Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
Our social interactions regulate our biology, they regulate our immune system. So if you’re having a conflict with somebody, you’re going to be turning on inflammatory genes. If you have a loving, deep connection with someone, you’re going to turn on anti-inflammatory genes. That’s how powerful this stuff is.
Welcome to Doctor’s Pharmacy, I’m Dr. Mark Hyman, and this is a place for conversations that matter. And today I’m bringing you a special version of Doctor’s Pharmacy called Health Bite, because taking small steps to improve your health, can make a big difference over time. And today the topic is how do we care for ourselves? How do I care for myself given my crazy busy life? Now many of us put self-care last on our to-do list, we literally are the last thing on our to-do list, and I know what that’s like because I’ve done that for a lot of my life, to the detriment of my own health. Work, family, friends, the needs of others, all usually come first. But nourishing our own spirit and our own mental health and our own bodies, is so important and it should not be an afterthought. In fact, many of us never think about it at all.
But in places like the Blue Zones, they’ve naturally incorporated many practices that help them live to be well over a hundred, that we can learn from. They focus on community and connection, and meaning and purpose, and rest. They have a lot of chilling time and hanging out. In our fast-paced society with to-do lists, calendars, schedules, extracurricular activities, building careers, raising families, taking work home, emailing at night, it’s made self-care and mental health pretty low on the totem pole of sort of priorities for our lives.
But the truth is, you really can’t live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life and a long one, if you neglect to nourish your mind and your spirit and your body. So it might be hard to imagine, but your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs, grief, joy, sadness, love, anger, they’re all transmuted into biological signals that change your gene expression, that regulate inflammation in your body, that alter your hormones and your microbiome.
Literally, your bacteria in your gut are listening to your thoughts and changing for good or bad, depending on what you think or feel. Your neurotransmitters are regulated by your thoughts, obviously, neuroplasticity, your mitochondria, pretty much every aspect of your biology is regulated by what you do and what you think and how you live.
So I’m going to focus today mostly on the mind and your spirit. And how do we take care of those things in a way that nourishes us, it gives us energy that allows us to live a long and productive healthy life. So how do we do self-care? How do we change our mindset? How do we learn about how community impacts our health? Well, there’s a lot of information about how self-care or mindset, our community all help improve factors for health and longevity. For example, if you’re lonely, your risk of death is equal or more than that of someone who’s obese.
Being lonely is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. And many people in the world and in America particularly, don’t have someone they can call if something bad happens or they have a thing they need to talk about, or someone who’s really a deep intimate connection, even one person, which is really tragic. So practicing behaviors that focus on self-healing, self-compassion, connection with others, are really important. And self-love is hard, but it’s got to be your focus because until you take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anybody else. So focusing on things like improving what you eat and exercising and stopping smoking, practicing simple self-care, improving your overall health and wellbeing, optimizing your sleep, are so important for your overall quality of life.
Self-compassion is pretty important because when you are loving towards yourself, think about it, most of us, if we put our inner thoughts on loudspeaker and we broadcast into the world, people would think we’re crazy first of all. Second of all, if we talk to our friends the way we talk to ourselves, we wouldn’t have any friends. So be nice to yourself. Self-compassion is associated with fixing a lot of problems, including physical health symptoms, mental health outcomes, blood sugar control, people with diabetes, improves resiliency in cancer outcomes, in mental health and people who actually have cancer, so it’s really important to practice self-love and self-compassion.
Also nurture your social connections, your community, your relationships. Doing that has been associated with dramatically increased lifespan, improved health span. I was just talking to somebody whose grandmother died at 103 and she loved donuts and she was overweight. They called her chubby bubby, which bubby is a Yiddish word for grandmother, and she lived to be 103 years old. But what she did have was a joy for life. What she did have was a deep group of connected friends and social network.
What she did have was a great sense of humor, and she, through her mind, was able to overcome a lot of the things that she was doing bad to her body. So when you actually have these connections and you have a deep social network, it will increase your lifespan, it will improve your mental health, it helps physical markers of health, including blood pressure, your waist circumference, body mass. It reduces inflammation. And this is because of this phenomenon we call socio genomics. Socio genomics is the idea that our social interactions regulate our biology. They regulate our immune system.
So if you’re having a conflict with somebody, you’re going to turning on inflammatory genes. If you have a loving deep connection with someone, you’re going to turn on anti-inflammatory genes. That’s how powerful this stuff is. Another really important thing is your mindset. If everything is always a disaster, a crisis, a problem, versus everything’s a gift and you’re grateful and happy, it has a huge impact on your health.
And honestly, it was a joke, that worrying works because 99% of the time, what you worry about, doesn’t come true. So the point is that we make ourselves crazy most of the time by our thoughts and by our beliefs. So people who ruminate with negative thoughts, people who have a kind of a curmudgeon, negative outlook, often tend to have shorter life and poor physical and mental health. And those who focus on positive thoughts and future goals and rewards, are much better chance of having a long life, a healthy life and have better wellbeing physically and mentally. My joke always is that optimists live longer even if they’re wrong. And it’s true. If you look at the data, your mindset plays a huge role. Optimism plays a huge role on your longevity. Anger is also a big problem. We have unresolved anger that eats at us and also spills out and hurts others.
