7 Experts' Best Advice for Staying Healthy

Discover the tried-and-true ways natural health experts beat stress, sleep well, maintain a healthy weight and balance their lives.

LOOKING TO FIND THE SECRETS to great health, Natural Health went to the country's most respected authorities in natural medicine. We learned that despite their hectic schedules, these experts really do practice what they preach. Almost all of them follow the same five healthy habits, like getting a daily dose of nature and taking naps (for details, see “5 Golden Rules for Great Health,” page 65). And each expert has also developed ways to overcome a personal health obstacle, whether it's too much travel, occasional insomnia, or nagging stress. Here they share their most effective tips for staying well.

WEIL
Andrew Weil, M.D., 60
Holistic physician, founder of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and coauthor of The Healthy Kitchen (Knopf, 2002)

Weil travels for at least a week each month, which he feels poses the biggest challenge to maintaining his health. “When I was in my zos,” he says, “the physical aspects of travel rolled off me. They don't roll off me as easily now.” Fortunately, Weil has figured out how to stay well no matter where he goes.

Pack a High-Energy Meal. Whenever it's practical, Weil brown-bags some fruit, cheese, delicatessen-style soy meats, baked tofu, and a wrap or thin rye bread for the plane ride.

Loaded with fiber and protein, this meal maintains his energy level and replaces airplane fare, which is usually high in saturated fat, sodium, and artificial ingredients and low in nutrients. “So few airports and airlines have decent food,” Weil says.

Take Melatonin to Sleep Well. If he's crossing more than three time zones, Weil takes 2.5 mg of melatonin under his tongue at bedtime for the first two days after his arrival. He repeats the dosage on the first two days back home in Tucson. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles, helps him adjust faster to changing time zones.

Fit in Exercise. Exercise keeps Weil calm and fit. His favorite activity is swimming daily in his outdoor pool. He also works with a personal trainer up to three times a week. When traveling, he aims to weave in some form of daily physical exertion for at least 30 minutes, although it's typically not aquatic because he can't stand the chlorinated water in hotel pools. Instead, Weil uses the hotel's indoor fitness equipment, usually the elliptical trainer.

Stick with Supplements. Most of the supplements Weil takes every day are antioxidants, which fight unstable molecules, or free radicals, in the body. He takes them because current research supports the theory that antioxidants protect against environmental toxins and premature aging—and he never skips a day, even when he's traveling. In addition to a twice-a-day multivitamin, his supplement arsenal includes 250 mg of vitamin C, 800 IU of natural vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol), 25,000 IU of mixed carotenoids, and 200 mcg of selenium.

NORTHRUP
Christiane Northrup, M.D., 53
Gynecologist in Yarmouth, Maine, Natural Health advisory board member, and author of The Wisdom of Menopause (Bantam, 2001)

Northrup values a balanced life and doesn't allow work demands to overshadow her personal needs or her relationships. The payoff of this approach is less stress and a happier outlook, she says.

Take Regular Breaks. Northrup leaves her home office for lunch almost every day of the week. She says that having someone else prepare and serve her a healthy meal in a pleasant public environment makes her feel more nourished and relaxed than if she prepares the same meal at home. Northrup also schedules blocks of free time to minimize her stress. She says, “If I don't schedule in breaks—time to see a movie or do something fun—I find myself wanting to burst into tears.”

Respect Your Sleep Needs. Northrup feels best on 10 hours of sleep a night. “I am not one of those people who can get by on five hours,” she says. Every night, she takes a bath for 15 minutes and then reads a novel for 15 minutes to help her relax and sleep. To improve her sleep quality after menopause, she also cut out caffeinated foods and beverages. “Caffeine clears more slowly from a woman's system than from a man's and is a bladder irritant that can wake you up at night,” Northrup explains.

Boost Mood with Exercise. “I never argue with myself about doing exercise,” says Northrup. “If I had to pick one prescription to keep my endorphins going, it is exercise.” (Endorphins are brain chemicals that are associated with enhanced mood.) Every day she does 20 minutes of intervals (aerobic exercise that varies in intensity) on an elliptical trainer. She also lifts dumbbells three times weekly, working her chest and triceps on one day, her back and biceps on another, and her legs and shoulders on a third.

