What comes to mind when you hear spring cleaning? Is it raiding your closet to make room for cute new clothes? Is it getting rid of junk that you don't really need and decluttering? I'll admit, these are the first things that pop into my head when I hear the words. But I think one of the most important ways we can spring clean comes to our bodies! What better time of the year to get in shape and be healthier than in spring? It's right before summer, so you can look and feel your best for bikini season! Plus, its in the beginning of the year, so if you start healthy habits now, they will follow you through the rest of the months! There are many ways we can spring clean that are beneficial to both our physical health and mental health - just read through these and put some into practice to see the difference!
We usually think of spring cleaning as housework, but the new season is the perfect time to refresh your mind and body as well.
After a winter of being sedentary inside, warm spring weather is the perfect reason to get active outside. Besides its obvious positive physical effects, recent studies show exercise can have mental benefits as well. But if the idea of jogging makes you want to run back inside, that's okay. Simple tasks you probably need, or want, to do in your yard can have unexpected benefits. 'Spring cleaning the lawn with weeding, mulching, and law moving can help you to increase the amount of walking you do each day,' says fitness and nutrition expert Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. 'Planting and maintaining your garden is a great way to boost your overall step count as well as increase the amount of bending and lifting you do.' According to fitness guru Jillian Michaels, gardening can burn up to 256 calories an hour, and lawn mowing 160 per half-hour.
Once nice weather hits, we want to be outside as much as we can. Unfortunately, obligations at home and work keep us cooped up more than we want to be. Instead, hit up the garden center for plants or flowers that can thrive inside. 'Adding plants and flowers works wonders for your well-being,' says Deborah Serani, PsyD, award-winning author of Living with Depression and a psychology professor at Adelphi University. 'Studies show that having greenery in your life reduces stress, reduces depressed mood, improves attention and concentration, reduces high blood pressure and creates an atmosphere of beauty.' Plants can help reoxygenate your house and make it easier to breathe, and flowers add scents that can boost your mood. So if you can't get to nature, bring nature to you!
Winter can find us gorging on less-than-nutritious foods. Research has shown that the tendency to load up on calories in cold weather is an evolutionary mechanism to survive harsh winters when food was scarce. Bounce back from your winter weight by making some simple switches for spring. 'Cut salt by flavoring your food with seasonings such as cayenne, which may help reduce blood pressure, and cinnamon, which may help manage blood sugar levels,' Palinski-Wade suggests. 'If you are craving a sweet, try mixing together air popped popcorn with freeze dried fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate chips for a salty and sweet treat that's packed full of fiber. Cut soda by swapping it with seltzer water mixed with a splash of 100 percent fruit juice.' Avoid the chips and instead look to fresh fruits or veggies for a natural crunch. 'Leave a small bowl of veggies or fruit around—that way, if you get hungry you can reach for a healthful snack,' adds Robert Ostfeld, MD, director of preventive cardiology at Montefiore Health System, and founder and director of the Montefiore-Einstein Cardiac Wellness Program.
Spring cleaning your health may also involve a bit of actual spring cleaning to purge your meds. 'It's a great idea to make sure all your over-the-counter health products are not expired, and the same holds for your prescription medications,' suggests Dr. Serani. It's important not to throw certain medications in the garbage or down the drain because it can poison animals or infiltrate the water tables in your area.' If you have unused medications, vitamins supplements or health remedies, the FDA has guidelines for how to safely dispose of them.
While you're in a spring-cleaning frame of mind, now's a good time to go through your pantry. This can help not only free up space, but get your eating habits on a better track. 'The first foods you see are often the first foods you grab to eat,' Palinski-Wade says. 'Foods with little nutritional value, such as those filled with refined carbohydrates and added sugars like cookies or candy, should be tossed or moved to the back of the pantry where they are less visible. Rearrange the cabinet so that healthy options like air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers, nuts, and seeds are the first thing you see when reaching for a snack.' In addition, get rid of any expired food in the pantry, fridge, and freezer.
