Health Hacks without Changing Diet or Exercise
Photograph of Raederle, summer of 2019
As may be evident from my articles over the last decade, I strongly advocate changing your diet if you want to see changes in your health. It is the fastest, most effective, and most important element of your life when it comes to how good you feel, how good you look, and how good every part of your body operates.
Tweet, February 2020
That said, it has been brought to my awareness that I have underestimated the power of many facets of life outside of diet and exercise. These two pillars of good health are not the only pillars, even though they are the most significant, with diet being central. However, even when it comes to improving digestion, changing what you eat isn't the only option, even if it is the most important one. And for someone like me, who has already tweaked and perfected my understanding of food and my relationship with food for nearly fifteen years now, my attention is frequently grabbed by these other restorative techniques. Without further ado, I present to you —
Powerful Health Hacks Without Changes to your Diet or Exercise!
Epsom Salt Baths
I used to highly underestimate epsom salt baths. Sure, you get more magnesium . . . Big deal, right? Just eat your greens and you'll have plenty of magnesium . . . Or so I thought. Epsom salt bathes do so much more for you than boost your magnesium. I don't entirely understand the science of it (and I suspect science at large doesn't either), but I've been astonished at how effective epsom salt baths are for flu symptoms (congestion, ear infection, sinus infection, etc), fatigue (circles under the eyes included), and even mood! I've gone into an epsom salt bath literally feeling so depressed I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do, to coming out of the bath feeling inspired and refreshed. I've got into an epsom salt bath feeling fatigued, aching, sore everywhere, stiff, and congested and come out with all of these cured!
How did I miss these benefits when I'd been taking epsom salt baths on occasion since I was a teenager? The primary reasons why I didn't notice these benefits was because I was using too little epsom salt. The stuff is cheap, so don't skimp! Put two or more cups into that bath! I read this recommendation as part of a protocol for bringing down bromide levels in the body, which I stumbled across when looking at how one could prevent the formation of cherry angiomas (little red blobs on the skin that resemble warts but are actually a ball of burst blood vessels). Taking epsom salt baths immediately after the appearance of these cherry angiomas on my body in addition to applying copiaba balsam essential oil to them was enough to make them go away again within a week. Usually cherry angiomas stick around for life, so I was quite impressed with this result. Unfortunately, I don't know if it would have worked if I had left off either the essential oils or the baths, but I've noticed benefits from either of these alone in other contexts, nonetheless.
The other important trick to getting the most out of your epsom salt bath is being sure to stay in the bath for at least twenty minutes, and ideally, give yourself a full hour and add hot water occasionally to keep yourself toasty. You can also add herbs, ginger slices, or essential oils for other benefits, which leads me to my next tip.
The benefits of different essential oils vary, from lavender which does a better job at healing burns than aloe vera, to chamomile which has done better at healing my flaky scalp than any anti-dandruff shampoo I ever tried. Essential oils are easy to incorporate into any lifestyle.
Keep an essential oil in a particular place where you use it every time you encounter it in that place; it should be somewhere you go at least once a day, but aren't constantly passing by (and thereby becoming immune to the reminder to use it). For example, you could start a ritual of using copiaba balsam under your eyes whenever you use the bathroom to heal circles under your eyes, reduce wrinkles, and hydrate dry skin. You can keep a favorite blend near your bed to smell right before going to sleep to help you relax, and a stimulating blend — I like to include wintergreen – for waking.
Essential oils can cure asthma, depression, heal scars, and remove warts. I've experience numerous benefits first-hand, and heard many incredible stories second-hand from clients, friends, and family members.
While the initial cost of buying one may be steep for many oils, they last a long time because they are so concentrated. Many can be used just by smelling from the bottle without even pouring a drop out. And, many oils, such as tea tree and peppermint, are highly inexpensive while being highly versatile and potent. If you're currently using chemicals to freshen your clothing or home, just switching to essential oils blended with water in a spray bottle will improve your immune function and everyone who lives with you!
