My Top 5 Health Lessons of the Year: HIIT, Blood Glucose, Divine Unrest and More!

As I close out this year and look toward next year, I want to continue what was good and improve upon it. I have a vision of myself, fully expressed, beaming love and kindness to my family, friends, and community. But I started the year not in that state.

So I took the vision of my future self, and changed five behaviors. With this in mind, here are my top five health lessons from 2016. Implement them at your own pace throughout 2017, and keep me posted on your progress.

    1. Slow down aging by using all of your muscle fiber types. I’m forty-nine years old this year, so the broader topic of aging and how to slow it down has become very important to me. Just last year, I attended a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class, and the instructor told us to box jump. I looked at the box in front of me, and it was a whopping twenty inches high. Huh? I looked back to the instructor, perplexed. The instructor effortlessly demonstrated: He jumped with both feet from the floor up onto the box and then jumped back down, like a kangaroo. I gathered my courage…and barely jumped onto the top of the box. It was if the neural pathways from my brain to my jumping muscles were so dusty and neglected, they could barely connect. Still, I was mildly triumphant that I had jumped onto the box at all, until the instructor counted, “One!” – the first in a set of fifteen. I felt old. I realized that my usual exercise hustle to barre class, yoga, walking, hiking, and running just weren’t working all of my muscle fiber types as I had hoped. What happens – and I certainly felt it that day – is that your muscles have a lower capacity to contract or “twitch” as you get older. There is slow twitch (Type 1) fast twitch (Type IIa), and very fast (Type IIb). During that HIIT class, I was forced to admit that my very fast twitch (Type IIb) muscle fibers were neglected. Now, we know that you lose fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibers first,1Lexell, J. “Human aging, muscle mass, and fiber type composition.” The Journals of Gerontology. Series A – Biological Sciences and Medical ...continue and the way to stay younger is to work all the various types of muscle fibers when you exercise.Lesson: Work all your muscle fiber types —especially Types IIa and IIb— regularly as part of a balanced exercise regimen. That includes exemplary-form dead lifts, and jumping.
    2. Repeat: We are not meant to be perfect – we are meant to be whole. So said Jane Fonda, in regards to the many women she encountered—both famous and not—who were “…beloved, wonderful, fabulous women…who weren’t perfect.”2Oprah Winfrey Network. “Oprah’s Master Class: Jane Fonda on Perfection.” YouTube video, 3:57. January 8, 2012. ...continue We don’t really think anyone is perfect, but we often treat ourselves as if we should be. Fonda talked about that too: “It’s hard to be embodied if you hate your body.” 3Fonda, Jane. “My Convoluted Journey to Feminism.” Lenny. March 23, 2016  ...continue I listened to these wise words before the photo shoot for my new book, and they got me to calm down about my lack of a thigh gap. I don’t need to be perfect – I just need to be fully Sara. I need to love all of me, even the shadowy and flabbier sides. The same is true for you. (If you want to read more about my reflections on this health lesson, read this blog.)Lesson: What will it take to feel whole? Give that to yourself. Focus on wholeness, not perfection.
    3. Connect to your tribe. As far back as 1988, a major Science4House, J.S., et al. “Social relationships and health.” Science 241, No. 4865 (1988): 540–545. study concluded that lack of social interactions cut into longevity, even “rivaling the effect of well-established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, lousy blood lipids, obesity, and lack of physical activity.” Since the release of that initial watershed data, further studies5Holt-Lunstad, J., et al. “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review.” PLOS Medicine 7, no. 7 (2010). have confirmed the same conclusion. We need supportive, fun, loving relationships. So I’ve been prioritizing those yoga classes with my friend Jo, and hiking with my posse. Girlfriends, gather together.Lesson: Spend more time with your girlfriends. Science proves that social connections are more important than even your smoking history. Plus, it’s just really good fun!
    4. Let in divine unrest. When you feel anxious or uncomfortable, allow yourself to settle into these feelings in order to notice the wise messages your body or a higher power is sending you. The discomfort might well be a call to connect with your soul, your purpose, or something beyond yourself. For me rest, meditation and play—that are not via material pursuits—helps me attain certain calmness and peace. And it’s actually supported by research: Routinely achieving a meditative state,6Epel E, Daubenmier J, Moskowitz JT, et al. “Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres.” Annals of ...continue as well as engaging in playful activities,7Brown, Stuart, et al. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. (2009): 3-12. are both equated with lower-stress and, get this, living longer.Lesson: Develop your body awareness. Don’t be in such a rush to medicate away those uncomfortable feelings. Check your biology, work with a collaborative functional medicine clinician, and discern what your soul has to tell you.
    5. Reset your blood sugar in order to get lean. Did you know that blood sugar starts to climb in your forties as a result of aging? Although each person has different diet and macronutrient ratios, the most important factor is blood sugar breakdown – what we physicians call glucose disposal. The ideal range for fasting glucose is 70-85 mg/dL,8Ciccone, MM, et al. “A Glycemic Threshold Of 90 Mg/Dl Promotes Early Signs Of Atherosclerosis In Apparently Healthy Overweight/Obese Subjects.” ...continue and if your hemoglobin A1c is greater than five percent,9Dilly, J., et al. “Association of A1C with cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in Asian Indians with normal glucose tolerance.” ...continue you might have some degree of insulin resistance and be at greater risk for diabetes. Excess blood sugar, and larger-than-necessary fluctuations can change your gene expression for the worst.Start with your food choices to keep blood sugar stable: dial in the right amount of carbs (I suggest 25-49 net carbs to women for weight loss; 50-99 for maintenance; and more if you’re an elite athlete). And eat more vegetables.That said, nutrition does not exist in a vacuum. In addition to eating nutritious foods and exercising effectively, there are other factors contributing to your well-being. For example, a low-stress lifestyle,10Epel, E. S., et al. “Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat.” ...continue and getting at least seven hours of darkened-room sleep per day in order to release the right amount of melatonin,11Sookoian, S., et al. “Effects of rotating shift work on biomarkers of metabolic syndrome and inflammation.” Journal of Internal Medicine ...continue regulate cortisol (the main stress hormone) levels, and enhance the effects of exercising on weight and mood.So this year I went old school and got back to my advice from my first New York Times bestseller, The Hormone Cure (page 104), and started taking phosphatidyl serine (PS) again. It reduces cortisol so that blood sugar is better. I take PS at night. Do better = feel better.Lesson: Mastering your blood glucose processing will help you lose weight and feel so much better. So, if you adopt one tip in 2017, it would be eat more vegetables. Most people (90%!) with blood sugar problems don’t know they have them. Learn whether you do with a simple blood test. It will also keep you young, as I describe in detail in my new book, Younger. 

