A small serving of fruit.

In my first post in this series I wrote about “low-hanging fruit” in regards to charitable giving.  I shared my opinions regarding which organizations are working effectively and transparently to improve people’s lives by tackling big problems with relatively straightforward solutions.

Today I’ll write about applying the same “low-hanging fruit” principle to personal health.  What steps can we take to improve our health, energy, longevity, and vitality that aren’t that hard? Why not start with the easy stuff?

Personal health regimens often appear to be complicated and difficult, but I think that for most of us there are easy steps we can take that can radically improve our health.

1. Get your vitamin D levels up to between 40-60 ng/ml.
Up to two-thirds of people in the U.S. have “sub-optimal” levels of vitamin D — not low enough to result in rickets but low enough to increase vulnerability to certain types of cancer, reduce bone density, reduce immunity, and negatively affect more or less every organ in the body.  If you’re curious, search for the studies online and read the opinions of various medical experts.  Quite a few doctors and researchers have A LOT to say about this topic, and there is no shortage of clinical research.

My personal experience of taking 5000IU a day (I take one 5000IU capsule a day, along with fish oil or sometimes cod liver oil) over this last winter is the following:

  • deeper, more restful sleep
  • general better mood (very little “feeling down” and frequent “happiness for no discernible reason”)
  • no serious colds and no flu (a couple times this winter I felt almost sick for a couple days, but never “full blown”)
  • cessation of asthma symptoms (most of my asthma symptoms went away after switching to something more closely resembling a paleolithic diet, but I don’t think I’ve had a single flare-up since starting on the vitamin D)

I’m also impressed by the inverse relationship between vitamin D levels and many types of cancer.  I’ll get my blood level checked at my next checkup and see what the results are … if they’re above 60 ng/ml I’ll back off on the supplementation as there can be negative effects from blood levels that are too high.  However some doctors say that keeping levels as high as 60-90 ng/ml is ideal.

A full winter’s supply of vitamin D shouldn’t cost you more than $20 or $30.  One pill a day if you take the 5kIU size, and it’s no big deal if you miss a day.  You also want to make sure you’re getting enough calcium (sardines, canned salmon, dairy, greens, almonds) and magnesium (greens, cocoa/dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, beans) in your diet.

If 5000IU seems high (it looks high compared to the U.S. RDA), consider that 20 minutes of sun on your bare skin can generate up to 20,000IU (depending on a number of factors, including how tan or naturally dark you are, time of year, time of day, latitude, how much skin is exposed, etc.).  You generally get enough vitamin D from the sun before you burn (vitamin production shuts down so you can’t get too much this way).

2. Start consuming green tea, dark chocolate, and/or red wine on a regular basis.

C’mon, you’ve got to enjoy at least one of these flavors, no?  While pill-form antioxidants have come up short in clinical studies, regular consumers of these three antioxidant-packed foods show lower risk for heart disease, cancer, and dementia.  The relatively low amounts of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol in these foods will do you less harm than the polyphenols will do you good.

If you find the taste of green tea to be too bitter, you’re probably brewing it wrong.  Get loose-leaf tea from China, quickly rinse it with very hot water (not quite boiling), then brew it for as short a time as 30 seconds.  Brewing too long or using fully boiling water can result in a bitter taste (though both methods will also increase polyphenol content, so you have to find a balance).

In terms of red wine, this page presents a good overview of which varietals contain the highest levels of polyphenol antioxidants.

With chocolate, the processing method can remove many of the healthful antioxidants.  I like to make hot cocoa out of minimally processed “raw cacao” (I don’t know what’s up with the funny spelling — that’s why I put it in quotes).  There are several brands but I’ve been buying the Navitas brand for awhile and I like the taste.  For one mug I use about 2T of the unsweetened powder and 1t sugar, boiling water, and a little whole milk.

3. Hang out more with your friends.

Commenting on your friends’ FB status updates doesn’t count.  But real social networks, the kind where you actually hang out and do stuff (or even just sit around and gossip) with your friends, is associated with longevity, lower blood pressure, reduced stress, lower risk of depression, and all kinds of good stuff.  And it makes life more fun.

If your “friends” like doing meter-long rails of cocaine, rows of Jager-bombs, crime, or extreme vertical-cliff snowboarding, this one might not apply.  Find a good Settlers of Catan group or something.

Coming up next …

I’ve been advised to keep my posts shorter if I want to keep your attention, so I’ll save 4-7 for the next post.