Corinne L. Danielson is executive director of the Sari Asher Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Palm Beach County, FL. She holds a master of public health degree in health education and behavioral science and has been a certified health education specialist since 1996. One of the main questions that drives her work is, “how can we best help people integrate healthy behaviors into their lifestyles for lasting health and wellness?”
Through her work with thousands of patients on incorporating a holistic approach to healing, she has developed the “5-Factor Wellness” concept, which is a simple overview of behaviors that can be addressed in our daily lives to dramatically affect our mental and physical health.
“At Sari Center we believe that people heal better when they are provided with an array of therapies and tools that have been proven to improve quality of life; that a treatment plan should be multi-faceted and include lifestyle medicine. Sari Asher’s family and doctors wanted people facing cancer in our community to have access to a broader tool box for healing.” – Corinne L. Danielson, MPH, CHES
When people are affected by cancer, patient and caregiver alike, they experience symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental and emotional challenges. This “5-Factor Wellness” concept can help individuals identify areas where they can begin to make changes to improve their wellness in mind, body, and spirit:
- How do you eat?
We have to recognize that nutrition plays a critical role in our brain and overall health. New cells are made from the food we provide our body for energy so we literally are what we eat. Julia Rucklidge, a clinical psychologist, has been studying nutrition and mental health for the past decade and has found that, “nutrition is a safe and viable way to avoid, treat, and lessen mental illness.” She states in her TED talk on the subject that not only does nutrition matter when it comes to mental health, but poor nutrition is a significant risk factor for the development of mental illness. We recommend consultations with professional nutritionists to all those we serve and know; improving your nutrition will improve your quality of life.
- How do you sleep?
A good night’s sleep is also critical to proper cellular function in our bodies. Most people I talk to are not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Less sleep than this is associated with a number of physical and mental health deficits.There are many simple ways to improve sleep hygiene. Hypnotherapy is a very effective tool to promote sleep. Massage, acupuncture and yoga can also help significantly. We also recommend improving your sleep environment, taking into consideration screen exposure, temperature, darkness and sound.
- How do you move?
Our bodies are meant for movement! The more sedentary our culture has become, the more health problems we experience. In clinical studies, regular aerobic exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants in reducing symptoms of mild to moderate depression.The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a week to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone health and to reduce the risk of depression and chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.Physical activity includes all types of movement like walking, dancing, gardening, swimming, cycling and household chores. Movement increases the flow of lymphatic fluid, thus enhancing immune function. We recommend building movement into your day in simple ways like taking the stairs and parking farther away from your destination.
- How do you rest and relax?
This factor is different than sleep and focuses on stress reduction and switching our central nervous system from the “fight or flight” mode to the “rest and digest” In the U.S., some 60-90% of health care visits are stress related. We all need to find more ways to initiate the relaxation response and reduce our stress levels. At Sari Center, we provide mindfulness meditation and offer an 8-week course several times a year to help anyone in our community learn to practice this life-changing way of reducing stress.
- How do you connect?
Embracing social support and feeling connected to others has been proven to be a stronger factor in longevity than diet and exercise combined (See: Blue Zones Human Longevity Project). Humans have formed clans and tribes to survive in the natural world for thousands of years. Unfortunately, it’s common for people to isolate themselves when faced with a significant diagnosis or while experiencing episodes of mental illness. When we see this with someone at Sari Center, we work with them to find ways to connect with others through counseling and support groups with other survivor “mentors,” family and friends.
This is a brief introduction to the “5-Factor Wellness” concept. These factors interrelate to play a critical role in better brain and overall health. Try to create rituals that incorporate multiple factors. For example, if you sit all day at work, schedule breaks to go for a walk or call a friend or family member who makes you laugh. Try taking a healthy cooking class with friends. Be kind and curious with yourself as you take baby steps to improve your health.
Corinne L. Danielson, MPH, CHES, has served as the executive director for the Sari Asher Center for Integrative Cancer Care for the past 10+ years and has had the opportunity to talk with thousands of patients about therapies and behaviors that support health and wellness.