As the new year begins, Ramona Wallace, DO, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at WMed, sat down recently to share her top 10 tips to start 2024 off on a healthier footing.
The offerings from Dr. Wallace, who is board certified in Family Medicine and Functional and Integrative Medicine, center around a life reboot and the way one thinks about their sleep habits, nutrition, and exercise.
“Functional Medicine is really an engagement between the physician and patient, and I equip patients with tools so they can have a sense of agency over their own health and understand how the body functions,” Dr. Wallace said. “It’s personalized medicine.”
With that in mind, here are Dr. Wallace’s top 10 functional medicine tips to kick off the new year on a path toward a healthier you:
- Hydration: Make the choice to drink more water daily. Proper hydration and brain health and function go hand in hand.
- Mindful Eating: Here, Dr. Wallace stresses the importance of eating with a community when you sit down for a meal. Make the time purposeful and communicate with your loved ones. Avoid eating on the run if at all possible.
- Exercise: It’s understandable that a regular routine can seem insurmountable, especially after a long, stressful day at work or home. However, even the smallest amount of exercise is helpful, from standing up and taking a walk five minutes out of every hour to doing yoga, Pilates, or playing pickleball for just 15 minutes per day.
- The 5R Framework for Gut Health: Better gut health begins with your food and the five R’s: Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, Repair, and Rebalance. For more information, the Institute for Functional Medicine has this useful resource.
- Sleep: Expert advice says seven to nine hours of sleep every night is needed to achieve optimal health. But learning about how you sleep is also just as important. In that regard, Dr. Wallace says wearable technology, including watches and rings, are extremely useful for providing real-time feedback to learn more about our sleep hygiene.
- Breathe: Want to improve your mood and respiratory function? Breathe. Specifically, practice mindful breathing like Qigong or the Wim Hof method. Both can help improve heart-rate variability, among other benefits.
- Exercise the Vagus Nerve: Another way to improve gut health is to understand there is a connection between our brain function and our digestive systems. That’s where the importance of vagus nerve exercises comes in. The vagus nerve controls several crucial functions in addition to digestion, including heart rate, breathing, and stress response.
- Build Relationships: Focus on healthy connections and healthy relationships and spend less time on electronic devices. “Put your phone down, listen to your family, go to church, be a part of a supportive community that is positive and affirming,” Dr. Wallace said. “Isolation and loneliness are two of the worst contributors to ill health.”
- Spiritual Connection: Spend time meditating or in prayer. Both can provide a time for reflection and positive affirmations.
- Practice Gratitude: Focus on giving thanks and recognizing the good things around you. Write a letter to a loved one or a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
As with any list, taking on all 10 tips at once could prove overwhelming. But don’t fret, Dr. Wallace said. Instead of trying to do everything all at once, she suggests starting your journey off simply by focusing on one item on the list above and practicing until it becomes a daily habit.
“Dive into one of them,” Dr. Wallace said. “Functional medicine is a journey.”