What if along with good eating and regular exercise, there was one missing component that could help you stay happy, confident and with less stress? What if it might reduce your chances of dealing with diseases such as cancer? What if you could find out what’s eating you so that you don’t binge eat? What if I told you that it’s as close as a pencil and paper or your computer? It’s true. Writing in a journal or taking a writing class will have an impact on you. You might want to say, “Hey where IS my diary,” or “It’s about time I wrote that novel.” And you’d be smart and healthier.
“Keep a journal, a private one, with your thoughts, feelings, highs and lows as you work to increase your wellness,” she told me. Then she said that if you’re concerned that your loved ones will read the journal and perhaps intrude on your privacy, “Keep it in a brown paper bag, placed in your freezer. On that bag write: ‘For the Vet.’ I promise you, no one will bother with that!” A humorist, a specialist in recovery, a writing instructor and author of What to Do When a Loved One Dies, the bible of the bereavement community, Dr. Eva encourages everyone to write about their life, capturing the sounds and senses.
Dr. Eva advice is rock solid. The medical community agrees. In the Journal of the American Medical Association http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/281/14/1304, there’s a study explaining how writing helps up handle stress and physical illness too. It says: Patients with mild to moderately severe asthma or rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about stressful life experiences had clinically relevant changes in health status in four months compared with those in the control group. These gains were beyond those attributable to the standard medical care that all participants were receiving. It remains unknown whether these health improvements will persist beyond 4 months or whether this exercise will prove effective with other diseases.
What does that mean for those of us who are determined to stay healthy, fit and strong? According to Dr. Eva and others it’s a clear indication that taking time to write about our goals, our dreams including weight control and good eating, and family and friends might be as practical as an apple a day and yearly check ups. More so, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA found that expressive writing or journal therapy may boost mental and physical health in patients suffering from cancer.
The American Holistic Health Association, www.ahha.org, says in a 2007 report that Harvard researchers explained many cancer patients turn to support groups, psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs to help them cope with the fears and challenges the illness brings. Expressive writing or journal therapy offers an alternative to those treatments. Researchers suggest that by spending 30 minutes every day for four days writing out innermost thoughts and feelings, patients can significantly improve their health.
Now that’s powerful news at the point of your pen. But wait, there’s more. The best part of this, according to Dr. Eva Shaw, is that writing is, “Calorie free, non-fat, totally without cost, and can lower your blood pressure. Joking aside,” she continues, “It might actually be the Fountain of Youth that Juan Ponce de Leon searched for.”
If you’re at a loss of what to write about, according to Dr. Eva, fall back on what she calls “the journalist’s 6”: who, what, where, why, when and how. Take a topic, such as midnight snacking, if that’s a concern, and write about who you are when you crave a snack after dinner, what you’re doing, where you’re sitting or standing, why a specific food, when do you eat it (in the kitchen or in front of the television) and how you’re eating it. Do you eat the snack right from the package and don’t stop until there are just crumbs? Do you place a few piece of snack on a plate and then stop with one serving?
There are no right or wrong answers to writing about your healthy, innermost feelings, but writing can release tension and fears. It’s scientific. It’s been proven by the medical community. And it’s all in that pen in your fingers or those on a keyboard.
Pick up this healthy habit. Write about your day and your fitness program. Write about what you want to eat to nourish your body and your mind. Write it out and stay fit for life.
Sheila Cluff, fitness expert, television celebrity and owner of The Oaks at Ojai, is the author of Take 5: How You Can Benefit from Just Five Minutes of Daily Exercise and The Ultimate Recipe for Fitness by Sheila and Eleanor Brown. Visit Sheila’s Spa on the Internet and see all that’s happening at the resort: The Oaks at Ojai www.oaksspa.com.