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March 31, 2017

Elmasry's 'More and Less': A Roadmap to Health and Happiness?

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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At age 73, I have rededicated myself to taking the best care I can of my body, mind and soul. Here is my personal “more and less” list. Perhaps many ideas here resonate with your life too.

So here’s a little challenge. After reading mine, why not jot down a few of your own and send them to me? With your permission, I’ll publish them under your name. Perhaps together we can inspire others, and in so doing create a movement for public good.

THE BODY – Less … 

1. Less refined sugar:

Reducing this is good.

But if you manage to reduce it to zero, even better.  Nearly all restaurants and processed food manufacturers add vast amounts of sugar and salt (often “hidden” in fanciful ingredient names) to enhance taste.

Excess sugar is directly related to the onset of diabetes and obesity. Naturally occurring sugars in unprocessed fruits and vegetables provide all that humans need for good health

2. Less salt:

Here again, if you reduce your intake of added salt to zero and use spices to enhance the taste of food, it’s much better for you.

Excess salt is another “villain” of fast or processed food and contributes to high blood pressure. When shopping, check the sodium (the scientific name for salt) content on the label; choose low-salt or no-salt-added products. 

3. Less “eating out”:

The best meals are always the ones you prepare and cook yourself at home; most people are much better cooks than they think they are. Cooking with friends can be an enriching and healthy social activity. Only a generation or two ago, people rarely ate in restaurants unless they were out of town.

4. Less processed food:

As I mentioned above, the food processing industry uses sugar and salt (as well as other unnecessary additives and preservatives, such as MSG) to get you hooked, rather than healthy.

If you need a quick meal, use frozen whole foods, such as vegetables, or frozen additive-free prepared dishes. Read the ingredients label to know for sure what you’re getting, and what you’re not.

5. Less juices, shakes and smoothies:

Fruit juices – whether sweetened, from concentrate, or natural – run a poor second behind the health benefits of eating whole raw fruit; we tend to drink far more than our nutritional requirements, but chewing takes time.

And many fast-food or pre-packaged smoothies are no better than old fashioned milkshakes; they’re high in fat and added sugars, and low in fibre. If you enjoy an occasional smoothie, you can make much healthier ones on your own, using natural ingredients.

6. Less red meat:

Cutting red meat, like beef, pork, lamb, game, etc. is easier than you may realize.

You can start by reducing the amount per serving, then gradually substitute baked or broiled fish or chicken for red-meat meals. There are many excellent meatless meals using beans as the main protein source. While most meat-eaters would not want to become vegetarian, one meatless day a week is a major health benefit.

7. Less caffeine:

The amount of caffeine in coffee, soft drinks, non-herbal teas and chocolate can really add up if you drink or consume any of these more than once a day.

Many of us go on “autopilot” when we ingest these particular stimulants and actually don’t know how much we’ve had; a good beginning in reducing the amount is to keep track of your intake. 

8. Less fat: Deep-fried foods of any kind are unhealthy. But not all fats are created equal. When cooking, look for oils derived from olive, nuts, avocado, grapeseed, etc.

Incorporate into your diet more fat from sea foods such as salmon and sardines, which contain unsaturated “good” fat. Avoid saturated, trans-fats and monosaturated fats – especially the “hidden” ones in processed foods, listed under names like “palm oil.”

There are healthier ways to get the pleasant crisp texture we crave, such as stir-frying with minimal amounts of oil, or oven-roasting food. New “magic fryer” appliances can also fry food in tiny amounts of oil by continually rotating it.

9. Less (preferably no) smoking:

Don’t believe the tobacco CEOs here. Never, ever. Tobacco is toxic, addictive, and a scientifically proven direct contributor to numerous heart-lung and systemic diseases. Period, end of story.

10. Less alcohol:

Even one average drink per day can have a cumulative negative impact on health. While there is scientific substance to the benefits of occasional red wine, “occasional” is the key. If you can reduce alcohol consumption to just one or two drinks per week, good; if you can reduce it to zero, even better.

11. Less processing: In general the less processed, adulterated or manipulated food you eat, the better your body will feel. There is no substitute for fresh organic nutrition.

THE BODY – More … 

1. More water:

Recent studies have revealed that up to 80% of North Americans are “thirsty” and don’t know it!

Despite the billions of water bottles we carry around (and often discard), we simply don’t drink enough water for optimal health. Nothing hydrates the body as efficiently as plain, pure H2O.

The only time you shouldn’t consume a lot of water is during and within one hour after meals, as it can interfere with digestion.

2. More yogurt:

The benefits of plain yogurt, and its near-relatives, kefir and buttermilk, are well known. But in addition to being excellent low-fat sources of calcium, these ancient cultured milk products contain billions of probiotics, the “good” bacteria we need in our digestive system, but which are destroyed or depleted by too much processed or fast food.