Blue-light Freedom & Red-light Therapy
Increase your restfulness at night, eliminate or reduce insomnia, eliminate or reduce eye-strain, and feel more energized by minimizing the blue light sources and increasing natural light sources in your life. There are so many different ways to do this, so here are two lists – one for reducing blue-light, and one for getting quality light:
5 Tips for Reducing Blue-Light Exposure
- Try blue-light blocking glasses for computer and phone use.
- Get a low blue-light, zero-flicker, computer monitor for your primary computer. I got mine for about $100 and was astonished at the improvement. My headaches abated, I could use my computer more often, I could focus better while using my computer, and I slept easier at night. I loved mine so much that I bought a second one for the household computer.
- If you enjoy e-readers, be sure to get an e-ink device and leave the light off, using ambient, full-spectrum lights in your room instead.
- If you're up late at night, use salt lamps to help you see your way to bathroom, or to socialize with your partner. Salt lamps are also said to increase negative ions in the air, which is a benefit. I loved my first salt lamp so much that I got five more within a few months! At night they keep the entire home eyeball-friendly.
- In addition to helpful gadgets, commit to having a blue-light “off time” every night. Put your phone away, turn off your computer, and stay blue-light free from that time onward. For example, your monitor-off time could be from 8pm to 6am, or from dusk until dawn for a very natural flow. This particular tip will also improve your memory, and self-reflection by giving you a slower, more relaxed pace around bedtime. By taking time to read*, socialize, or write in a physical journal, you'll be improving your health in dozens of different ways at once. (*You can use an e-ink e-reader during this monitor-off time since this is no added strain on your eyes and works almost identically to reading a typical book.)
4 Tips for Increasing Your Beneficial Red-Spectrum Light Exposure
- Practice sunrise observance through an open window, on a balcony, or porch each morning. Stand or sit facing the sunrise and watch for five minutes. This stimulates your pineal gland and helps reduce eye-strain, insomnia, and depression. This particular practice has always been correlated with the best, premium-performance parts of my life.
- Spend twenty minutes each morning and evening with a red-light therapy device. These lights mimic the same benefits as sunlight and have been shown in studies to promote cell repair and collagen production. I have yet to use one of these personally, but I've seen enough to be convinced they work.
- If you have a wood stove, spend time naked in front of the fire, letting the infra-red light (heat) soak deeply into your body. You'll especially notice the benefit if you face any sore muscles toward the fire and stretch these muscles while the light and heat soaks in. I love doing yoga naked in front of our fire for this reason!
- Sun bathe naked, without sunscreen, for short periods of time. Depending on your skin pigmentation, the right amount of sun exposure will vary. For me, being a “white mut” as I laughingly call myself, with 25% Italian in me (which helps a bit, I assure you), the right amount is ten minutes on each side. If I develop a subtle tan or am eating a fruitarian diet at the time, I can easily get up to twenty minutes on back and front each without any burning whatsoever. This brief, non-burning sun exposure produces vitamin D, improves mood, circulation, digestion, and combats depression and insomnia. I've actually had this simple practice fully eliminate serious stomach aches.
Photograph of Raederle and her husbands, summer of 2018
Touch – Especially Oil Massage
Whether it is through massage or cuddling, touching others releases oxytocin, a hormone with a multitude of benefits including improving your mood. If your touch does include massage, then you're also increasing lymphatic drainage. If you add some oil to the massage (such as olive oil or jojoba oil), you get the added benefit of “oil pulling” on your skin. Just like oil-pulling in the mouth, oil-pulling works all over your body, which is why Ayurveda has a multi-thousand-year tradition of full-body oiling for health. To further enhance your benefits, add a little essential oil to the massage. Tea tree can be diluted into oil for aiding troubled skin. Lavender can be added for stress, or sun damage. Peppermint can be added for muscular relaxation.
