The Pillars of Health

Most of us want to be healthy or know we should be. But what is health and how is it measured? When do we know that we have achieved it and how can we achieve something that we haven’t yet defined? We can’t. My aim is to briefly outline what I would consider the pillars of health. I am going to keep it simple here. In future posts, I will dive into each one of these pillars and their components with research to back it all up but I want to start with an overview of the big picture, of what it means to be healthy and what our bodies need in order to function at an optimal level for as long as we are on this earth.

HAPPINESS

Happiness: another vague term just like “health”. I always hate it when people define something with yet another word that needs a definition, but here I am doing it. I use the word “happiness” because there is a lot that goes into our mental well-being and it’s the best we have when it comes to summing it all up. Our mental state is foundational to our health. Feelings and thoughts drive our actions and results. Negative emotions are also absorbed in the physical body and manifest disease. For these reasons, I would argue that nothing matters more to our health than our level of happiness. It over-rides everything else we do or don’t do for our body.

So what is happiness? It’s the state of being happy, obviously. Ha! Sorry, couldn’t resist that one. In all seriousness, I believe there are many components to achieving the state of happiness. In my opinion, this includes proper stress management, permission to feel with a high level of emotional intelligence, positive self talk, unconditional self love, the feeling of purpose, deep social connection and support. Easy peasy right? Absolutely not. I don’t think we put enough time and effort into improving these areas. Nor do I think people realize how essential they are to our physical health. I could write a novel on each of these components and I eventually will but for now I am going to leave it at this: you can’t be physically healthy unless you are happy. Period.

FOOD

Food: a simple but not so simple thing. Everyone knows you are what you eat but there isn’t a lot of agreement on what that should be. Sure, we can all agree sugar intake should be limited but what about natural sweeteners? what about artificial ones? how much sugar is too much? and are carbs considered a sugar? The same confusion exists when considering meat, dairy, alcohol and carbohydrates. I have even witnessed debate around which vegetables and fruits are quote-on-quote “good or bad” for you.

Again, I could spend my whole life writing about food and I will write more in future posts but for now, I just want to highlight what I consider to be the most important principles to follow when it comes to what you eat. I think Michael Pollan sums it up nicely when he says “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.

  1. Avoid processed food (this includes sugar, all-purpose flour, food with long shelf lives and most foods that have more than five ingredients especially containing ones you can’t pronounce)
  2. Limit alcohol
  3. Mostly vegetables (especially green ones)
  4. Include healthy fats (nuts, avocado, chia seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut)

EXERCISE

Exercise: finally one that is easy to define but not necessarily easy to consistently do. When it comes to what type, how much and how often, I would say that variety and consistency are key. It’s important to have both a strength and endurance component to your exercise as well as a form of recovery like stretching, yoga, hot tubs or bodywork. From there, it depends on what your goals are and what you enjoy doing. I think exercise is most effective when it is functional aka it looks a lot like what you want to accomplish in your day to day. But nothing is effective when it’s not consistent so it’s important that you choose forms of exercise that are enjoyable so you are motivated to do it and keep doing it.

SLEEP

Sleep: something so simple and yet so difficult. There are two components to sleep: quality and quantity. In order to attain the restful sleep that our body needs, you have to have both. There are many reasons that sleep can be disrupted (which I will write about in the future) but sleep also tends to be something we don’t prioritize. Often we feel there is too much to do and no time to sleep. Or we develop habits that we think are necessary to get everything done that interrupt our ability to get deep sleep like loading up on caffeine or working on the computer late into the night. The reality is that we would be far more effective in our day and feel better if our priority was sleep. Try sleeping 8 hours every night for one week. You will be amazed at how much of a game-changer sleep is.

ENVIRONMENT

The environment: the often forgotten and oh so covert component to health. I’m still wrapping my head around all of the things in our environment that we can’t see or aren’t aware of that have a profound impact on our physical health. Infections and parasites are the most obvious ones but then there are heavy metals, pesticides and plastics that we can’t see but are in our water, on our food and in most of the products that we use. It’s a scary rabbit hole to go down which is why I avoided for as long as I could but there are small changes you can make that go a long way like removing plastics from your kitchen, replacing your make-up and skin care products with ones that don’t contain metals or hormone disruptors and using cleaning supplies that are made from natural products instead of chemicals. Once again, there is a lot to talk about here and I will write more in future posts but for now, just start looking at what you use in your house and on your body. Items or products that you use everyday are worth replacing even if you only just opened the bottle. Your body will thank you.

Want to see the research?

I have none for this one but as I address each pillar in future posts, I will be sure to provide the evidence for everything I say or I will make it clear that it is my opinion 🙂

Are you interested in a specific pillar? Let me know which one you want me to dive deeper into by emailing me here.

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