Write Away Stress and Guilt. Three times a week, Northrup lights a candle, puts on a CD of baroque music, and for 15 to 20 minutes practices proprioceptive writing, a stream of consciousness technique that allows her to explore her thoughts. She writes about what's on her mind and then questions the thoughts that are emotionally charged. The writing, which Northrup doesn't share with anyone, allows her to get to the root of her emotions. “It tells me what I am feeling good about and what I am feeling bad about,” she says. This technique also helps Northrup reaffirm positive thoughts and deal with anxious ones.

DEAN
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., 54
City Island, N.Y-based clinical researcher, Natural Health advisory board member and Ask the Experts contributor, and author of The Miracle of Magnesium (Ballantine, 2003)

Dean follows the same common-sense health advice that she gives. For example, she eats simple, mostly organic meals and gets outdoors every day. A native of Nova Scotia, Dean also thrives on getting daily doses of the ocean.

Energize in the Morning. After Dean wakes up and drinks a glass of water, she walks or bicycles to the beach where she does eye exercises (like looking at distant and near objects and placing her palms over her eyes) to prevent the eyestrain that could result from working on her computer all day. She also swings her arms vigorously while walking to infuse herself with energy. If Dean can't get to the beach, she meditates in her living room for 30 minutes. The meditation calms and centers her for the day.

Make Breakfast Count. Dean drinks only water until 11 a.m. to extend the time her body is in a fasting state; this helps cleanse her system, she says. For her late breakfast, she eats a bowl of two organic whole grains that she has cooked overnight in a crock pot. (She alternates amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat groats, kamut, and millet.) Dean tops this high-fiber porridge with ¼ cup of thawed frozen blueberries—full of anti-aging phytochemicals—and 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are a great plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which your brain, heart, and other organs need to function properly.

Walk and Talk for Your Health. Around 7 p.m., after dinner, Dean and her husband of 33 years spend an hour hiking around the island where they live and catch up on their day. The exercise helps them burn off the calories of their meal, and the time they spend together talking about their day at work helps them beat stress.

Simplify Your Surroundings. Living simply helps Dean filter out potentially harmful distractions and chemicals. Although she owns a television, she doesn't watch it because she finds most news to be more titillating than relevant. By buying locally grown organic produce, she reduces her exposure to pesticides. And she doesn't buy clothes that need to be dry-cleaned. (Some dry-cleaning chemicals, like perchloride, are suspected carcinogens.)

GORDON
James Gordon, M.D., 61
Founder and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., Natural Health advisory board member and Ask the Experts contributor, and author of Comprehensive Cancer Care (Perseus Books, 2001)

As a psychiatrist and mind-body expert, Gordon acknowledges his mind's influence on his physical health. He pays particular attention to his stress and anxiety levels to prevent them from taking a toll on his physical health.

Practice Yoga for Energy. Every morning Gordon does yoga for 30 to 90 minutes, depending on his schedule. Yoga gives him energy and safely stretches and strengthens his lower back, which is vulnerable to chronic pain. Afterward, Gordon does a sitting meditation. “I ask myself, ‘How am I doing? What does my spirit need? What does my body need?’” Checking his feelings helps him be relaxed and energetic all day.

To Feel Great, Don't Procrastinate. Gordon used to create distractions to avoid an anxiety-producing task like writing. For example, he would organize his desk or return phone calls. But his anxiety remained. Now he's changed his act. When he notices that he's procrastinating, he just sits in his desk chair and writes. “I discovered that I am healthier when I just get it done,” he says. Gordon also doesn't delay the work that he enjoys—like traveling to Israel last fall to train Israeli and Palestinian mental health professionals. Helping others makes him healthier, he adds.

Address insomnia with surefire Tactics. If Gordon wakes up in the middle of the night or has trouble getting to sleep, he meditates or reads for 15 minutes to an hour. But he realizes that underlying emotional issues like job stress often cause his insomnia. So if meditating or reading doesn't work, he goes to his desk to address whatever project happens to be worrying him. “I've learned that there's no use in my staying awake and trying to ignore the things that are stressing me out,” he says. “I might as well just get them done, even if it's 3 a.m.”