Now that you've tackled medicines and food, consider new storage options that might work for you. Chances are you've got a stack of bins in the closet or basement with no clue what's in them—out of sight, out of mind, right? These giant bins can fool us by thinking we're organized, when really we're just keeping a bunch of junk we don't need. Instead, clean everything out and redo with simpler, easy-to-see storage to help you realize what you really have. 'It's much better to keep things simple, and predictable, and then storage becomes not only routine, but a healthy habit,' says professional organizer Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari method and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. 'Designating a space for each item means not only that you will be able to find what you need as quickly as possible, but you will be less likely to buy more than you really need.'
If the thought of running doesn't interest you, the new season offers the perfect time to find a new way to get moving. 'Hiking is a great way to build strength and endurance, burn calories, and enjoy nature at the same time,' Palinski-Wade says. The new trend of forest bathing has been actually shown to improve our mind as well as body. If that's not your thing, try biking. 'This exercise provides less impact on the joints and can be a great activity for the whole family,' she says. 'The combination of the cardiovascular and strength benefits make this a good workout for improving health and boosting metabolism.' Still not into it? Try a low-impact sport like golf. 'Playing 18 holes is the equivalent of walking 10,000 steps, so not only is it a fun way to enjoy the weather, but it is a great way to fit in exercise as well,' she says.
Research from the University of Michigan has found that socializing actually improves your cognitive function, and the warm weather of spring is the perfect time to start hosting outdoor get-togethers with friends. See what changes you might want to make to your outdoor space to make it more appealing to guests. 'If you want to host outdoor parties, then having an all-weather patio space that is low-maintenance and ready to use will be an important feature of your home,' says interior designer and design psychology coach Rebecca West. A new grill or outdoor oven might be just what you need, or a fire pit to gather around as the sun goes down. 'If you want more social time in your life then the way you design your home can absolutely have a positive impact on that goal, and the time and money it takes to create that space will have been worthwhile,' she says.
If your meal routine is in a rut, take advantage of the fresh, local produce that spring brings to switch up your healthy options. 'Head to your local farmer's market and pick up a new fruit or vegetable you may not have tried before,' Palinski-Wade says. 'Broiled asparagus mixed with balsamic vinegar and raisins can be a delicious spring side dish. Or, toss together a spring salad mixed with fresh spinach, sliced strawberries and slivered almonds for a refreshing start to a meal.' Plus, planning ahead with fresh foods can help avoid those last-minute calls to the pizza place.
Believe it or not, simply breathing better can have health benefits by reducing stress levels and regulating cardiovascular function. Inhaling the fresh air of spring can be the first step to a new breathing practice. Try slowing your breathing and taking in more air to get more oxygen to your body. 'Because breathing happens automatically, many of us don't give the breath as much attention as it deserves, nor have we learned to harness its full potential to calm our minds,' says Stanford University psychologist Emma Seppala, PhD, author of The Happiness Track. 'Although substantial studies of yogic breathing and the brain have yet to emerge, preliminary brain studies of meditation and the breath suggest that they activate brain areas involved in the control of the autonomic system.' This, she says may activate brain regions that guide the parasympathetic, or 'rest and digest,' processes of the body, causing its calming effects.
We know bringing plants and flowers inside has psychological as well as physical benefits such as reducing stress. But so does simply using wood, according to a study from the University of British Columbia in Canada. This natural material is like bringing a forest inside! But it's not necessary to panel your entire room in wood—that might be overkill, says design psychologist Sally Augustin, PhD. But consider adding some small touches. 'If you have an option between a painted bureau and a bureau that shows the wood grain, you should go for the one with the wood grain,' she says. 'Seeing wood grain destresses us in the same way that seeing nature does.'
While an actual 'cleanse' is not a good idea for multiple reasons (for starters, that's what your liver is for), 'clean eating' may be. This means focusing on whole foods that are minimally processed to avoid clogging your body with stuff it doesn't need. Also, you might want to go organic to avoid pesticides in your foods. 'The elimination of pesticides/herbicides, processed food additives, flavorings, and shelf-life stabilizers is a fundamental measure to an efficient spring tidy, with protective and healing benefits against cancers, autoimmune flare-ups, management of cognitive and nervous system disorders, metabolic diseases, reproductive disorders, and beyond,' says medical herbalist Tami Bronstein, MNIMH, AHG, owner of The Medical Herbalist Apothecary.