3. More exercise:

Adults need at least one full hour of heart-healthy activity each and every day; ignore the pop culture TV “experts” who suggest less time is good enough.

One hour takes up less than 5% of our day; isn’t good health worth that? And you don’t need expensive equipment; get outside, learn yoga, take the stairs, jump rope…

4. More napping:

In addition to getting a good night’s sleep (at least 7 hours for adults), even a 20-minute “power nap” during the day will give you a refreshing boost and bring you more health and happiness. And it’s free.

5. More walking:

Walking is simply good all-round medicine for body and mind.

Not only does it stimulate the entire body, it can get you where you’re going, slow down racing thoughts, and be a great way to connect with friends in shared activity. Walking is the easiest habit to integrate it into your daily lifestyle.

6. More tracking:

Being more mindful of how you move, eat and sleep can make you more aware and appreciative of the health benefits of forming new and better habits at any age or fitness level.

Invest in some helpful basics, such as a pedometer, blood pressure monitor and scale. That’s all you really need to track your general health over time. 

THE MIND/SOUL – Less …

1. Less anxiety:

Don’t let yourself dwell on negative past events or become overwhelmed by anxiety over future ones. Instead, focus on how many reasons you have at this moment not to be depressed or anxious. Avoid people who constantly want to talk about bad news.

2. Less screen time:

Take intentional time away from the screens in your life; TV, iPad, tablet, computer, cell phone.

Learn how to use your brain without constant electronic input. Be alone with your thoughts. Learn how to be still, slow, and reflective for just a few minutes per day.

3. Less indoor time:

Find opportunities to get out of your usual room, office, or building; breathe some outdoor air, even when the weather isn’t great. Talk to other people, even strangers; look at the world around you; notice kids at play, flowers, birds, animals. For those “perfect” sunny days, invest in a good hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect your eyes and skin from UV exposure.

4. Less control:

We cannot control the past or the future, sometimes not even the present.

People who’ve learned to accept facts, events and situations over which they have no personal control are often happier and healthier than those around them.

Where are you on the continuum of acceptance? For many years, I’ve tried to remain well-grounded through the old saying, “Try your best; let God do the rest.”

5. Less self-absorption:

It’s so easy to become preoccupied with financial and work obligations, which can accumulate and limit us to a small bubble of self-absorption.

Break free by exploring ways to be charitable with your skills and time; even if you can’t afford to donate money, try volunteering for causes you can identify with.

And don’t wait for special occasions to give people gifts; making someone else unexpectedly happy will make you feel happy too!

THE MIND/SOUL – More …

1. More reading and writing:

Commit to one of those books you were always going to read “someday.”

Join a book club if there’s one nearby, or start your own so you can share with others what you’ve read.

Write a journal, or an old-fashioned letter on nice paper that you can “snail-mail” to someone you care about; explore poetry and try writing some for yourself. 

2. More praying:

Go deeper into your faith and learn more about its roots and traditions.

If you’ve let faith and religion fall by the wayside, re-connect with your spiritual self, seek out guidance and teaching; re-discover the power of prayer.

3. More connection with nature:

Cultivate a garden, on your own or with friends. Choose flowers for beauty and vegetables for healthy nourishment. Enjoy the satisfaction of getting dirty in good soil and seeing things grow. 

4. More travelling:

Travel is expensive and often challenging these days, but try your best to get away and explore a different region, culture, or geography. Canada itself is so diverse that you don’t need to travel very far to see and learn a great deal.

5. More dreaming:

Sometimes I dream that I am a vessel orbiting planet Earth; sometimes I dream that I am floating amid the galaxies of the Milky Way. Dreaming out of one’s own body is a uniquely human form of freedom. What are your dreams?

6. More love:

Love doesn’t only happen between two mutually attracted humans; it’s much more holistic than that. The love of God can be felt and tasted in the vast creation of nature, people, beauty and knowledge.

7. More art and music:

Listening to good music of any period, culture or genre; watching a fine movie; attending live theatre and dance; exploring an art gallery; or even running across a community band concert in the park; all enrich our senses, elevate our emotions, and enhance our appreciation of fine arts.

8. More hobbies:

Maybe you’ve wished you could form a clay dish, sketch a landscape, hook a rug, knit a sweater, bind a book, build a bench, play the guitar, operate a model railroad … Why not learn a hobby? Before long you’ll encounter others who share the same passion and add to your circle of friends.

These are just a few of the numerous “mores” and “lesses” that can have profound effects on our physical, mental and spiritual lives.

Why not take up my spring challenge by creating your own personal list and sharing it with me at

Egyptian-born Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is a Canadian professor emeritus of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo and author of numerous books, articles, research papers and editorials, including the book Spiritual Fitness for Life.

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