarchy – little bit here, little bit there and before you know it, it’s taken a tremendous toll. So how do you reclaim your rest? Commit to a fixed bedtime, one that will give you (brace yourself) a solid eight hours a night. If you think that’s not do-able, that fact alone may be a sign that your health is suffering from the combo of stress and too little sleep. Have a bedtime all summer. Make it your passionate stand for freedom from feeling crummy. Tell yourself it’s a shame you have but one bedtime to give to for your health. Stick with it and you may be surprised to find how much better you feel.

#4) Declare your fast food independence.
With your trips to the farmer’s markets, you may be staring in the frig, wondering what you’re going to do now with all this colorful stuff. Summer is a great time to expand your quick-to-the-table skills and prioritize homemade meals. Check out the amazing Mark Bittman’s 101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics. Then read Mark Bittman’s 101 Fast Recipes for Grilling. Yum. And can I just say again, yum. You may want to print these up and keep them on your kitchen counter. You’ll find yourself eating fast and WELL all summer long.

#5) Declare your energy independence. Summer is a fantastic time to deal with an energy imbalance – when it comes to exercise, do you have a personal energy deficit? Make a plan to use those extra hours of sun to walk or bike each day. While the drier months of summer are upon us, consider making exercise a core part of your life. If you make a plan and commit to speed-walking or biking to work and back, for example, you may be more likely to succeed in making exercise a built-in part of your day, every day. More so than if you try to add exercise on as another activity at the end of a long and stressful day. Sure, it may take you some extra time to get to and from your work – but that will be time you WON’T be spending going to a gym. Whatever type of exercise plan you choose, be sure and include that last, crucial step that most of us neglect – being accountable. That means writing down each time you go, setting a weekly goal and checking each week to see how you did, where you succeeded, and when you can improve on your commitment to your personal wellth.

There we have it: cut the soda, cruise farmer’s markets, stick to bedtime, dish up at home, and move each day. Five simple summer steps that can, together, make a huge impact on your summer health. Spread the word, encourage others to join you, and then, as fall approaches, take a moment to assess the results of your efforts. You may decide you want to continue.

What’s your vote? Do you have any tips, encouragement or experiences you’d be willing to share on how to stage a personal health revolution this summer? Remember – general medical information is NOT a replacement for medical care – if you have questions, concern or confusion about diet or exercise, see your doctor. Doc Gurley is the only Harvard Medical School graduate, ever, to be awarded the coveted Shoney’s Ten Step Pin for documented excellence in waitressing, and is a practicing board-certified internist. You can get more health posts at, or jump on the Twitter bandwagon and follow Doc Gurley. Also check out Doc Gurley’s joyhabit and iwellth twitter feeds – so you can get topic-specific fun, effective, affordable tips on how to nurture your joy and grow your personal wellth.

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