By Deja Becknell, BSN
nutraMetrix Health & Nutrition Writer
“The groundwork for all happiness is good health”. -Leigh Hunt
Have you ever thought about the connection between happiness and good health? There’s an undeniable link between feeling healthy and feeling happy. Good health can be the launching pad for great things but it’s tougher to meet our goals when our body isn’t up to the challenge. Let’s discuss how you can implement the four pillars of health to build a solid foundation for mental and physical wellness.
Exercise almost always comes to mind when you hear “wellness”. For some of us, exercise can be a drag, but the benefits are hard to ignore. People who don’t regularly exercise may lose up to 80% of their muscle strength by age 65. Need more convincing?
We’ve all heard it before; regular physical activity is an important component of health. Along with diet, exercise plays an important role in controlling weight and preventing obesity. Exercise helps to support heart health and keep your blood running smoothly. It delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, giving you more energy to tackle day to day tasks. Looking for another way to decrease stress? Exercise also provides a great emotional lift by stimulating brain chemicals that can leave you feeling less anxious and more relaxed. You don’t have to adopt a strenuous, daily routine to reap the benefits, exercising for just 30 minutes a few times a week can yield results. Overtime, a regular routine can also help build overall confidence and self-esteem. No matter your age, one of the best ways to build muscle mass is progressive resistance training, where you gradually amp up your workout volume (weight, reps, and sets) as your strength and endurance improve. Strive for progress instead of perfection, starting small where you are and building up from there.
As we all know, good nutrition is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, but what really defines good nutrition? This means your body is getting all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to function at an optimal level. The best way to get the nutrients and vitamins you need is to eat them! Ever consumed a meal full of fried or sugar-laden foods and noticed your body’s response afterwards? You probably felt sluggish, sleepy, or tired soon after. When you fuel your body with healthy options you can avoid the crash and burn effect that can come from heavily processed foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats are some of the best options for a daily diet. These diets, high in fiber, are also great for brain health and gut microflora – two of the main drivers of physical and mental wellness. A nutritious diet promotes healthy gut bacteria that help send “feel good” signals to the brain.
The benefits of good nutrition go far beyond weight and energy, it also plays a role in healthy skin. While we can’t turn back the clock, we can slow down the effects of aging. Diets rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, among other antioxidants such as bilberry, pycnogenol, and astaxanthin have been shown to support radiant skin and combat wrinkles, age-related skin dryness, and thinning.
Quality of sleep is just as important as any other pillar of health, if not the most important. Research estimates that adults need at least 7 hours of sleep every night to function the best during the day. For some of us, that almost never happens. It’s estimated that only 20% of Americans get the recommended amount of sleep each night, which means we’re sleeping less now than ever before.
Sleep helps to power the brain and restore the body. Ever had a teacher warn you not to pull an all-nighter for the exam? Without sleep, our ability to concentrate, think clearly, complete normal tasks and process memories becomes impaired. Losing sleep can also negatively impact immune health. Cytokines are important proteins for immune function, produced and released by the body during sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase if the body is under stress, serving as mini alarms to alert the immune system to take action. Without sufficient shut-eye, the body produces fewer protective cytokines, impairing its ability to fight off illness. If you’re not getting enough sleep, consider what barriers keep you from achieving a good night’s rest. You can start by making sleep a priority in your schedule. This may mean budgeting how many hours you need to complete daily tasks. Cutting sleep can be tempting, but long term it often comes at the expense of our mental and physical wellbeing. Some ways to improve your sleep routine can include:
- Choosing the same sleep schedule everyday
- Creating a pre-bed routine that relaxes and puts you at ease, making it easier to fall asleep.
- Unplug and disconnect from all digital devices at least an hour before bed
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol intake before bed
We’ve all been there. You’re running late for work, sitting in traffic, watching closely as each minute passes by. The hypothalamus, a small area in the brain that helps stimulate key functions, sends the signal – send in the stress hormones! You may notice your pulse quicken, you breathe faster, and your muscles might tense up. Stress is how the brain and body respond to a demand, signaling the body to prepare to face a threat. It’s the “wear and tear” our minds and bodies experience as we attempt to adapt to our continually changing environment. Not all stress is bad. Some stress can be motivating, helping us to meet a deadline or succeed at a new job. But long term, chronic stress can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep & reproductive systems. This continued strain on the body can contribute to more serious effects overtime.
Under stress, the heart pumps faster. Stress hormones cause the blood vessels to constrict in order to send oxygen to your muscles, so you have the strength to take action. This also raises blood pressure, placing a lot of stress on the heart. Increased heart rate, rapid breathing and an influx of hormones can also affect the way food moves through the body, leading to an increase in stomach acid and digestive problems.
Finding ways to reduce stress levels can reduce your risk of negative health effects. When we make time for self-care, we are better prepared to handle any stresses that come our way. Make sure to schedule in time to unwind and decompress at the end of each day. Here are some ways you can manage stress:
- Go outside and get some sun (Exercise is a great way to do this!)
- Try relaxing activities such as meditation, breathing techniques and various exercises.
- Stay connected. Keep in touch with loved ones who help to provide emotional support. Connect with others in your community.
- Time-Management: By scheduling your day, you can more efficiently juggle work and family demands.
- Self-Care! Find ways to nurture yourself, whether that’s treating yourself to your favorite meal, or taking a nap to recharge.
It’s widely considered that exercise, good nutrition, relaxation and sleep are crucial to a balanced lifestyle – all closely connected with the others. A nutritious diet helps promote a healthy gut flora, while exercise gets the muscles moving and helps to reduce stress levels. Finding ways to relax helps support energy and focus, while a good night’s sleep allows the body to rest and repair. The key is to integrate each pillar into your routine, as ignoring one can impact your ability to sustain the others. These “pillars” of health are not only essential for the body but nourish mental health as well. The more we work towards this balance, the greater our chances of feeling good and healthy as we age.
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Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, May 11). 7 great reasons why exercise matters. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389.
Robinson, L. Stress Management. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm.
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