With a new year upon us, it’s common to reflect on the year just passed—and to set goals for the year ahead. If you’re like many people, often those goals center around improving your health. And with the various forms of Covid-19 in full swing, everyone should be focusing on strengthening their immune system. The 5 essential principles of functional medicine offer a wonderful and effective prescription to help you do just that.
1. Nutrition and gut health
We’ve covered this topic before, but it bears repeating: In fact, 70% of your immune system is in your gut, so creating and maintaining a healthy digestive tract is the best way to help you have a stronger immune system. And the best way to ensure a healthy gut microbiome is by eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. It also means staying away from processed foods, artificial sweeteners, too much sugar, saturated fats, and other artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. “I can’t stress enough that food really is medicine—so make sure you’re putting good stuff into your body,” says Dr. Z.
“We encourage patients to ‘eat the rainbow,’” says Yoko Kawashima, a national board-certified health & wellness coach who partners with AAPRI’s Center for Functional Medicine. “Fruits and vegetables that are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C help give an extra boost to immune function,” she says. In addition, mushrooms contain complex carbohydrates called beta-glucans, which enhance immunity.
Getting enough sleep and good-quality sleep is another essential principle of functional medicine because it also supports the immune system and overall health. Adults should aim for around 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, try making some adjustments to your sleeping environment:
- Make sure the room is dark
- Avoid using electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime
- Keep the room cool
- Relax your mind by reading or doing a short meditation before sleep
3. Exercise and movement
Being physically active each and every day is another essential ingredient to being healthy. “Going for a walk each day is something almost everyone can and should be doing,” says Dr. Z. “Along with the gentle exercise it provides, you get fresh air and sunshine, which supplies us with vitamin D, and it can help reduce stress and improve our mood.” If you have any physical or medical issues, be sure not to over-do it. Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise or fitness regimen.
4. Stress management
Chronic stress can trigger an inflammatory response in the body, which can disrupt or weaken your immune system. In fact, stress can impact all of the body’s major systems, which can put a lot of wear and tear on your body and result in a variety of physical and emotional health problems. “The 5 principles, or pillars, of functional medicine are designed to work together to achieve optimum health,” explains Dr. Z. “For example, being physically active is a great way to relieve stress—and it can contribute to a good night’s sleep. Same with eating a healthy diet. All of these things are interconnected.”
5. Community and environment
An essential part of taking good care of yourself is making time to connect with the people who are important to you. These connections can bring feelings of happiness, peace, contentment, comfort, and joy. Making time to talk to or be with family and friends can help you gain perspective on life, which can lead to improved physical and mental health and wellness.
How functional medicine can help
While functional medicine is deeply based in science, it takes a more holistic approach to your health than traditional medicine. Find out how the Center for Functional Medicine can help you live a healthier life. Schedule a consultation today.