Beyond Twinkies and Treadmills – 5 easy and cheap ways to improve your health

A good diet and regular exercise are important, but there are many other things you can do to maintain a healthy body and mind. This post is the handout for my workshop that features 5 simple and little-known lifestyle practices that reduce stress, increase energy, prevent disease, and activate the body’s natural healing potential.

1.  Practice Qigong

Increases the flow and balance of chi (vital life force), increases the number of white blood cells, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, improves depression, lowers the dosage of medication, reduces inflammation, improves cognitive function, generally improves the quality of life

Ng BH et al. “Psychophysiological outcomes of health qigong for chronic conditions: a systematic review.”Psychophysiology. 2009 Mar;46(2):257-69.

Sancier KM. “Therapeutic benefits of qigong exercises in combination with drugs.” J Altern Complement Med. 1999 Aug;5(4):383-9.

Oh B, et al “Effect of medical Qigong on cognitive function, quality of life, and a biomarker of inflammation in cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial.” Support Care Cancer. 2011 Jun 19.

Qigong Institute:

2.  Try Oil Pulling

Ayurveda: claimed to cure about 30 systemic diseases ranging from headache, migraine to diabetes and asthma.  Used to prevent decay, bad breath, bleeding gums, dry throat, cracked lips and for strengthening teeth, gums and the jaw.   Enhances the senses, maintains clarity, brings about a feeling of freshness, and invigorates the mind and body.

Asokan S et al. “Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: a randomized controlled pilot trial.” J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2011 Apr-Jun;29(2):90-4.

Abhinav Singh and Bharathi PurohitTooth. “Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health.” J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 64–68.

Marchetti E et al. “Periodontal disease: the influence of metabolic syndrome.” Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Sep 25;9(1):88.

Instructions and additional information:

3. Use a Neti Pot

Improves eye congestion, nasal itching, sneezing, and cough symptoms.   Helps prevent sinus infections. Reduces inflammation in colds and sinus infections.

Wang YH et al. “Efficacy of nasal irrigation in the treatment of acute sinusitis in atopic children [prone to allergies].”J Microbiol Immunol Infect. 2012 Sep 30. pii: S1684-1182(12)00179-X.

Khianey R, Oppenheimer J. Is nasal saline irrigation all it is cracked up to be? Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2012 Jul;109(1):20-8.

Wei JL et al. Safety and efficacy of once-daily nasal irrigation for the treatment of pediatric chronic rhinosinusitis. Laryngoscope. 2011 Sep;121(9):1989-2000.

CDC –Yoder JS et al.“Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis Deaths Associated With Sinus Irrigation Using Contaminated Tap Water.” Clin Infect Dis(2012) 55 (9): e79-e85.

4.   Avoid Chlorine

“Severe acute effects of chlorine exposure in humans have been well documented since World War I when chlorine gas was used as a chemical warfare agent. Other severe exposures have resulted from the accidental rupture of chlorine tanks. These exposures have caused death, lung congestion, and pulmonary edema, pneumonia, pleurisy, and bronchitis.  Exposure to 15 ppm causes throat irritation, exposures to 50 ppm are dangerous, and exposures to 1000 ppm can be fatal, even if exposure is brief.” US Dept. of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Chlorine

Gullett BK et al.  “The Role of Chlorine in Dioxin Formation, Process Safety and Environmental Protection”, Volume 78, Issue 1, January 2000, Pages 47-52,

World Health Organization: Dioxins and their effects on human health Fact sheet N°225 May 2010

5. Connect with Spirit

About 11,000 studies have been done on various aspects of spirituality and health.  More than half of adults have prayed for better health.   Prayer can change the brain.  It can fire up the frontal lobe and quiet the parietal lobe, promoting a sense of calm.  It can quiet the immune system, improve the cardiovascular system. People who are more spiritual (as measured by church attendance) live longer and the more commitment to a spiritual life, the greater the benefit.

Selected studies:
Gillum RF et al. “Frequency of Attendance at Religious Services and Mortality in a U.S. National Cohort.” Ann Epidemiol. 2008 February; 18(2): 124–129.

Helliker K. “Body and Spirit: Why Attending Religious Services May Benefit Health.” The Wall Street Journal. May 3, 2005.,,SB111507405746322613-email,00.html

Ironson G et al. “View of God as benevolent and forgiving or punishing and judgmental predicts HIV disease progression.” J Behav Med. 2011 Dec;34(6):414-25.

Kluger J. “The Biology of Belief.” Time Magazine. Feb 12, 2009.,9171,1879179-1,00.html

Koenig HG, et al. “Attendance at religious services, interleukin-6, and other biological parameters of immune function in older adults.” Int J Psychiatry Med. 1997;27(3):233-50.

Koenig et al.  Handbook of Religion and Health, 2nd edition p. xiv Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012.

McCullough ME et al. “Religious involvement and mortality: a meta-analytic review.” Health Psychol. 2000 May;19(3):211-22.


5 thoughts on “Beyond Twinkies and Treadmills – 5 easy and cheap ways to improve your health

  1. Martha Beinor

    Joan, this is all beyond my ken. I was interested in the dental section, but it is all gobbledy-gook to me. I have a lot of dental issues (probably exacerbated by all the prednisone I’ve had to take over the last 30 years to control the platelet destruction due to ITP. I have ordered some toothpaste containing neem oil that was recommended by a guest on the Dr Oz show. But I do not understand oil pulling or tooth sticks — my understanding of Ayurvedic medicine is minimal.
    I appreciate your interest in providing people with the information on this handout, but I cannot figure it out!
    Sincerely yours,
    Martha Beinor
    ps: I actually spoke with you a number of times when you were the director of PDSA.

  2. jessica sierra

    This is excellent, Joan! I forgot about oil pullng. I am sure there are other practices like yoga that are as effective as Qigong. If not, what are are the special qualities in it that you specify this particular one. Thanks, Jessica

    1. Joan Young Post author


      You are right, there are many helpful and healthy practices, including yoga, which I love. I just wanted to keep the list short and include things that may not be very familiar.

  3. Linda Dorasami

    Martha, I don’t necessarily understand why oil-pulling works, but it does. I have been using sunflower oil (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) and swishing it in my mouth for 15-20 minutes almost daily for eight months. My dental hygienist told me that my gums and mouth no longer are red and irritated looking. I believe it has helped the dry mouth and bad breath that goes with it. For something so simple and cheap, I will definitely continue improving my health with this age-old application.

    1. Joan Young Post author


      Thanks so much for taking the time to read the blog and commenting. I’m so glad the oil pulling is helpful and you are doing well.



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