THE 12 pillars of health
With all the medical and technological advances that have improved human health and longevity, there are many aspects of the modern lifestyle that are detrimental to our wellbeing.
A healthy lifestyle should focus on appropriate levels of physical activity, eating real foods and undertaking activities that promote health, quality sleep, effective stress management, avoiding toxic overload, developing healthy relationships, and feeling a sense of purpose.
Health is multi-factorial. It isn't just based on one thing, and it doesn't require perfection. What does help is an understanding of the small positive changes that can make a difference, most of which are under our control.
Here is a list I have compiled of areas of focus that can improve health. These 12 pillars support the pursuit of health by reducing the risk of chronic lifestyle disease.
Highlight the items that require more of your focus and determine what will work best for you.
1. follow the sun
There is a master circadian clock which is regulated by daylight on the eyes and when darkness falls. This circadian rhythm dictates the body's production of hormones such as melatonin, serotonin and cortisol.
Aim to be naturally alert and vibrant on waking up (without the use of caffeine), be energetic during the day and focus on winding down after dark to prepare yourself for sleep.
2. LIVE SLOWLY
There is a constant battle with doing everything as quickly as possible, from wolfing down our fast food to getting our high-intensity workout completed within as short a time as possible; six-minute abs anyone?
Slow movement is about making time count. We should savour the minutes rather than just counting them. Aim for quality over quantity in everything you do. Being mindful rather than mindless.
3. INTERACT WITH NATURE
Humans have an innate desire to interact with nature, which modern urban environments can make difficult to pursue. Being outdoors and observing nature is a great stress release and boosts the immune system, there is even evidence that suggests viewing images of natural scenes can reduce your stress levels.
4. SLEEP DEEPLY
Insufficient sleep has been identified as a public health problem. Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased chance of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
Aim to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep a night, feeling well-rested on waking.
The healthy lifestyle encyclopedia Paleo from A to Z has practical sleep hints, strategies and tips to improve sleep quality.
5. manage stress appropriately
Not all stress has an adverse effect. Studies have shown that short-term or acute stress boosts the immune system, improves focus and concentration. Long-term or chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that can ultimately lead to illness and disease.
Chronic stress may also cause problems such as sleep disruption, irritability, headaches and digestive tract issues.
Play can be used as one method to reduce stress, as well as deep breathing (see 9) and appropriate levels of physical activity.
6. AVOID TOXICITY
Avoid substances that can be harmful if ingested inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Smoking is probably the most obvious and well-researched example of a toxic substance; linked to premature death.
Tobacco smoke contains many different chemicals that damage your cells' DNA. Many of those hazardous chemicals are known carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) and increase risk of heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis and other diseases.
Air-pollution (both indoor and outdoor) can cause fatal diseases. There are resources online such as this one for London and smartphone apps that can provide details on local pollution levels.
7. EAT NATURALLY
Reduce your reliance on the man-made and cultivated foods introduced into the human food chain only relatively recently.
Eat less artificial, processed foods, refined sugars, grains, dairy and intensively farmed produce and consume good quality meat, seafood, vegetables and tubers, mushrooms, fruit, nuts and seeds - an ancestral-type diet more in accord with our physiological make-up than modern diets.
My book Paleo Fitness published in 2013 discusses many of the reasons an ancestral-template diet often termed a Paleo diet can be beneficial. It has recipes, meal plans and a nutritional primer as well as a 12-week movement program.
8. Engage with community
Social isolation is detrimental to health. There are health risks associated with social isolation including living alone, relying on a small social network, limited participation in social activities, and feelings of loneliness.
Individuals who lack social connections tend to suffer higher rates of early death, impaired immune function and increased inflammation which can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other lifestyle diseases.
Social media popularity can give us a false sense of security. Regarding genuine human interaction, the number of people we know is not the best measure of social isolation. The key is in the quality of those people, in terms of their relationship to us - not the mere quantity of people we know.
We just need a handful we can truly rely on and who can depend on us in return.
9. breathe deeply
Many of us take shallow breaths using just the chest. Take time to inhale and exhale deeply with diaphragmatic breathing.
This type of deep breathing reduces blood pressure, encourages relaxation, and can be used to manage stress by strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system.
Detailed tips are included in the book Animal Moves as part of some of the program.
10. live purposefully
Why do you get up in the morning?
In what unique ways do you contribute to the world?
What are you most passionate about?
Ask yourself these questions regularly and use the answers to find your life purpose. It doesn't have to be grandiose or revolutionary - just well-defined, intentional and meaningful.
Creating a purpose for yourself could promote healthy ageing throughout adulthood and is an indicator of healthy living for including its potential for reducing the risk of premature death.
11. MOVE NATURALLY
A recognition that in the broadest sense that physical activity in the widest variety of natural forms is vital and healthful based on how we were designed to move as nature intended.
These activities should incorporate a range of locomotion, regular change of position, speed, intensity and volume - including but not exclusive to components of movement, balance, agility, power, strength and stamina.
Focus on movement that will improve function and assist you in maintaining independence as you age.
The best-selling book Animal Moves covers this in far more detail. Ensuring we can participate in movement patterns inspired by the animal kingdom to become more human!
My TEDx talk discusses the issues around the pandemic of physical inactivity affecting children as well as adults and what we can do about it.
12. play wholeheartedly
Life can be far too serious with often self-imposed and stressful demands - make sure you find time for play. Play makes it easier for us to enjoy exercise rather than just endure it. Play provides joy, laughter and the pursuit of healthful pleasure in life and relationships. Go dancing, play tag, play with a huge snowball, have fun!
These topics and practical solutions are covered in the award-winning book Paleo from A to Z which is available in paperback, ebook and audiobook editions.
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