Wrap Up

As you prepare for 2017, please pause a few beats to take stock of your well-being. How are your health behaviors? Where are the gaps between who you want to be in the world and who you are now? Certainly, you can let go of the need to be perfect, and connect to something greater and take the time to relax in your own body. One thing I’ve just done is adopt a puppy, and a friend said something beautiful about that: Be the person your dog thinks you are: Playful, kind, fun. Gently remember to keep up warm social ties and a healthy lifestyle, you are well on your way to feeling amazing year round. Happy New Year!

Want to learn more about staying healthy and living longer in 2017? Order my new book Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years and discover how to increase your quality of life now, and long-term.

References   [ + ]

1. Lexell, J. “Human aging, muscle mass, and fiber type composition.” The Journals of Gerontology. Series A – Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 50, no. 11-6 (1995).
2. Oprah Winfrey Network. “Oprah’s Master Class: Jane Fonda on Perfection.” YouTube video, 3:57. January 8, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4AnHAwHQB4
3. Fonda, Jane. “My Convoluted Journey to Feminism.” Lenny. March 23, 2016  http://www.lennyletter.com/politics/news/a311/my-convoluted-journey-to-feminism/
4. House, J.S., et al. “Social relationships and health.” Science 241, No. 4865 (1988): 540–545.
5. Holt-Lunstad, J., et al. “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review.” PLOS Medicine 7, no. 7 (2010).
6. Epel E, Daubenmier J, Moskowitz JT, et al. “Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres.” Annals of New York Academy of Sciences 1172 (2009): 34–53.
7. Brown, Stuart, et al. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. (2009): 3-12.
8. Ciccone, MM, et al. “A Glycemic Threshold Of 90 Mg/Dl Promotes Early Signs Of Atherosclerosis In Apparently Healthy Overweight/Obese Subjects.” Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets 11, no. 4 (2012).
9. Dilly, J., et al. “Association of A1C with cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in Asian Indians with normal glucose tolerance.” Diabetes Care 31, no. 6 (2007): 1527-32.
10. Epel, E. S., et al. “Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat.” Psychosomatic Medicine 62, no. 5 (2000): 623-632.
11. Sookoian, S., et al. “Effects of rotating shift work on biomarkers of metabolic syndrome and inflammation.” Journal of Internal Medicine 261, no. 3 (2007): 285-292.
Sara Gottfried MD About Sara Gottfried MD

Sara Gottfried, MD is the author of the new book, Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. She's the two-time New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters.