10 Goals to Help You Prioritize Your Health

**By Kristopher Dunbrack, MD**

Prioritizing your health is important at any age, and the good news is that any time is a good time to start. If you’re wondering where, or even how, to start, the following tips are for you. While many of us have fallen out of routine during the pandemic, the below can help center us in areas of our lifestyle that we might not be giving the attention it needs.

The reality is that we are facing a mental health crisis in our country and the pandemic has had a substantial impact on the lives of all Americans. While none of us can control the future of our country, we can prioritize our health—and that can have a significant impact on our wellbeing.

Try a few of the below goals this week and see how you feel.

Physical Activity: Find an activity you like and do it daily.

The best medicine for nearly everyone is physical activity. Daily exercise can be a fun chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors and do something that makes you happy. Tips:

  • Go for variety
  • Buddy up
  • Pace yourself
  • Talk to your doctor
  • Involve your family
  • Increase gradually
  • Take it outside

Portion Sizes: Increase healthy portions and decrease unhealthy ones.

It’s a fact: we eat more when served larger food portions. Portion sizes have dramatically increased in the U.S. over the past decade. Because eating can be an automatic behavior, portion control is the first step toward healthier nutrition choices. Tips:

  • Understand portion size vs. serving size
  • Use visual cues to determine a serving size
  • Focus on food quality
  • Eat mindfully and enjoy your food
  • Try new healthy recipes

Preventive Health Screenings: Verify your immunizations and health screening tests are up to date or make an appointment to do so.

Regular health screenings are an important part of your health care. Results provide a snapshot of your health and reveal opportunities to make healthy changes. Here are a few of the recommended screenings:

Get Adequate Sleep: Make 7-8 hours of sleep per night a priority.

Sleep is vital for good health and well-being. Adequate sleep is important for your personal safety and that of others on the job or while driving. Sleep impacts mood but it also impacts our immune system, our weight and our risk for serious medical illnesses. Tips:

Try Something New: Do something new each month—challenge your mind and body.

New experiences can be both exciting and scary, but overcoming your fear, embracing your strengths and nurturing your curiosity will help you reap the benefits of personal growth and discovery. Tips:

  • Overcome your fear
  • Build on past successes
  • Leverage your strengths
  • Find the fun

Strength and Flexibility: Add strength training and flexibility to your workout twice a week.

Flexibility and strength aid in improving performance, preventing injury and achieving personal fitness goals. We lose about 10 percent of our lean muscle mass per decade starting around age 30. Fortunately, this can be counteracted with regular strength training. Tips:

Laugh: Laughing every day improves overall health and well-being.

Research shows laughter offers us health benefits in four health dimensions.

  • Physical: Boosts the immune system, promotes healing, helps us cope with serious illness and promotes an overall sense of well-being
  • Intellectual: Boosts excitement, self-assurance and cheerfulness; increases intuition, creativity and imagination
  • Emotional: Reduces stress by providing a positive way to view problems
  • Spiritual: Universal language that fosters connection and compassion

Family and Friends: Invest time in the people who matter most to you.

Having close friends and family has far-reaching health benefits. A strong support network can be critical to destress during tough times. It not only wards off lonelinessit increases your sense of self-worth. Tips:

  • Reflect and focus on relationships
  • Be active and spend time outdoors with those you care about
  • Time invested in friendships can pay off for your health
  • Avoid people that drain your energy

Hydrate: As a rule, men should drink 13 cups of water daily and women 9.

Water needs depend on your health, activity level and where you live. Every system in your body needs water. It flushes toxins, carries nutrients and moisturizes ear, nose and throat tissues. Tips:

  • Exercisers need extra water
  • Keep replacing fluids after exercise
  • Hot/humid weather requires more water
  • Drink one glass with each meal and one between
  • You’re generally hydrated if urine is clear or light yellow

Quiet Your Mind: Find a quiet place, take 10 deep breaths daily.

Quieting your mind is about non-reacting. It’s not eliminating problems or emotions, but rather cultivating a healthy response. It requires a sense of exploration and daily practice. Tips:

  • Seek silence by doing nothing for five minutes a few times a day
  • Breathe deeply 10 times without thinking and notice your experience
  • If your mind wanders, just notice and return to your breathing
  • Practice the “just do it” principle and smile


Kristopher Dunbrack, MD, is board-certified in family medicine and currently practices at Franciscan Medical Clinic – Enumclaw. He specializes in both family medicine and pediatrics.

