Eight Tips from Functional Medicine Expert Dr. Jaclyn Tolentino

Jaclyn Tolentino, DO

The new year is often a time for taking inventory and setting new goals, whether it’s committing to a professional opportunity, or cultivating personal habits. Often our health is the subject of some of our most ambitious new year’s aspirations, whether it’s getting back into shape or training for a major event. Perhaps no year in recent memory has called for a total reset like 2020; with the threat of a global pandemic leaving few routines untouched, many of us have drifted remarkably far from the daily rituals we rely on to maintain our health and wellbeing.

Thankfully, hitting the reset button on your health is actually easier than you might think. In my virtual, California and Florida-based medical practice, we utilize a holistic approach rooted in something called Functional Medicine. The Functional Medicine philosophy considers all of the aspects of a person’s life that might affect their health; the physical, mental, spiritual, and even social factors that combine to influence overall wellness. When I’m seeing patients at Parsley Health, I frequently advise them on the kinds of small lifestyle changes that end up translating into a big impact on their current state of health. The following are some of the most effective changes I encourage my patients to implement, and tips you can use to give your health a big reset in 2021:

Optimize Your Sleep Routine

It’s hard, I know it really is, but this is one of the first and perhaps the best things you can do for your health in the new year; get on a sleep schedule and stick to it. Ideally, you’re going to want to get between 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, which is typically the sweet spot where our bodies function best. To achieve this, work on eating a balanced meal at least 2-3 hours before bed and try unplugging in the hour before sleep to allow your mind to properly wind down for optimal rest.

Exercise for Joy, Not for Guilt

Forcing yourself to go to yoga class? Spending miserable hours on the treadmill every week? It’s time to finally ditch exercise you don’t love. Generally speaking, adults should do about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity each week (or a combination of the two). What exercise you choose to do though is entirely up to you – and it should be something you actually enjoy, which will make you more likely to do it (and fully reap the mental benefits of a great exercise session).

Clean Up Your Medicine Cabinet

You might think I mean just tossing expired, over-the-counter items here, but there’s actually a bit more to it. Cleaning up your medicine cabinet actually means swapping out some of your conventional personal care items for “cleaner” alternatives. Personal care items such as deodorants, shampoos, and more can contain ingredients that are irritating or possibly harmful to your body such as parabens and phthalates. “Clean” beauty and personal care products tend to contain fewer potentially toxic ingredients or irritating fragrances, something especially useful if it’s a product you use frequently or in substantial quantities – such as body lotion or sunscreen.

Get Outside (for vitamin D’s sake!)

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies use for a range of purposes, from maintaining the health of our bones, to reducing inflammation and supporting immune function. Unfortunately, vitamin D can actually be difficult to obtain through our diet alone – most of the foods rich in vitamin D tend to be things we don’t eat in sufficient quantities to meet our needs. Thankfully, our bodies can synthesize vitamin D with the help of UVB radiation from the sun. Ten to fifteen minutes, a few times a week, is sufficient for most individuals (with some exceptions). In addition to helping meet your weekly vitamin D quotient, taking a break to get some air is a great way to take a “pause and reset” in your day – and can be highly beneficial for boosting mood and reducing stress.

Tame Runaway Stress Levels

Speaking of reducing stress, learning to tame tension in your every day is one of the most important things you can do for your body this year. It’s not possible to eliminate all of the stress from our lives, but chronic exposure to cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone,” can wreak serious havoc on our health. One of the first steps to controlling stress is taking an inventory of your biggest stress triggers – from here, you can determine what might be possible to eliminate, and work on better strategies for dealing with those unavoidable situations we all experience.

Go for Subtle Diet Tweaks, Not Major Changes

Embarking on a dramatic new diet is one of the most common resolutions people have for the new year – and one of the most unsustainable. Restrictive diets can be difficult to maintain and can eliminate entire food groups that have a real role to play in fueling our bodies. Rather than trying the latest diet trend this year, why not go for subtle, sustainable tweaks that can have a big impact instead? That might mean starting the day with a fruit-and-fiber rich smoothie in the morning, sneaking in a snack packed with omega-3s, adding an additional serving of leafy greens at lunch, or eliminating processed sugar – small changes that can make a big difference over time.

Get Body Intuitive

Body intuition means developing a deeper understanding of how our bodies feel in any given state – from optimal health to serious illness. Developing body intuition is about learning to listen to the signals our body is sending to us and acting accordingly – whether that means adjusting an aspect of our diet or getting in an extra hour of sleep each night. Body intuition can teach us a lot about how our body works, what it feels like when we’re feeling our best, and can alert us to potential problems before they become bigger issues.

Don’t Wait to Get It Checked Out

Finally, one of the most important things you can do to maintain your health in 2021 is to make sure you’re establishing a routine relationship with a physician, built on solid trust and communication. In my Functional Medicine practice, we emphasize working together to solve health problems before they become larger issues and focusing on prevention to sustain long term health. If your body intuition is telling you something is off, don’t wait to have it checked out – make sure you’re visiting your doctor regularly, sharing any issues you might be experiencing, and working together to find solutions. Regular visits (even virtual ones!) with a physician you trust are one of the best long-term investments you can start making in your health today.

By Jaclyn Tolentino, DO