Health can be a confusing topic but it should not be. The definition of health should be clear but it is not.
I want to give you some simple tools to assess your own health. The simpler we do this the easier it is for us to take action.
We all have a body and a mind but somehow we forget to teach some fundamentals to ourselves when we grow up.
We are surrounded by conflicting ideas of what to eat and what works and what does not.
We also get tricked into believing that we were born some certain way that makes us totally unique. I do everyone has individual needs but I also know that we are more similar than we are different.
The main driver for my thesis in this subject is that we need to build our solid four pillars of health to maintain and get optimal mental health too.
If one area is neglected over a longer period of time your mental health will decline. We also have to be honest and say that it can be hard to always balance all four pillars when going through new challenging episodes in life. However this should not be an excuse not do try. Giving up all attempts sets one up for longterm failure and creating of bad habits. If you create new stresses in life you sill will need to include these four pillars. It will be hard but neglecting this truth will just make the future even harder.
In the last decades human sleep has decreased over all and it leads to more chronic disease. Shortening your sleep affects your hormones immediately and gives you many disadvantages. One example is the very strong hormone insulin that automatically will get higher. This makes it harder to loose weight but easier to gain weight (even on a calorie restriction..). Sleeping less than optimal (7,5-8h) also impairs cognitive performance a lot. We all think we a special little snow flakes that operate just fine on 6h sleep but science tells us that is not true. Not a a single study has shown a person to perform as good or better on 6h sleep. If you think you are an outlier you can sign up to the next sleep lab and get a million bucks. Easy money for you if you are sure. If you are not sure then better think about your sleeping routines. If you have an deficit
Most common comment I hear is “I eat quite well” and all though I believe people do want to eat well in reality most people eat a lot of harmful foods.
There are plenty of urban myths out there about foods that are good or bad for you. Key rule is to eat unprocessed foods. That are meat, vegetables, some nuts and seeds, some starch and no sugar.
Nutrition science is badly influenced by the food industry and therefore the best lens to view nutrition from is the ancestral perspective. More precise we should look at what our ancestors ate over 10000 years ago and what our more recent ancestors ate the last 2000 years. The area where our genes come from will have certain adaptations to the foods of that area. An example is that Middle Eastern population has a better adaptation to eat agricultural seeds like wheat and rye. That populations has has the longest adaptation possibilities to that kind of food. The food source that we have had access to the longest (couple of million years) are meats, fruits, vegetables and some roots.
When we eat these foods we satiate and feel full longer. They are mostly the least inflammatory foods for most people all over the world. Eating a diet that is less inflammatory (having gases is a sign your belly is under inflammatory stress) impact on your gut will affect how good the nutrients will get absorbed into the body. The impact on the psychological health is enormous and one of the most neglected treatments for better mood and psychological well being. Eating bad sources of food will cause bad mood, bad sleep, poor skin rashes, acne and joint inflammation. It makes it quite clear that these factors will inhibit your potential of being productive and feeling good. The cure is very easy, eat unprocessed foods.
Your body was build to move and to do hard work. Stressing the body physically is a great recipe for getting a stronger body and mind. As all animals on earth we however always strive for comfort because here energy expenditure is the lowest. The less energy we as animals needs the less we need to hunt or collect. In modern society we have abundance of energy and lack regular movement and stresses which leads to common issues like back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain etc. We can mitigate these pains and “life breaks” by moving everyday. We don’t have to run a marathon each day and we don’t have to deadlift until our nose bleeds twice a day. What we need is a variety of different stresses in different time domains. It has been demonstrated that high intensity training provides a very good outcome when looking at it from a time cost perspective and the reason is again ancestral. We are build to be moving around carrying stuff on slow pace and then having outbursts of energy when hunting or lifting something heavier now and then. The body adapts to these extreme stresses and when exercising it should be our goal to address to load an stress as many of the mechanical capabilities the body have. In CrossFit we tend to integrate all these movements due to the fact that we borrow movements from all kinds of sports and practices. A great Crossfitter is able to compete at weightlifting at the same time as being able to do yoga, gymnastics or long-distance running.
A sedentary person will benefit greatly if he or she would train 10-15 min a day to start with and spend as much time as possible outdoors. This is one of the harder things to “reintroduce” into life but every single person that lives in modern western countries can shave off 10-15 min from watching TV, Netflix or social media and instead work on their body. The effect of training is not only that the joints and muscles keep healthy but it builds the metabolic foundation for your body to be able to process food even better. That process again leads to a healthier mind.
A growing epidemic of the society is that many of us lack deep social connections with other people. In the modern era of social media we think we are connected to people all over the world when we in fact never talk to the ones closest to us. Observing science on longevity, obesity and morbidity it is clear that people with stronger social connections live longer and are wealthier. People with few social connections are more likely to be obsessed and to be bothered with disease and mental disorders. Relationships are tough and hard to handle for many of us but the rule of thumb is that the closer and better relationship you have with the closest people in your life the better you will do psychologically. I’m not saying it is easy and sometimes some of these relationships are badly toxic and even dangerous but most of the case it is a lack of communication. As in any situation we have the options to communicate and trying to meet a person and being things from their perspective for better understanding of the situation. It is not about winning arguments and it is not about winning a relationship, it is about learning more about other people because this way we can grow.
Why I put connection last is because all other pillars will fall without connection. People that eat, move and sleep great but have no connection will simply lack meaning in life and mentally suffer and either get very sick or simply live in a delusional state not attending to all parts of life.
On top of all four we have mental health that can grow strong and gain support from all pillars if they all are strong. If one pillar is neglected the roof of mental health will be unstable.
Mental health is subjective and not measurable but the pillars are that is why we need to focus on the pillars and the mental health will come. Mental health is also not about running around being jolly and happy all the time. Mental health is about being able to face problems without falling apart. IT is about being resilient when storm is coming and having the capacity to do more to help other people too.
Feel free to write in the comments or reach out to me if you have any thoughts or ideas.