by Michael Hurley, L.Ac.
In last month’s article, I discussed the steps you can take, as an acupuncture patient, to ensure the optimal results from your treatments. This month, I will focus on what actions and changes you can make in between acupuncture treatments. These are actions that will empower you to take charge of your own health so that therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and even western medicine become supportive to your health as opposed to paramount.
To put it another way, a large majority of people’s health issues can be traced back to habits in their current lifestyle. While everyone will receive some benefit from regular acupuncture, the greatest, most long-lasting benefit will occur when you play an equal role and take responsibility to begin changing the key factors in your life that are causing or exacerbating your condition.
So, in the days around your treatments, you will want to be working on making the necessary lifestyle changes to optimize your health and well-being. While there are many factors, the most essential are sleep, diet (I do not mean fad dieting), and exercise.
Many people tell me that their bodies only need four hours of sleep per night, as if they are super-human. Yet, these are the same folks coming to me with chronic pain or depression or the ones who get a sinus infection every time the season changes.
Getting enough sleep is essential to your overall health and well-being. During restful sleep, our bodies are busy actively restoring and rejuvenating, growing muscles, repairing tissue, and even synthesizing hormones. During this time your brain is also sorting and storing information, replacing naturally occurring chemicals needed for our functioning, and solving problems.
On a mental/emotional level, studies show sleep deficiency can cause difficulty with decision making, problem solving, controlling emotions and coping with change. Studies have also linked lack of sleep to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.
Sleep affects the physical body too. Chronic sleep deprivation is connected to increased risk of disease such as: heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke as well as increased risk of obesity. Last, but not least, lack of sleep can also lead to a depleted immune system, making it more difficult to ward-off and/or fight common infections.
Sleep is essential. Every adult human needs 6 to 8 hours of sleep on the norm per night. Children need even more. If you are having difficulty sleeping at night, consider implementing a relaxing nighttime routine; avoid heavy meals in the evening; and avoid electronics right before bed.
Your diet is very important as well. While it is okay for most to indulge themselves around holidays or special events, it is important to keep things in moderation.
You will want to limit sugar, especially added sugar. While it may be obvious to limit sodas, cookies, and well-known sugary items, it is easy to forget that manufacturers add sugar many items. Get in the habit of checking the ingredient labels. You’ll be surprised to find how many everyday items have high amounts of sugar, fructose or other sweeteners added. This is especially true of highly processed and fast foods. It is also common in foods we tend to think of as “healthy” such as protein bars or yogurt.
Eat lots of vegetables. It is virtually impossible to eat too many vegetables. Try to keep a balance of colors with you vegetables too. This will ensure you are getting a good variety of nutrients. Vegetables will also help add more water to your diet which is, of course, my next point.
You should try to drink at least 64 ounces of water per day. That is water, not tea or any other beverage. Any other beverage should not count toward your 64 ounces. Some people say that you should drink even more water than that depending on your size or activity. I say, if you normally drink 24 ounces per day and you bump it up to 64, you will be doing much better. Remember that water is going to help everything in your body work better. For coffee drinkers, you should add an 8 ounce glass of water to that 64 for every 6 ounces of coffee or caffeinated tea that you consume. Caffeine is a diuretic which will cause you to lose water so it must be replaced.
People should be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. However, this is another area that needs to be kept in moderation. This 30 minutes could be a post-dinner walk or an intense athletic workout. If you tend toward the latter, you absolutely need to be sure to increase your sleep as well as your food and water intake to support this.
Remember that your goal is to be balanced. Exercise is a Yang activity so the more Yang activity you perform, the more Yin activity you need to perform to balance that out. When I talk about Yin activity, I am referring to sleep, meditation, etc.
I know that not everyone is accustomed to exercising intentionally so I will list out a few forms of exercise to get you started. Some forms that you can safely do on your own are walking, running, hiking, and riding your bike. The following forms of exercise I recommend seeking instruction to ensure your safety and optimal benefit. These are weightlifting, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Yoga, and martial arts.
Of course, these are not the only forms of exercise that exist but I wanted to give you some options to start you off. The key is to pick something that you will enjoy doing and do it safely because otherwise it will simply be another stress in your life.
This concludes this series about what acupuncture is and how you can use it to your benefit. I do hope that you found it useful. Please do not be afraid to ask me questions. I may not have time to go in depth at the time of your appointment but we can certainly schedule a time to talk on the phone or email.
Acupuncturists love what they do and we also love educating people about what they can do to help themselves. It truly is a People’s medicine and the more empowered you are as a patient, the more successful we consider ourselves as practitioners. If you have not already, please read the previous two articles in this series, Understanding the Goal of Acupuncture and Get the Most from Your Acupuncture Treatments, to catch up on any information you may have missed.
Next month, I will start a series of articles about common western health conditions and how Chinese Medicine looks at these as well as what I do or would do to treat a patient with that condition. I will start off with some common conditions but if you have a condition that you are curious about, common or uncommon, tell me and I will certainly write an article about it in the future.