Beat Depression by Listening to Yourself. Like many people, Gordon has occasional bouts of depression. To manage them, he lets himself fully experience his feelings instead of trying to rationalize his angst. Then he uses different techniques to banish his blues depending on how he feels. Sometimes his best antidote is to sit alone and watch a sad movie. In other circumstances, he feels better when he does something positive, like dance to fast music. Often Gordon cures a slump by finding a way to be useful to another person, like by volunteering.

DUKE
James Duke, Ph.D., 73
Botanist and consultant in Fulton, Md., Natural Health advisory board member, and author of The Green Pharmacy Anti-Aging Prescriptions (Rodale Press, 2001)

Duke admits that he has a “thing” about the number seven. Many of his healthy habits involve this number. For instance, every day he pedals his exercise bike for seven minutes and drinks seven glasses of water.

Cook a Low-Calorie Lunch. Duke gets anti-aging, disease-fighting nutrients from the vegetable soup he makes daily. And soup helps fill him up for relatively few calories. He simmers seven or more vegetables (like asparagus, celery, English peas, lima beans, okra, red and green bell peppers, squash, string beans, or tomatoes) with herbs (like celery seed, chile, dill, garlic, ginger, oregano, and parsley) in enough water to make a brothy soup.

Blend an Anti-Aging Smoothie. Each day, Duke fills up on fruit. “Using the garden, the trees, and the supermarket, I put seven to 14 different fruits in a blender and make a drink that I sip through the afternoon,” says Duke, who grows fruit on his six-acre farm. One of his favorite combinations consists of a banana; handfuls of cherries, cranberries, and raspberries; a lemon; a peach; and enough orange juice to make it drinkable. Variety is key, says Duke, to ensure that he gets a wide array of phytochemicals, plant substances that help slow aging and fight disease.

Imbibe Wisely. Duke drinks seven glasses of water daily, more if he's gardening. He believes this helps dilute potential carcinogens in his digestive tract and ward off colon cancer. At the end of the day, he relaxes with a cocktail like a Tom Collins, but he adds herbs and fruits with healthy phytochemicals to the alcoholic drink. His cocktail might include fresh lemon juice and peel, fresh or dried herbs like lemon balm, peppermint, or lavender, and even a few fresh blueberries or strawberries. But Duke tries to restrict fluids close to bedtime since too much fluid too late at night will disrupt his sleep by overloading his bladder.

HAAS
Elson Haas, M.D., 55
Integrated medicine physician, founder and medical director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif., Natural Health advisory board member, and author of Staying Healthy with the Seasons (Ten Speed Press, 2003)

From childhood, Haas has struggled to control his weight and cope with seasonal allergies. These issues prompted him to focus his work on the link between what you consume and how you feel.

Erase Allergies with Diet and Supplements. Food affects Haas's allergies to grass and dust. When he's congested, he tries to steer clear of wheat, dairy, and refined sugar. Or he fasts on juice for several days. During allergy season, he also takes 1 to 2 g of vitamin C, 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E (mixed natural tocopherols), and 250 to 500 mg of quercetin a day. And any time he's congested or is coming down with a cold, Haas dips two or three raw garlic cloves in honey and chews them well, repeating the process every few hours. Fresh garlic thwarts bacterial infections; honey makes the herb palatable.

Eat Mindfully to Stay Slim. Haas tries not to eat in a rush. He snacks or dines only when there is time to chew his food well. For example, “I'll eat an apple and some almonds in the car as I drive to work so that I can think about chewing,” says Haas, who enjoys his food more fully and eats less when he slows down. Haas also takes his main meal at 3 p.m. Eating dinner in the afternoon helps him digest better, have more energy for evening activities, and sleep better.

Start Over to Stay Healthy. Haas thinks of spring as his real New Year's Day—a time to reaffirm or begin healthy habits. Every March, he goes on a multiday juice fast, chucks old clothes and papers, cleans out his garage, and writes his plans for the rest of the year. These activities help him lose weight, better his digestion, improve his energy level, and find new inspiration for his work. Why March? “Spring is a time of purification—nature's own time of cleansing and renewal.”