But anger is often repressed emotion. And when people are not expressing themselves, when they’re not able to share their truth, it comes out often as kind of very harsh and aggressive anger. But what’s really interesting is, and this is really from a lot of Dr. Gabor Mate’s work, in looking at breast cancer studies, he pointed out that those women who had inability to express their anger, who were always nice, actually had a much higher risk of cancer and bad outcomes from cancer, regardless of the stage or the grade or any type of the biology of the cancer. If your emotions are inflamed, so is your biology. Carolyn Mace, who’s an author and a medical intuitive, says that our biography becomes our biology. It’s true the other way. Our biology can become our biography. Our microbiome, for example, affects our mood and our thoughts and so forth.
But also our life story can become transmuted into biological signals that can really hurt us. Candace Furr talked about the molecules of emotion based on her work at the NIH, which established the whole field of psycho-neuro-immunology, about how our emotions and our hormones and our neurotransmitters and our immune system are all constantly in dialogue with each other. So you literally, your immune cells are listening to your thoughts.
And it’s important because if you don’t address this in yourself, it actually can lead to bad health outcomes. And by changing your perspective, by actually learning how to tell the truth, by expressing your feelings in a way that’s kind, not with meanness and aggressiveness, but with kindness, it can have a profoundly liberating effect on your life and also improve your biology tremendously. And I think that’s really critical for your health and for longevity is having a sense of purpose.
Just having a sense of meaning and purpose, extend life by seven years. If you eradicate all heart disease and cancer from the face of the planet, the total life extension would be seven years. So having a sense of purpose is hugely important. That’s what’s going on in the blue zones. They all have a sense of connection and purpose and belonging. It’s associated with wellbeing, with improved physical and cognitive health, lower rates of depression, slower aging, even psychological wellbeing, and having a sense of purpose, at least increased telomere length and slower shortening of the telomeres, which chronic stress does the opposite. It decreases telomere length and accelerates aging and oxidative stress. So really important to look at your life and see why you get up in the morning.
And I think Steve Jobs said once in a commencement speech, if you look in the mirror in the morning and you don’t love what you’re doing and you’re not excited to go to work, you better change what you’re doing, because this is only ride we get. This is not a dress rehearsal.
So what are the ways, practically that you could start to reclaim your life? What are the ways you could prioritize self-care and reset our stress response? Well, the first is just breath. We all walk around breathing and it’s available to us 24/7, and it’s free. So I like the simple take five breath. There’s a lot of ways to do it, but it’s, you take five breaths in and out slowly. So into the count of five, out to the count of five, you can hold for five at the bottom if you want, and then five breaths in like that to the count of five in and the count of five out. You do that when you wake up, before each meal and at bedtime. And that’s five times a day. And that can have a profound effect on your health. It only takes a few seconds.
Also, there’s things like meditation. You can use guided meditation. There’s all kinds of apps out there like Calm or Headspace. You can do guided imagery, yoga mudra is wonderful, I like that, where you just lay down, I’m kind of lazy, but you can lay down even for 10 minutes. It makes a huge, huge effect on your health. Improve stem cell function. Reduce inflammation, improves depression, anxiety, sleep. The effects of meditation and stress reduction in the body are huge. And if you don’t have 10 minutes to meditate or do something like that every day, you might want to look at your life and see what’s wrong with it, because that is not good, if you don’t have 10 minutes to take care of yourself. Start a regular yoga practice. Just moving your body, stretching things out, getting all the nuts and tension out, really helps.
Even 10 minutes of yoga a day is really great, 15 minutes, 20 minutes. There’s all kinds of great resources online for free yoga classes. So breathing and stretching can really help reset your nervous system. Beyond the woods and nature, we all have a nature deficit disorder. They now call it forest bathing. We used to call it taking a walk in the woods. But basically the idea is get out in, nature and get close to the earth and feel the elements that really helps bring your nervous system back into alignment. Also, write down what’s going on inside. We found from journaling was really interesting. If people journaled about their inner feelings for 20 minutes a day, like their true thoughts and feelings, if they had rheumatoid arthritis or asthma, versus them just writing about what I did yesterday, for example, which they did a control group, they found that the people who wrote about their authentic feelings, had a dramatic reduction in autoimmune symptoms, in inflammatory numbers, on lab tests, in asthma symptoms, and in objective lung function.
So this is just writing in your journal, can have profound effects in that way. Also, get connected, right? Get someone in your world who you like and make them close, right? Whether it’s a friend or a family member, a spouse, even if you’re not around in the same areas as your close friends you made from college, when you’re younger, get them on Zoom, get a group together, meet every week in person, get a support group going, so you can go to a safe healing environment to share your life, all the parts of your life, the ups, the downs, the good, the bad. So being seen and known is really some of the best medicine out there. Start exercising and doing strength training because exercise helps you boost the feel good neurotransmitters, it helps boost serotonin, dopamine. Resistance training helps actually reduce the decline in testosterone. So basically, it actually helps your energy, motivation, and mood.
So it’s basically a win, win, win. So these are simple things that we can incorporate in our life on a daily basis and have profound, profound effects. So remember, you can’t just go around doing, doing and giving, giving, giving. You need to pause and take care of yourself, because if you don’t, you’re going to pay the price. So make sure you take care of yourself. Practice self-love, self-compassion. Work on building a mindset that helps you have a positive outlook on life. Build your relationship and community. Figure out what your purpose is. And it doesn’t have to be grandiose like saving the world. It can be simply just being a good grandparent or being a member of your community or whatever it is, that’s really critical. And all these things are essential to having a long, fulfilling, healthy life.
So that’s it for today’s, Health Bite, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends and family on social media. I’m sure they’d love to hear, leave a comment, what are your self-care practices? What do you do? How do you keep yourself healthy in mind and body and spirit? And we’ll see you next time on the Doctor’s Farmacy.
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.