Whether you are just getting started with healthy living, or you've been at this a long time, I hope you get something out of today's post. I felt compelled to share here what I believe to be the 8 pillars of optimal health and well-being because this information could be potentially transformative. It has taken me many years to get to a place where I feel comfortable telling others how I've created a healthy lifestyle for myself (although I'm far from having reached my health goals!) There are many links here for those who would like to do further research and reading into the information provided in this post. I encourage you to be the advocate of your own health and continue to educate yourself! Enjoy:
1 | Nutrition
At this point, most everyone knows that eating a healthy diet is vital for optimal well-being. But it can still be incredibly challenging to do so, with all the tempting foods that we encounter daily at restaurants, at work and at the grocery store. I find that the easiest way for me to stay on top of healthy eating is to do batch cooking! (AKA planning, shopping for, preparing, cooking and packing up an entire week's meals on Sunday.) For meal planning, I get inspiration on my favorite recipe sites like Cookie and Kate and Minimalist Baker and after cooking/preparing the meals I package everything into containers for the week. Whatever is leftover gets frozen for a lazy day. This way, I know I won't have to execute any willpower at all. It's also a great way to save money and time. I will tell you that for years I "tried" to eat healthy and always seemed to fail until starting this routine. Meal prep is a total game-changer! But don't forget the water. Staying adequately hydrated is arguably the most important (and simplest!) way we can improve our health. I like to prep my water bottle the night before so it's ready to go in the morning.
2 | Sleep
People underestimate the importance of sleep for health and well-being! There are so many processes that occur while we are sleeping that become undermined if we don’t get the proper amount of sleep. So why is it that people have such a hard time getting the amount of shut-eye they need? IMHO the two biggest culprits are caffeine and electronics:
- Caffeine: Because caffeine gets in the way of proper sleep (caffeine stays in your system 8-14 hours!), I highly recommend looking into completely cutting out or at least reducing your intake. Want a hint? Chicory root herbal coffee replacement is a delicious way to ween yourself off the hard stuff and can be purchased at your local health food store.
- Electronics: It’s common knowledge now that our beloved electronic devices emit blue light that can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, resulting in lower levels of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Research from Harvard now suggests that frequent exposure to blue light could be much more harmful to our health, potentially causing diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity. The solution? Set an electronics curfew so that you turn bright screens off a few hours before bed (or at least dim the screens) to signal to your body it’s time to get sleepy.
3 | Movement
We know how important physical activity is for tiptop health, however there is a huge misconception today that exercise must be extremely rigorous to get the benefits from it. This couldn't be further from the truth! Evidence suggests that moderate exercise is as good – or even better! – than intense exercise. This is good news for all of us, especially those with chronic conditions that preclude hardcore physical activity. Even yin yoga and tai chi, very slow-moving forms of exercise, have big health benefits.
I'll admit that I used to fall into the "if I'm not dripping sweat, blistered and sore, I didn't get a workout" category until a slew of overuse injuries interrupted my exercise routine to the point of losing momentum and stopping for a period of time altogether. I now have finally realized that long-term consistency beats out short-term intensity. (I believe that's a Bruce Lee quote!) That means that it's more important for me to run a couple miles a few days a week than to attempt that killer 15-mile hike once a week. For my best tips on this, check out "10 Keys to Making Exercise Consistent."
4 | (Low) Stress
Stress is the number one contributor to illness. It inhibits the immune system's function which makes it difficult to prevent and heal disease. (Here’s an interesting study about how long it takes the body to heal a wound under high-stress or low-stress conditions.) Therefore, one of the best ways to improve your health is to reduce your levels of stress. How does one do this? There are many ways! Read “8 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Naturally” for some ideas.
5 | (Low) Toxicity
Especially for those of us who live in a big city (like Los Angeles,) we need to be mindful of the effect that environmental toxins have on our health and how to reduce our intake as much as possible. We are exposed to as many as 84,000 chemicals a day (of which only 1% have been tested for safety) which puts extra stress on our organs that are in charge of filtering those toxins out.
- Air: Believe it or not, indoor air is more polluted than outdoor air. For air pollution, consider investing in a HEPA filter for your home.
- Water: Water in Los Angeles and other major cities has fluoride in it, which is a toxic chemical thought to potentially cause depression. To detoxify your water, consider using a water filter and a reusable bottle made of glass or stainless steel.
- Food: Shop organic (to avoid pesticides) and non-GMO, and avoid plastic packaging as much as you can, as plastics often leach into the liquid or food they contain, especially when exposed to heat. I use Anchor Hocking glass containers which are guaranteed lead-free.
- Home/Body: Start shopping for all-natural personal hygiene, beauty and home cleaning products as these are often culprits of having dozens of irritating chemicals in them. Avoid fragrance/parfum as these act as endocrine disrupters – instead, go for items that are scented with essential oils (which have health benefits!)
Lastly, I'll include cigarettes and alcohol here as toxic substances to avoid.
6 | Connection
We need satisfying emotional connections with other people (and animals can be a great source of this, too!) to have optimal health. When we feel loved and bonded to others, oxytocin is released by the pituitary which reduces stress and increases feelings of happiness and peace. Connection to others also provides us with a sense of safety, support and common humanity. Life's troubles don't seem as challenging when we have people who want to help us or can at least share that they know what you're going through. A (wo)man is not an island and we can't do this alone!
7 | Purpose
Without a sense of purpose, life feels empty and unfulfilling. Many will seek distraction to avoid the discomfort of feeling purposeless – looking to unhealthy addictive behaviors to soothe them. When people don't know what their calling is, they can get their priorities out of whack and focus too much on feeding the ego, which will often manifest as greed, narcissism, selfishness and pettiness. This can also cause fear, a sense of scarcity and feeling alone. Conversely, when someone is aware of their unique purpose in life, they feel connected to others, they understand that there is plenty to go around, they are generous and willing to help others while expecting nothing in return. To learn more, read "5 Ways to Discover your Life Purpose."
8 | Enjoyment
You gotta have fun! When we engage in enjoyable activities that give us a sense of satisfaction, we are setting ourselves up for optimal health. The more time we spend doing things we enjoy, the more serotonin and dopamine (these are the happy hormones!) we release in our brains and ultimately improve our mental health and our mood. How can you squeeze and little more fun into your schedule, you ask? Check out my post, "17 Ways to Make Time for Yourself" for ideas.
Now, as always, I'd love to hear from you! Is there an important aspect of health that you believe was missed here? Let me know! Is there an area of health that you would like to see written about here on the blog? I'd love to hear your thoughts. What has worked for you in improving healthy habits? What hasn't? Please share in the comments below. Thank you for reading and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.