I know some science-oriented people, and even many natural-path health gurus are dithering about the benefits or necessity of drinking water. It's become somewhat of a controversial topic, but for me the proof is in the pudding. . . . Or, well, actually, the proof is in the drinking of water. Ever had a headache go away from drinking water? If not, try it the next time you have a headache. This common folk-remedy is commonly known and used because it is effective and free. (Or at least, as free as water is for you.)
Water can help with cankersores, constipation, dry skin, headaches, fatigue, excess weight, and much more. In my personal experience I have “face palmed” literally hundreds of times because I was trying all of these fancy changes to my diet, exercise, and overall lifestyle to attempt to fix problems that were ultimately fixed by increasing my water intake. If you've got a health problem that could in any way conceivably be helped by drinking water, then try drinking more water first; you just might save yourself a lot of trouble.
I seem to do best with a minimum of two quarts of water per day, up to four quarts (which is a gallon). If drinking water quickly makes you feel queasy (as it does me), don't fret, just sip slowly over the course of the day. Take a sip of water right now.
Of course, ideally, avoid tap water and water from plastic bottles. I use a reverse osmosis system, and I'm not afraid of "empty water" because my diet and supplements are rich in minerals and electrolytes. However, if you are afraid of empty water, simply add a pinch of natural, unrefined sea salt to your quart of distilled or reverse osmosis water.
Many people experience a dip in their health during the winter and they attribute all of it to eating unhealthy foods during the holidays and lack of outdoor activities providing exercise. However, since I maintain nearly the same level of activity in the winter and I don't binge on unhealthy food during the holidays, I've thought it was remarkable how much my health plummeted in the winter. Most of this plummet I've been able to most effectively address by improving the air quality in my bedroom. Keeping a window open can help a lot, especially if you live in a rural area with plenty of evergreens. If this isn't an option, then my other tips become even more important. Here's my list of tips to improve your air quality even during the most stagnant part of the year:
5 Tips For Improving Poor Air Quality
- Keep a window near your bed open just a little. If possible, have two windows slightly open with your bed between the two windows to create a soft draft. If this is going to result in a significant heat loss, consider investing in a heat-recovery-ventilator. I have one installed beside my bed and I love it. Improving the air you breathe while you sleep will reduce insomnia and promote feeling (and being!) well-rested when you awaken.
- Get a water fountain for your bedroom or office. This will add a small amount of humidity and negative ions to the air. The ambient sound and appearance is also good for improving winter blues. You'll see mine occasionally in my videos; I adore it and run it all year round.
- Get a humidifier and run it on a timer. I run my humidifier for 15-minute bursts four to eight times per day to help with winter dryness. This helps abate itchy eyes, chapped lips, and sore throats. You'll want this both in your work area and in the place you sleep at night for maximum benefit.
- Get large-leaf house plants, or any house plants at all. Large-leaf plants produce more oxygen, however, they also require more frequent watering. In order to reduce my stress level I've opted for plants that require less water in recent years, but in general, having at least ten house plants makes a positive impact on air quality as well as visual appearance. My favorites are orchids and jade. Don't forget to get a plant or three for your workplace too!
- Use an air filter in your bedroom and another in your office (or wherever you spend your day). Everything off-gasses, from yoga mats to stained wood. Every thing you buy and put in your bedroom is putting off a small amount of chemical fumes into the air – unless you're only bringing organic cotton into your bedroom, fresh straw you harvested from the field for your bedding, and so on. When your windows are closed, these fumes build up slowly, creating a toxic environment which can cause acid reflux, indigestion, dizziness, headaches, and many other symptoms. Even your own gasses can build up in your room and give you headaches. Running a filter on low in your bedroom at all times helps mitigate these factors. I recommend placing the air filter far away from any windows that you open so that the filter can work on the air that isn't getting exchanged.
Of course, you can be most efficient about getting good air by going on a daily walk or jog in an area with trees on a daily basis. You'll get some exercise, some quality light from the sun, and good (or at least better) air at the same time. Bring some water with you, too. Then use some lavender essential oil if you got too much sun, or some copiaba balsam if the air was a bit drying. Or, hop into an epsom salt bath. :)
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The Consciousness Alchemist