The Four Keys to Health- Guidelines for a Happy and Healthy Life

Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash of a woman walking while balancing on a rail

Sometimes getting “healthy” can feel daunting. There are so many fads and there seems to be an endless amount of things we could be doing. I find that breaking it up into four simple parts– NUTRITION, EXERCISE, SLEEP and STRESS MANAGEMENT– can make good health feel much more attainable. You don’t have to be perfect to be healthy. In fact, going easy on yourself and finding a balance can be the best thing for you. Especially if you’re pregnant or postpartum and having to re-imagine your routine in a whole new way! 

These guidelines were created by Dr. Marie Claire Lamb (my sister), doctor of internal medicine and proponent of lifestyle medicine. She’s contributed to research in the field and gives talks about how we can make small changes in our lives to achieve large health benefits. 

As you read these guidelines, I recommend that you mark off the things that you’re already doing. Then congratulate yourself. Recognize what you do well! Acknowledge and appreciate yourself. You don’t have to do everything on this list to be happy and healthy. Next, mark off a few items that you think you can incorporate into your life. Spend a few months implementing them. Check back once in a while to see how you’re doing. If you forgot a couple, that’s okay, see if you can find a way to make them stick now. You can’t make a lot of changes at once. You don’t need to make a lot of changes at once. Just do a couple and see how that impacts your life. 



“Eat food, not too much and mostly plants.”

It is important to eat portion controlled, mindful meals. Most people will do well on frequent small meals throughout the day, although some thrive on other ways of eating such as intermittent fasting; find what is best for you. But remember to eat slowly and thoughtfully.

  • Eat abundant fruits and vegetables with every meal, 7-8 servings per day.

  • Eat more lean protein like fish, shellfish, chicken, turkey, and eggs and less fatty protein like red meat and fatty cuts; avoid processed meats like hot dogs.

  • Eat vegan protein like beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy.

  • Sprinkle in nuts and seeds- add them to your oatmeal and salads.

  • Choose whole grains when you eat cereals, breads, rice and pastas and in moderation.

  • Use herbs and spices liberally, fermented food is great for the microbiome (the healthy bacteria in our gut that promotes digestion). These include kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled foods and yogurt.

  • Cook primarily with the oven and water or steam, garnish with olive oil.

  • Limit: salt, dairy, oils, processed food, sugars.

  • Limit alcohol, no more than 1/night for women and 2/night men (avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding).

  • Avoid sugar sweetened beverages including juice. Hydrate mostly with water, try adding a squeeze of lemon. Ok to drink coffee and tea.



Exercise has physical and emotional benefits. It can help you to de-stress and release tension.

  • Engage in moderate physical activity for 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. Studies have shown that up to 17 times that amount of exercise is beneficial. 

  • Consider traditional exercise like walking, biking and weight training as well as nontraditional exercise like yoga, pilates and tai chi. 

  • Schedule it into your day, this makes it more likely to happen.



This is very important for appetite control, energy levels and mood.

  • Aim for 7-9 hours per night, naps are okay.

  • Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time.

  • Make a bedtime routine or ritual, such as drinking herbal tea with relaxing music.

  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and cool.

  • Stop electronic devices 1-2 hours before bed.

  • Avoid bright lights such as LED at night. Use candles for nice, ambient light.

  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol in the hours leading up to bedtime.

  • Get some exercise and destress during the day.

  • Melatonin is ok as needed.

  • If you find yourself wide awake, don’t stress. Get out of bed, leave your room and do something relaxing until you can doze off again.



In addition to maximizing nutrition, exercise and sleep, here are some helpful tips:

  • Practice mindfulness, which is being in the present moment. Some things to help with this are meditation, prayer, expressing gratitude or an affirmation.

    • Here is an example of an affirmation: I am whole, I am strong, I am loved, everything is going to be ok.

  • Breathing exercises help us stay present and diffuse tension. A good one is 4-7-8 breathing which includes an inhale for 4 seconds, a breath hold for 7 seconds, and an exhale for 8 seconds. Start with 3 rounds and work up to 10. 

  • Increase the amount of time you spend outside and in nature.

  • Consider a "media fast," because news and social media can contribute to anxiety. However, it is important to stay informed so at least try to limit media intake and use reputable sources.

  • It is important to maintain relationships. Keep in touch with loved ones via zoom, phone calls, email, text, or get togethers.

  • Finally, therapy can be helpful. Contact your insurance company to see which counselors are covered by your plan. Most counselors have websites and most are doing telemedicine visits. Please reach out to your primary care provider for additional guidance.

    • There is a resource that a colleague of mine has created. He has made a series of stress management videos and has an audio series of 14 relaxation exercises. You can explore this content at


Please note that these are general guidelines that have not been adapted to pregnancy and postpartum. Most of them still hold true through all phases of life, but always check in with your OBGYN, midwife or doctor if you have special circumstances.

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