GITTLEMAN
Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., 53
Nutritionist in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, former nutrition director at the Pritikin Longevity Center, and author of The Fat Flush Plan (McGraw Hill, 2002)

Gittleman, who travels frequently for work, faces plenty of stress. As an author and nutritionist, she puts pressure on herself to stay current and provide dependable advice. And she's had to develop ways to cope with a hectic schedule, irregular meal times, and erratic sleep on the road. She's learned these surefire ways to stay calm.

Lean on Flower Power. Gittleman relies on Bach Rescue Remedy, a flower essence formula, to get through her toughest days. (Flower essences, highly diluted remedies made from flowers, are thought to heal emotional hurts.) This formula helps counteract impatience (her biggest stumbling block), worry, and anxiety. It is centering, comforting, and calming, says Gittleman. She puts four drops of the remedy into every single glass of water that she drinks on an emotionally challenging day.

Supplement to Relieve Stress. To regulate her levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, Gittleman takes a combination supplement formulated to nourish her adrenal glands; it contains nutrients like vitamin A, vitamins B[sub5] and B[sub6], and vitamin C. To get a better night's sleep, Gittleman takes two minerals right before bed: 400 mg of magnesium and 25 mg of zinc. “Together, they are terrific sleep aids,” she says.

Clean from the inside. At the change of every season and after periods of too many restaurant meals and long hectic days, Gittleman gets a colonie. (A colonie flushes your large intestine with water.) She finds these treatments help her get rid of unexpelled wastes and soothe her frayed nervous system.

5 Golden Rules for Great Health
Which health habits matter most? At least five of the seven natural medicine experts featured in these pages agree that the following habits are key.

1 Get Outside.
Some garden. Others walk on the beach or simply touch the trees. No matter the outdoor activity, our experts agree that being in nature for at least half an hour a day helps them stay fit and brings welcome calm and perspective to their hectic lives.

2 Be Active.
Whether they pedal a stationary bike while watching the morning news, jump on a trampoline, or practice yoga, our experts exercise for 30 to 60 minutes every day. They rely on exercise to boost their mood, reduce stress, and help them maintain their weight.

3 Value Sleep.
Our experts say that sleep is as important to feeling great as diet or exercise. When they're tired, they nap. Our experts adjust their habits and schedules as necessary to make bedtime as relaxing as possible. To help them fall asleep, many meditate or take baths.

4 Quiet the Mind.
Most of our experts meditate for at least 10 minutes a day to help them beat stress. And many say the practice has at least once given them an early warning that something was amiss in their bodies, and that that information allowed them to ward off an ailment or illness.

5 Take a Multi.
Most of our experts, even those with the healthiest eating habits, take a high-potency multivitamin every day for its disease-prevention benefits. (For more information about choosing this kind of supplement, see “How to Buy the Best Multivitamin,” page 76.)

PHOTO (COLOR): NOURISH YOURSELF: Devoting time and attention to exercise, diet, and relaxation results in a happier, healthier you.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Andrew Weil

PHOTO (COLOR): Tote a healthy meal when on the go.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Christiane Notthrup

PHOTO (COLOR): Regular movie breaks beat stress.

PHOTO (COLOR): Walk outdoors to wake up in the morning.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Carolyn Dean

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): James Gordon

PHOTO (COLOR): Read yourself to sleep at night.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): James Duke

PHOTO (COLOR): A tutti-frutti smoothie is rich in nutrients.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Elson Haas

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Ann Louise Gittleman

PHOTO (COLOR): This flower essence formula helps worries disappear.

PHOTO (COLOR): Good health depends on daily exercise.

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By Louisa Kasdon Sidell, Louisa Kasdon Sidell is a freelance writer in Cambridge, Mass.; ANDREW WEIL, M.D.; CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP, M.D.; CAROLYN DEAN, M.D., N.D.; JAMES GORDON, M.D.; JAMES DUKE, PH.D.; ELSON HAAS, M.D. and ANN LOUISE GITTLEMAN, PH.D.

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