Pillars of Health
How would you define being healthy? Is it being able to lift 20 kg? Is it being able to complete a marathon? OK, half a marathon? Or to run after your kids and grandkids? Or is it waking up feeling energized and ready for anything your life can throw at you? If we ask people what health is, the answers will vary greatly depending on the personal circumstances, age, financial status etc. But if we try to structure the answers into some kind of system we will quickly discover that health is not only about being physically fit. We also (and maybe mostly) want to feel good. So how do we achieve this and most importantly how can we maintain this looking and feeling amazing?
Well, the truth is a bit disappointing and empowering at the same time. As much as we want to believe in overnight success, transformation and that wonderful magic supplement or practice that will take all our troubles away, it does not exist. The great thing is though, that there are so many areas of our lives we can control. And this feels amazing. Modifying our daily practices here and there, paying attention to ourselves and taking a moment to observe, we are the magic. Why am I saying this? Because tons of studies show how our bodies are absolute miracles. They are capable to heal themselves if we just let them. Let’s look at a few pillars of health that can be our good friends in unleashing those powers. I will be exploring them in more details in my future posts but to get us started, here we are:
Well, I am a Holistic Nutritionist, so as you would expect I put nutrition as the first pillar of health.
Let’s just agree the pillars are not necessary in the order of importance. All are equally important and cannot be favored one over the other.
Treat your food as medicine or you will eat medicine as food. You know, I was 20 years old when somebody in my office (who was 55 at that time so clearly SOOOO old in the eyes of a twenty-year-old) kept telling me this. And I would just shrug him away as an annoying fly, thinking: “I’ve got one life so I might as well enjoy it”. Little did I know, that eating healthy is not on the flip side of “enjoying my life”. Leading a healthy lifestyle actually walks hand in hand with enjoyment. By eating well we feel great now and will be able to rip the benefit of living our lives to the fullest, being happy and energized way into our retirement years.
Why is important to eat well? We get hungry. We eat. We get energy from food. We excrete what we don’t need. Simple enough, right? Not so fast! The truth is that we can eat a lot and still our body cells will be starving. Food is not only about calories. It is about nutrients. It is about supplying vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytonutrients, proteins etc. to your cells and enabling your body systems to extract these nutrients and use them for your benefit. Paying close attention to what you put into your body is the first mindful practice you can start with. Stop, look at what is on your plate. If it is empty calories to silence your stomach growling, throw it away. You want to make sure whatever your eat delivers nutrients on as many counts as possible. Remember, you’ve got one life so every meal counts.
Ok. Off to the second pillar. Exercise. It is a lot of pressure on us to workout nowadays. Do we really need it and why? There are tons of reasons: to tone your muscles, to deliver healthy oxygen to your cells, to train your heart and lungs, to get a release of endorphins - chemicals that make us feel good… The list goes on. We all know this but why is it so difficult to start working out and to stick to it? It’s not your fault. You are not lazy. You are just human. Historically, people were designed to grow old enough to have off springs and then, you know… die or whatever. So exercise was in the form of hunting, gathering and child-making. At the present time, the first two activities became irrelevant for the majority of people in the developed countries. (Child-making is till recognized as a great exercise☺). We don’t really have the need to get off our coaches with the food delivery services available pretty much 24/7. So the best thing you can do is to invest some time to find what excites you: do you enjoy biking, jogging, playing basketball with your kids or peers, or pumping iron with your friends. It’s all great. Nothing really sparks interest here? Try to think of movement as an all-day process: get up to put paper in the printer, boil water for a cup of tea, do a plank or sit-ups in-between clients, go for a walk with a co-worker or go shopping! As long as you are moving you are golden!
Breathing is defined as the process of taking air into and expelling it from the lungs. We all know we can survive without oxygen for just a few minutes. It is a semi-voluntary process which means we can hold our breath voluntary for a minute or so but then our autonomic system will kick in and make us inhale. Breathing is so important that our body doesn’t trust us to control it. In our context, breath is not only vital for oxygenation of our bodies but also for good digestion, deep sleep and exercise (spoiler alerts, all pillars are related!). As most people are aware, we have sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Sympathetic system is in charge of our stress-related response. Fight or flight response. Parasympathetic is in charge of our daily routine, often referred as rest and digest response. Breathing is a great tool in taking control of our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Well, not full control, let’s not kid ourselves, but at least it will allow us being a student driver. Stressed? Deep tummy breaths through your nose with longer exhale will help to calm down, activate rest and digest response and actually assimilate the nutrients from food into your body. Sleepy at a boring meeting? Faster exhales will deliver extra oxygen, fire up your sympathetic system enough for you to have a surge of energy to pretend being interested in the meeting topic and survive till lunch time without snoring loudly. There are so many things that are controlled by breathing including even the movement of energy. Let’s harness this force for our benefit.
I cannot stress enough what importance sleep has in our lives. I am begging you never say “I’ll sleep in when I am dead”. The death part will come soon enough without proper sleeping habits. Sleep is often seen as doing nothing. The thing is that our cells are doing a tremendous work while we are doing nothing. That’s the only time our cells can perform a myriad of mysterious repairs and maintenance programs such as cleaning up all the debris of the day, ensuring malignant cells are destroyed, and preparing our systems for the day ahead. What we don’t want during sleep is our body to scratch its head, so to speak, and occupy itself with digesting that huge dinner we had at 9 pm because in this case other important duties such as cellular copying, increased clearance of waste products, processing of memories are greatly diminished. As a result, you wake up groggy, tired and grumpy. Again, sleep is highly important for your well-being.
Emotional and spiritual health
I don’t believe we can be healthy without being emotionally and spiritually whole. More and more research is catching our eye that shows even cancer is often a product of stagnated emotions and unprocessed experiences. This pillar can present itself in so many forms: from religious prayers to meditation, chakra healing and so on. For me, mostly it comes down to having a greater goal in your life of making a difference/positive change and being grateful for everything I have. Gratitude is such a simple but extremely powerful thing. It does not have to be something huge and you don’t need a long list of things. I always tell my daughter: before going to sleep, list 3 things you are grateful for today. It can be as simple as being alive and healthy or having food in the fridge to as big as being able to experience the beauty of the world. I am usually somewhere in between with being thankful for having a home and family, living in a wonderful country Canada and being able to experience many wonders around me. You do you here.
I know this looks like a lot and might feel overwhelming. Not to worry. You are not alone. We will talk about all of this in more details as time goes. But for now we can work together to take one (maybe two?) step at a time to achieve the vision of you that you are happy with.