The Finer Points of Healing: Understanding Acupuncture

Patients walking through Virginia Mason’s Health Resources Building in Seattle might be surprised to see signs for the Center for Integrative Medicine. Integrative medicine on a hospital campus? Absolutely! It is actually a perfect fit.

Integrative or complementary medicines like acupuncture, naturopathic medicine and massage have long been recognized as beneficial to patients, especially in conjunction with traditional Western medicine. Lela Altman, ND, LAc, is one of the integrative medicine providers at the Virginia Mason Center for Integrative Medicine. We recently asked Dr. Altman to answer some common questions about acupuncture – what it is, what it treats and who it helps. 

What is acupuncture?

acupuncture

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that is around 5,000 years old. Practitioners originally used carved bones to apply pressure to specific points on the body – like acupressure. The difference is acupuncture evolved to use small needles to puncture the skin.

There are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the body, along a network of pathways called meridians. These pathways create an energy flow through the body known as Qi (pronounced “chee”). An imbalance or disruption of Qi can happen in response to diet, lifestyle, injuries or illness. Applying acupuncture to certain points improves the flow of Qi, thereby improving health.

There are different styles of acupuncture, such as Japanese, Korean, traditional Chinese and Five-Element. With the different styles there are slight variations in acupuncture point locations, but the acupuncture point numbers – the specific points assigned to different areas of the body – are the same across all the different styles. The application of needles can also be different – from lightly tapped in and barely breaking the skin, to needles inserted to greater depths.

Why do acupuncture? What are its benefits?

Acupuncture can be used for most any condition you are treating. It is primarily used for pain reduction, whatever the cause of the pain. It’s highly effective with musculoskeletal pain.

Acupuncture has several other uses – from treating chemotherapy side effects in cancer patients, to getting over a cold more quickly; from dealing with the effects of trauma, to improving mood and diminishing stress. It is frequently used for infertility and hormone balancing issues. It is also highly effective for treating sciatica. Acupuncture can help with circulatory issues, neuropathy, digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), sleep disorders like insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Acupuncture typically won’t work for conditions like high cholesterol. But it can be quite beneficial when used in conjunction with other medical treatments.

How long do the effects of treatment last?

Acupuncture results depend on the person and condition. Some people feel better with one treatment – like someone with a stomach flu. Others with chronic conditions that won’t go away, like multiple sclerosis (MS), receive regular and more frequent treatments – sometimes multiple times a week.

Usually patients start acupuncture once a week, for four to six weeks. Then depending on the condition, treatment can be less frequent after that. Some patients do an acupuncture wellness “tune-up” once a month or every six months. In China, more frequent or even daily acupuncture treatment is normal.

Is acupuncture for everyone?

People who are extremely afraid of needles or are highly anxious may not be good candidates for acupuncture. However, acupuncture is highly beneficial for treating anxiety. So it’s possible to start with acupressure on anxious and needle phobic patients, then slowly work towards tolerating needles.

Acupuncture can help most people, even children. There are conditions that must be handled with caution. For example, patients on blood thinners are more prone to bruising. And some points on the body should not be used on pregnant people. But overall, acupuncture is usually safe for everyone.

What does everyone ask about acupuncture?

Does it really work? Yes. There’s a lot of data behind the efficacy of acupuncture. That’s why it’s adopted in so many health care organizations, such as Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic.

Does it hurt? Many people are afraid that the needles will hurt. But most people have no problem tolerating them. The needles are tiny and solid. And acupuncture can be super calming. People often fall asleep during sessions.

Where do you put the needles? Everywhere. Needles can be inserted from the top of the head to the bottoms of the feet. There are hundreds of points in the ear alone.

What are common misconceptions about acupuncture?

People are often surprised that the places acupuncturists put the needles in are far from the problem area. They’re working on meridians that run from the head to the foot. So it’s not unusual to needle the hands or the feet for a problem somewhere else.

Some people worry needles will be reused, but they’re not. All needles are single-use and are disposed in a sharps container afterwards. All reputable acupuncturists will practice needle safety and dispose needles after one use.

Final thoughts?

Acupuncture is a healing modality that can help most any person and treat nearly any condition. It’s a low-risk treatment option that is highly effective, either by itself, or in conjunction with traditional Western medicine.

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Lela D. Altman, ND, LAc, practices at Virginia Mason’s Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Altman also teaches several classes and supervises clinical education at Bastyr University, as well as supervises the Digestive Wellness Clinic at Bastyr University.