Health is one the three pillars of a life well-lived.
Health is more than the absence of serious disease. Health goes beyond the physical capacity to perform certain activities. Although physical capacity is an important signifier of health, it is not enough
We are healthy when we are performing at our optimal physical, mental and emotional capability.
Health is about about wellness, well-being and the body’s ability to repair itself, to fight off germs and overcome or prevent cell mutations.
It breaks my heart to see so many people, young and old, battling chronic conditions that are largely the result of lifestyle and diet choices.
I’m not arguing that every health problem is the result of diet or lifestyle or environmental triggers. But the vast majority of sickness and chronic conditions are lifestyle and diet-related, exacerbated or hastened by the environmental toxins and chemicals that surround us.
I’ve written elsewhere about my choice to give up fast food on August 1, 2003. And I’ve written elsewhere about how fortunate I was to grow up with parents who preferred to cook and eat real food at home. I’ve also been relatively active for most of my life, despite having a desk job for most of my life and a largely sedentary work environment, at least 9 months of each year.
The lessons I’ve learned from what might be called my healthy-lifestyle experiment is this: It is possible to arrive at mid-life without experiencing high blood pressure, diabetes, joint pain, chronic inflammation, high levels of bad cholesterol and similar conditions. I don’t have any of those problems and I am truly blessed in that regard. But I don’t attribute the absence of those conditions to mere chance or genetics.
I truly believe that my health today is the direct result of my diet, physical activity and commitment to get at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night. My diet is one that emphasizes real food with an emphasis on legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil and reasonable quantities of good dairy products. Meats and poultry are the exception rather than the main dish.
I’ve never been a purist about diet, with the exception of my commitment to no fast food for the past 10 years and my lifelong avoidance of most manufactured “candy favors” or those things like Swizzles and gummy bears (which I’ve never tasted). I see nothing wrong with eating a quality dessert or home-baked goodies, if I feel like it.
The point is that it’s not necessary to become a rabbit, a vegan or a paleo-something to have a health diet. All that’s required is a commitment to eating a varied diet comprised of real foods, minimally processed.
Similarly, physical activity doesn’t require running marathons. It doesn’t even require running. But aerobic exercise is important. Walking at a fast pace for at least 30 minutes each day will suffice for heart health. More aerobic exercise is probably needed for weight management, at least for some people, but the right food in the right quantities combined with reasonable walking each day will eventually get you to a healthy weight.
Stretching is also important, whether it’s slow stretching in your living room or yoga in a group.
And weight training can be a big help, especially for women over 30. We start to lose physical strength if we don’t do some resistance or weight training.
Sleep is the third element of good health. Sleep might be the key to health. Actually, sleep probably is the most important of the three pillars of health.
Without adequate sleep, quantity and quality, we have a much harder time controlling our appetites. When we’re tired we’re more likely reach for a sugary, fatty snack. Lots of research supports this. I’m writing this in a place without good internet access, so I can’t provide links to the research immediately, but I’ll come back to this topic and share that research later.
It’s also a lot harder to muster the willpower to go for a walk or a run or other workout when we’re tired. And, in my experience, I can handle stress a lot better when I’m well-rested. If I have a poor night’s sleep or don’t get enough sleep due to travel schedule or something similar, I find that little annoyances will be more annoying and bigger stressors will bother me much more.
Over the coming months I hope to inspire you to join me on the path to health, wealth and wisdom by providing a guide to achieving optimum health. I’ll be sharing my own experiences, as well as the advice of health and wellness experts who can provide evidence-based insights about the importance of food choices, physical activity and sleep in overall well-being and disease prevention.
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