A simple way to breathe new life into your space for spring without spending a dime is to switch around the placement of furniture. According to the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, the placement of furniture according to the flow of energy, or 'chi,' can affect your well-being. 'Research on environmental psychology tells us that aspects of Feng Shui can help create a supportive living space at home and even at work,' Dr. Serani says. Sofas and beds should be placed against the wall as far from the door as possible, but still in your line of sight. Make sure there is an easy flow through your house, and try to avoid dead-end spaces where energy can get stuck. 'Create access of space by looking at the lines of entry and exit to your home,' Dr. Serani says. 'The more free space and openness you create, the more comfort and ease comes to your mind.'
Although the outdoors provides many health benefits in spring, it's also time for that great affliction: allergies. Although we can't change the pollen count, we can help our home be as anti-allergy as possible. Change your HVAC or air conditioning filters in preparation for use in hot weather, and wash all blankets in the house that were used throughout the winter. As far as treating allergies themselves, Savarti Joshi, director of therapy services at Yoga Bharati, suggests a neti pot, which is actually an ancient yogic tradition. 'Kriya, or cleansing, practices such as neti, or nasal irrigation, helps greatly by cleansing the nasal passages,' she says. 'Neti not only cleanses but it also calms down the hypersensitivities of the mind. One should relax and observe the nasal passage while doing neti.' The FDA has approved the use of neti pots, as long as they are used and cleaned properly.
If you haven't jumped on the Fitbit bandwagon yet, spring might be a good time to start. 'Using a fitness tracker such as a pedometer or a Fitbit can be a great way to track your overall movement,' Palinski-Wade says. Although studies have been mixed in terms of whether wearable trackers actually help people lose weight, they will make you more aware of the amount of exercise you get a day, which may be a motivating factor. 'Set a step count goal for yourself and aim to increase your steps by 1,000 each day,' Palinski-Wade says. 'Just getting outside and kicking a ball around with your child, taking the dog for a walk, or visiting with neighbors can help you increase your daily steps. Every 2,000 steps you walk is equal to one mile, so this increased movement can really add up.'
North America is now coming into a better position for its residents to soak up rays, which is important for your physical and mental health. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, vitamin D levels are lowest in winter months, and a recent study showed the vitamin can prevent colds and flu. So to start upping your level, spend at least 10 minutes outside a day. 'A daily walk allows you to get outside and enjoy a dose of sunshine and vitamin D,' suggests Palinski-Wade. Indoors, clean your windows to let the sun's rays in and brighten up your home. 'Sunlight is great natural light for our mood and our professional performance,' says Dr. Augustin.
Spring can have us feeling restless, so start the new season off right by recharging your own batteries. 'Do you like to dance? Give yourself permission to have a mid-day dance party or go out dancing with a friend,' says life coach Marci Moberg. 'Always wanted to paint? Go to a crafts store and buy a painting set.' Or, schedule a 'me time' day. 'For one whole day, only do what you feel,' Moberg says. 'You feel like you want to take a nap? Do it. Feel like you want to jump in rain puddles? Jump away. Feel like you want to grab dinner with a friend and then take a stroll? Make reservations.' You can't pour from an empty bucket, so taking some time to honor your own needs can lead to more contentment.
Scientific research has shown that plant-based diets have many health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. With its wealth of fresh veggies, spring is the right season to try out vegetarianism. 'Studies have demonstrated that replacing various animal-based proteins with plant-based protein is associated with living longer,' says Dr. Ostfeld. 'Plant-based diets can be anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants and other healthful nutrients, and the body, accordingly, benefits.' Palinski-Wade suggests aiming for a variety of colours to increase your intake of different nutrients. 'Fresh berries such as strawberries are a great way to boost your antioxidant intake as well as add flavor and color to your plate,' she says. 'Spinach is an excellent source of iron and vitamin C, and broccoli is packed full of antioxidants and cancer fighting compounds.' If you can't go full vegetarian, try having a veggie night once a week. 'Something is better than nothing, and multiple studies reinforce how the more plant-based diet you can eat, the more health benefits you can accrue,' Dr. Ostfeld says.
A spring clean-out can be just the thing to refresh your mind as well as your home. It's a scientific fact that clutter affects your ability to focus and process information. So getting rid of the extra junk lying around can help clear your mind. 'Everyone has their own clutter threshold, so the first thing to do is to identify what clutter means to you in the first place,' says West. 'Whatever your clutter threshold is, once you cross it then your mind becomes as cluttered as your space. In general, the more chaotic your lifestyle—demanding kids, demanding boss, demanding spouse—the less chaos should be in your home. If there is lots of 'noise' in your life, having a visually quieter environment can have a great balancing effect.'
