By Dr. Josh Axe
Step 1: Eat Real Food
Now if you’ve been a regular reader on my site, you’ll know what I mean by "real" food. But for those of you who don’t, let me explain. Real food is the food that is most natural, found in nature with the least amount of processing involved before it reaches your table.
This food helps to keep us healthy. Foods like apples, carrots, raw nuts and seeds. Foods that haven’t been loaded with hormones, pesticides and other unnatural chemicals. These are the foods you can grow (or raise) in your own backyard in an organic garden or by raising your own chickens, for example.
The other foods that many Americans consume on a daily basis are what I like to call "fake" foods. These are the foods you’ll find on shelf after shelf, aisle after aisle at the grocery store. Foods that have been highly processed, modified and so transformed from their original state that they hardly resemble the original food at all.
Think cheese curls, soda, fruit snacks, microwave meals, etc.
Eating a variety of real, health-promoting foods should ideally provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function and stay healthy. This should be your first food choice on a daily basis.
Step 2: Exercise
Although when you think of staying healthy, you don’t necessarily think, "I’d better exercise to stay healthy," this is one of the best ways to improve your overall health and stay healthy during the winter season, when most people aren’t as active due to colder temps.
According to research, 30 minutes of exercise, three or four times a week, is the best way to boost your immune system, which can help support your overall health. Any more exercise than that could actually begin to have the reverse effect.
One study found running 10 miles a week boosted the immune system but raise that to 20 miles a week and there were diminishing returns.
This is why I recommend burst training (interval type training or high-intensity interval training) as opposed to long distance cardiovascular exercise. E.g. rather than jog for 20 minutes on the treadmill, run semi-sprints or walk inclines for 1 minute “bouts” followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat until you reach 20 minutes.
Step 3: Get Plenty of Sleep
Now this old wives' tale still holds true today. To maintain your health, you need to get plenty of rest, but you can’t really "catch up" on sleep or make up for weeks or months of too little sleep.
Getting enough sleep on a regular basis is key to maintaining good health. Studies show that lack of sleep can negatively impact health and weight. It can also impact immune system function.
Related: What Is the Best Sleep Position?
Step 4: Enjoy Life!
Managing stress is also important for staying healthy.
One of the best ways to beat stress is to balance your life with fun. Remember the saying "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"? Well, no play will make Jack a miserable and dull boy.
Take time to enjoy life and build joy every day. Whether it’s taking time to listen to your favorite music or watching a film, or playing sports with your family or friends, it’s vital to include fun in your day — especially when it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
Step 5: Get Plenty of Vitamin D
More and more is being revealed lately about the vast health benefits of vitamin D. Previously known to impact bone health, vitamin D deficiency is now implicated in many health issues.
The best way to obtain vitamin D is through safe sun exposure. A lack of vitamin D (that many Westerners unknowingly have) can directly impact overall bodily health, including the immune system.
To remain healthy, make sure you get plenty of safe sun exposure on a regular basis. If you live somewhere that only gets sun seasonally, especially during the cold months, it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement until your levels are adequate enough to take you through these sunless seasons. Be sure to consult your healthcare professional to check your vitamin D levels.
Step 6: Take a Whole Food Multivitamin
Taking a multivitamin is a great step towards supporting your overall health. But not all multivitamins are created equal. It’s vital that you choose a whole food multivitamin, not a synthetic one. Whole food multivitamins are as close to the real source of the vitamins and minerals that you can get.
In fact, your body will be better able to recognize it, digest it and absorb the nutrients in it. Some high-quality multivitamins will come with fermented (for optimal digestion) nutrients, which may make the nutrients easier to absorb.
Our line of multivitamins uses a combination of organic vitamins (whenever possible), fermented vitamins and minerals, enzyme-activated minerals, coenzymated vitamins, select vitamin forms and specially selected ingredients to create the most bio-accessible nutrients possible to meet your needs.
Step 7: Avoid Sugar
Sugar is one of the worst things to consume, especially if you’re trying to stay healthy — and who isn’t? Sugars negatively impact the immune system and more. Avoiding sugars is key to staying healthy, particularly when you’re under stress.
There are great, all-natural sweeteners on the market so you don’t have to go without. Try stevia or raw honey in moderation. (And avoid artificial sweeteners — they're fake foods!) Be sure to check labels of the foods you’re eating and avoid sugars here, too.
I think that everyone wants to stay healthy during the winter months and, actually, year-round. When you take the above seven steps to stay healthy, I believe you’ll be supporting your body not only during this season but for a lifetime of wellness.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet and Collagen Diet.