We’re constantly bombarded with products that claim to improve our health, wellness, fitness, and quality of life.  It can be overwhelming, confusing, and expensive.  Here are the Top 5 Non-Health-Products that I bought recently that made a big impact on my health.  They might not be an obvious fit into the “health & wellness” category but, I can assure you they have been worth every last penny and my overall health has improved as a result.

Deep Freezer:  Buying a chest freezer was a total game-changer.   I keep it stocked full of meat, fish, poultry, frozen fruit and vegetables, bones for making home-made stock, and whatever other healthy items I see on sale and in large quantity in season at the market.  I store my seeds, nuts, and nut-flours in the freezer too, as they can easily go rancid.   On the weekends, I cook & freeze large batches of soups and stews to be kept at the ready for quick meals during the week.  Last fall, a friend and I bought 1/2 an organic, grass-fed cow to share (that was also a GREAT purchase); I got a large quantity of different cuts of meat and it all went into the freezer for the winter.  You can easily find a chest freezer at Home Depot or pick up a used one on Kijiji or Craigslist.  They even make upright, space-saving models now like this one.  Well worth the extra cash!

Black-Out Curtains (and ear-plugs!):  As a city-dweller, light & noise pollution at night are a big problem and interfere with the quality of my sleep.  I live on a main route in a bustling area and have street-lights, traffic lights, and a bus-stop on my corner.  But since the proximity to work is unbeatable and I have unlimited choices of coffee shops to frequent, I have no immediate plans to move.  Regardless of where you live, light at night, whether outdoor or indoor from lamps, tv, or tablets/smartphones, suppresses melatonin production (our sleep-inducing hormone) and messes with both the quality and duration of your sleep.  It’s well-documented that a good night’s sleep plays a huge role in hunger-control & cravings, cognitive function, and our ability to cope with stress, among other things.  Do yourself a favour and make sleep a priority!  Turn off gadgets and bright lights, and make your bedroom into a sleepy haven.  I bought blackout curtain liners like these to reduce the light pollution from the street.  Making sure I’ve got my ear-plugs in also means I don’t get woken up at 5am by the first bus (or my neighbour’s angry chihuahua).  I’ve noticed a HUGE improvement in my sleep quality since making these simple changes to my room, as well as staying off of my smartphone/tablet at least an hour before bedtime.  Read more about the importance of sleeping in a dark room (and how light at night is bad for you in general) here and here.

A Back-Pack:  I gladly retired my back-pack after university and swore I’d never carry another one.  After wearing messenger-style bags for years on the same side and overloading them with my food/ipad/gym gear, I noticed how much it was affecting my shoulder and neck pain.  I finally caved last summer and bought the most grown-up-looking back-pack I could find at The North Face. It’s sleek, black, has a lap-top compartment and just enough space for my lunch and wallet (translation: I can’t over-stuff it).  The model I have is no longer available but it’s very similar to this one by Incase.  Initially, I felt like a big dork but, as the tension in my shoulder and neck dissipated, I fully embraced my ‘giant school-kid’ look and I wear my bag with pride.  Read more about the proper way that kids & adults should pack/wear a back-pack here.

A Head-Set: Another purchase which was prompted due to my nagging shoulder & neck pain. Trying to return business calls while you cradle an iPhone between your ear & shoulder while simultaneously doing things like meal-prep, walking the dog, folding laundry, etc., can WRECK your neck.  Note: your iPhone can also end up in some pretty dicey situations such as falling into dish-water, the toilet, down the stairs from your 2nd floor balcony, on the pavement, and best of all, into the cat’s litter box (no, I’m not even kidding).  Save your iPhone by investing in a case like this, and protect your neck and get a wireless head-set like the one I have.  I use mine daily for making phone and listening to pod-casts or audio-books (which makes my brain smarter – also good for my health:)

Flat Shoes: I finally made the switch to  ‘zero-drop’ shoes last year.  This refers to the difference in height from the heel to the toe – in this case, zero.  I had reservations about whether or not I was a good candidate for this type of footwear due to my history:  I was born bilateral club-foot and wore casts, braces and special shoes as a young child.  As a teen, doctors told my parents I needed expensive orthotic insoles to support my feet and I wore them for the next 20 years in solid, ‘supportive’ footwear.  For as long as I can remember, I would get blisters and end my days with intense foot, calf, & low-back pain, thinking this was ‘normal’.  After hearing so much about the benefits of flat-shoes, I decided to throw caution to the wind, lose my orthotics & cushioned shoes and give flat shoes a shot.  I transitioned slowly into a pair of minimalist shoes by Vivobarefoot.  I was initially discouraged as my feet and ankles were more tired and sore at the end of the day but, after a few weeks, things improved greatly and now my feet feel bomb-proof!  No more joint or muscle pain, ever.  Nada.  Now, you may have heard some bad press recently about minimalist footwear.  Last year, Vibram, the makers the ‘5 Fingers’, settled a class-action law-suit for making false claims about the health benefits of their products.  I agree that switching from a regular shoe to ones like the 5 Fingers will not lead to some immediate, overnight increase in the strength and function of your feet.  If you think jumping into a pair of minimalist shoes will make you a better or stronger runner just by strapping them on and hitting the pavement, you are wrong, and will likely get hurt.  I do however, still believe that transitioning to a flat shoe was the right decision for me and could be worth trying.  Our foot is a highly-developed mechanism perfectly equipped to support us when walking, running, and just plain standing.  The way our foot strikes the ground affects the health & function of our ankles, knees, hips, and low back.  Most of us however, have spent a life-time in highly-cushioned shoes with elevated heels, much like wearing a cast on our feet.  The muscles, tendons, and ligaments of your lower extremities and joints need to be conditioned to what will be a new way of standing and walking for you.  If you decide to try zero-drop shoes, start by wearing them indoors for an hour per day.  Slowly increase the time you wear them and try to run on softer surfaces like grass or a track (and make sure you are ready to run in the first place!).  I’m not saying it’s right for everyone but it worked for me.  You are your own experiment. If you can’t bear to part with your 2-inch heel Nike Shox or just feel better in them, by all means, continue to wear them!  Speak to your doctor and decide what is right for you, just as you should with any product that claims to improve your health.

Check back soon for another installment of “My Top 5…”

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