Self-Care Rituals: Transcending Habits for Holistic Wellness

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By Dr. Dwight Chapin, B.Sc., D.C.

Humans are brilliantly complex organisms made up of trillions of cells, each with a unique design and purpose. To define this complexity, scientists continue to debate the exact cell count. Current estimates predict it to be somewhere north of thirty-seven trillion.

Regardless of its purpose, each cell contains a biological power in the form of a genetic blueprint that directs a remarkable, altruistic balance with neighbouring cells. The efficient execution of this power is a requirement for our survival.

It calls on cell-to-cell coordination of data exchange, defence, memory, reproduction, adaptation, and repair that defines what it is to be human and determines our state of health and the quality of our performance.

Self-Care Rituals - fitness outdoors

It is a masterful symphony whose execution cannot be left to chance or, even worse, bad habits.

As a musculoskeletal expert, I have a unique vantage point to observe the health impact of regular routines. Every day I work with patients whose struggles are rooted in their daily choices.

When asked, most people express the best intentions regarding living a healthy lifestyle and generally appreciate the importance of sleep, a healthy diet, and physical activity. But life often gets in the way, pushing self-care strategies to the back burner.

This is where trouble usually starts, as habits begin to compromise the quality of the cellular symphony described above. We value our well-being and want to perform at a high level, but our regular practices suggest otherwise.

A third of us do not get enough sleep, almost 60% of the calories we consume are from ultra-processed foods, we sit for close to ten hours a day, and nearly half of us do not get enough physical activity.

On the day the body has had enough and symptoms begin to arise, it should not come as a surprise, but it often does. Failing to value the powerful impact of stacking healthy choices comes at a cost.

Our bodies are incredibly resilient, but only to a point.

Tapping into your genetic blueprint and setting a course for optimal health and performance begins with recognizing the power our choices have on our cell’s ability to do their job well and learning how to stack healthy choices to influence your trend line toward health.

Blaming pain, weight gain, disease, and dysfunction on age or a busy schedule while refusing to adapt lifestyle habits is a heavy burden to carry and limits your potential.

Self-care is not self-indulgent. It is science. Experts estimate that 80 percent of chronic diseases are driven by lifestyle factors, not bad luck or a vulnerable family medical history.   

To jump tracks and re-boot your approach to self-care takes more than a casual awareness and practice of healthy habits. Habits are defined as a settled or regular tendency, and tendencies are not strong enough to command the attention of your biology.

A winning self-care formula that will activate your blueprint for good health must be built on a framework that promotes hard-wired strategies with a much greater intention and purpose. These strategies must become self-care rituals—ritual here meaning a set of actions performed in a regular way—built into your day with the same commitment you have to brush your teeth. 

When you understand how rituals change the quality of health and performance, the passion for practicing them intensifies. Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Individuals who regularly bank high levels of weekly activity enjoy a nine-year biological advantage over sedentary individuals of the same chronological age. 
  • Simply replacing one hour of sitting daily with a moderate-paced walk reduces all-cause mortality by 30 percent. 
  • Research conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that running for fifteen minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by as much as 26%.  
  • Partial sleep deprivation over one night increases insulin resistance, which can in turn increase blood sugar levels. Achieving 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night helps to regulate your cortisol and supports blood sugar and metabolic health.

The distinction between rituals and habits is essential for maintaining good health. Habits simply do not carry the same weight and are too easily dropped when times get tough.

Framing self-care practices as rituals link its consistent practice to your everyday thoughts, activities, and behaviours. Leaning into this approach when times get tough eases the physiological burden on our body and boosts resiliency.

It is never too late to get started. Set an appointment with the key members of your healthcare team and engage them to help you craft an appropriate self-care plan for your age and ability that focuses on the following seven evidence-based self-care rituals: prioritize sleep, rest and recovery, consume an anti-inflammatory diet, support metabolic health, practice quality movement and resistance training, nurture mental fitness, and play with purpose.

Self-Care Rituals - dog walking

Embrace this level of commitment, and you will experience an unprecedented rise in health, happiness, and performance. Through the practice of wellness rituals, you can gain access to your genetic healing potential and, in doing so, extend the length and quality of your life.

Dr. Dwight Chapin, B.Sc., D.C., is an award-winning chiropractor, co-owner of a large multi-disciplinary wellness clinic in the Greater Toronto Area, Team Chiropractor for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, and onsite clinician for The Globe and Mail. 

A corporate wellness innovator, experienced clinician, and public speaker, Chapin is a trusted human performance and injury prevention expert. In his first book, Take Good Care: 7 Wellness Rituals for Health, Strength & Hope, he brings the science of preventative medicine to life with a behind-the-scenes look at the lifestyle practices of 21 influential leaders.

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