In spring, you can do this literally or figuratively—or both! Slowing down and being mindful can help reduce stress and improve your outlook on life. 'Mindfulness comes from living in the present moment, which is accomplished by bringing your attention to your thoughts, feelings and emotions,' says Carol Whitaker, life transformation expert and the author of Ridiculously Happy! The Secret to Manifesting the Life and Body of Your Dreams. 'You can increase your inner awareness by doing less, eating slowly, spacing activities, meditating, not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.' Cultivating the positives about each moment can help you find more peace and serenity. Spring affords many opportunities to do this—just listen to the birds' music and watch the wind move through the trees, and greater relaxation will follow.
As the weather gets warmer, it's important to drink fluids to prevent dehydration. But this spring, choose water instead of other not-as-healthy drinks like juice or sports drinks. According to a recent study from the University of Illinois, increasing plain water consumption by one to three cups a day could decrease calorie intake by 68 to 205 calories a day. Besides weight loss, the benefits of water are substantial. 'It is an integral part of all essential cellular metabolic functions, as well as assisting the kidneys, to regulate blood pressure, blood pH, move waste, and maximize efficiency throughout the body's functions,' Bronstein says. 'Water is essential to life—and most don't consume quite enough. Increasing water intake is paramount to 'spring cleaning' year-round.'
After you've decluttered and rearranged your space, look at what objects you have displayed. It's always important to show off meaningful things with sentimental value, but equally important are things that inspire you. Have a goal to travel? Hang some pictures of the places you'd like to visit. If you've been honing your drawing skills, display some of you sketches. 'We're really attuned to these non verbal cues—you're picking them up and reminding yourself of things that are important to you,' Dr. Augustin says. These physical reminders of your aspirations 'can give you a nice boost that makes your mood at home more pleasant, and it makes the whole experience of being at home more refreshing.'
Express gratitude to the power of the spring sunshine with yogic sun salutations. 'Sun that shines externally is also the guiding principle and creative force that radiates inside the body,' Joshi says. Sun salutations combine multiple poses in a 'flow'—try going through mountain pose, upward salute, forward fold, plank, cobra, downward-facing dog, and then back through to mountain again. 'The combination of all asanas, or postures, performed as a set has many health benefits such as weight loss, vitalizing of the entire body, and sharpening of the mind to attain optimal health,' Joshi says. Try starting your day with sun salutations on your deck or patio.
We think technology makes our lives easier, but it can also lead to its own kind of clutter. Spring clean your tech by looking at how you use it, and ways to make it more efficient. If your inbox is full of junk, organize your emails into folders and unsubscribe from lists that deliver too many unwanted messages. With so many options for television and streaming entertainment, rethink which shows you really love, and which you can let go. Finally, designate certain tech-free times. Researchers from Kansas State University found that employees who constantly checked emails after work hours were more stressed and couldn't recharge for the next work day. Create tech-free times during family dinner or game nights, and no screen time before bed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the blue light from screens can disrupt the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall and stay asleep.
Speaking of sleep, spring is notorious for the change in daylight savings that has us springing ahead toward one more hour of missed sleep. Use the opportunity to reset your sleep clock to get the proper seven to nine hours that the National Sleep Foundation suggests. If not, you might be harming your health. 'Both short and long sleep durations have been associated with decreased cognitive function,' says Elizabeth McDevitt, PhD, a researcher at the Sleep and Cognition Lab at the University of California, Riverside. 'One study found that people with extreme sleep durations, both long and short, also had the most disrupted sleep, and both factors were related to poor cognitive function.' Try using lavender essential oil, which has been shown in studies to help you drift off to sleep.
The ultimate way to spring clean your health may be to make sure all your doctor's appointments are up to date. This will vary person by person—some people require a yearly checkup, others more often if they have specific health issues. But if you haven't been in a while, it's a good idea to make an appointment to discuss your particular situation, as well as any specialists you may need to see. The same goes for the dentist—the American Dental Association now says that the frequency of visits should be determined individually by your dentist.
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