Mind & Spirit

Your health: 10 things to do in April

Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

Your health: 10 things to do in April

Spring is here, and it's time to lighten up! Make the most of the beauty of the season by taking care of your health this month. Here are 10 suggestions to get you started.

1. Practise hara hachi bunme
People in Japan live longer than residents of any other country in the world, and one of the reasons cited for their longevity is portion control – rather than eating until they are stuffed, the Japanese tend to savour their meals until satiety. "From childhood, Japanese are accustomed to eating portions that are a third smaller than or even half of American portions," note Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle in their book Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat. Instead of eating until your stomach wants to explode, they suggest following the Japanese mother's saying "hara hachi bunme" – eat until you are 80 per cent full – to keep portion sizes in check.

2. Get going in the garden
Gardening is a fabulous hobby and is recommended by Dr. Maoshing Ni in his book Secrets of Longevity: Hundreds of Ways to Live to Be 100. "As an exercise, gardening strengthens the muscles," he writes, "as a discipline it requires patience and cultivates fortitude, and in the end it brings rewards and joy to its practitioners." Get started this month by cleaning up your yard and preparing for planting time in May.

3. Make prebiotics part of your diet
You've probably heard of probiotics – active "good" bacteria that can be found in yogurt and other foods, as well as in supplement form – but did you know that prebiotics promote healthy digestion? "Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that encourage the healthy bacteria to thrive," writes Jill Fullerton-Smith in her book The Truth About Food. "It's a bit like using fertilizer on an unhealthy lawn." She suggests taking prebiotics regularly, daily if possible, either in supplement form (her study subjects drank prebiotic-fortified orange juice) or by eating food sources of prebiotics, such as Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic and bananas.

4. Get some sun – and some vitamin D
Our primary source of vitamin D is sunlight, and it's virtually impossible to get enough of it during a Canadian winter, since we're so far north and the sun's rays are weak. Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium, notes Fullerton-Smith, and may be a factor in the prevention of some cancers. Make up for your wintertime deficiency by getting a daily sunscreen-free dose of the sun this month (when it's not raining, at least). The Canadian Cancer Society advises a few minutes a day, the total amount of exposure depending on your age, skin colour, location and the strength of the sun. You may also want to talk with your doctor about getting vitamin D from supplements or fortified foods.

5. Eat more olive oil
The traditional Mediterranean diet is touted as among the world's healthiest, and one of its hallmarks, note Liz Pearson and Marilyn Smith in their book Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health, is olive oil. "People who regularly consume olive oil as part of a healthy diet live longer and have lower rates of heart disease and cancer," they write. Take their advice and make olive oil a regular part of your diet, using it as often as possible in place of less-healthy fats such as butter and margarine. For the best benefits, go for extra-virgin – it may be pricey, but you definitely get what you pay for in terms of quality.

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6. Up your intake of cruciferous veggies
All veggies are good for you, but one of the most important components of a healthy, cancer-fighting diet is regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard and Brussels sprouts, according to a number of studies. For instance, one study at Ohio State University, found that broccoli may help prevent the development of bladder cancer and researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center and the Institute for Cancer Prevention showed that a family of compounds found in cruciferous vegetables can block the development of lung cancer. To reap optimal benefits from these anticancer superfoods, make them a regular (ideally, daily) part of your diet.

7. Plant a tree
If you have space in your yard – and especially if you live in a large urban centre – consider planting a tree this spring, both for your own health and for that of your community. You'll be helping to clean the air and creating future shade space for your home (which will contribute to keeping it cool in the summer) – and, if you plant a fruit tree, you'll be providing your family with delicious fresh and free produce year after year. (Visit Canadian Forest Service for a detailed guide to planting trees.)

No room on your property? Consider donating to a tree-planting program instead, such as the Tree Canada Foundation's B.C. Coast ReLeaf Fund, which will be used to restore forested areas devastated by the heavy storms that hit the West Coast in late 2006.

8. Plan for summer exercise
If this is the year you're finally going to sign up for that kayaking or karate class, now's the time to plan for it. Put in some research and find a time and location that fits your schedule, and then bite the bullet and register. Paying ahead of time for a class that's cumulative will boost your motivation – you don't want to waste your money, and you don't want to fall behind, either. Love team sports like volleyball or baseball? Find a rec league that meets your needs and join. There's no better way to stay fit than to have fun while you're doing it. 

9. Listen to soothing music
Not only is listening to soft music a relaxing pastime, it has benefits for your health as well. Calming classical music, writes Dr. Ni, "boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscle tension, regulates stress hormones, elevates mood, and increases endurance." And a 2006 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing showed that listening to music for at least an hour a day can reduce chronic pain and depression by more than 20 per cent. So next time you need a break, forget the TV and put on your favourite calming tunes instead.

10. Stock up on almonds
"Almonds are one of the most nutrient-rich nuts," write Pearson and Smith, "especially high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin E." They recommend eating almonds with the skin on as it is a good source of antioxidants. To incorporate almonds into your diet, add some to your breakfast cereal, or spread almond butter on your toast. Try one of the following recipes for more delicious ideas:
Almond Baked Apples
Apricot Almond Rice
Maple Almond Chicken
Almond Cranberry Couscous
Almond Honey Carrots


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Your health: 10 things to do in April

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