With the prevalence of poor health and disease in today’s society, it’s evident that many people are not properly caring for themselves. They often blame their poor health on genetics and circumstance, but in most cases, this is an excuse that will prevent them from ever achieving better health.
Modern medicine is so focused on chasing symptoms that good health is often considered to be elusive and highly complicated. This is unfortunate because excellent health really doesn’t have to be this mysterious. Unhealthy lifestyle habits are nearly always at the root of poor health and disease, and this is something that we all have the ability to change.
Living a lifestyle that promotes optimal health is by far the best method of preventing disease and building the vitality you need to get the most out of life.
What is Optimal Health?
Optimal health is a state in which your body is free of malfunction and unlikely to develop disease. It’s also synonymous with being full of vitality and energy. You achieve this state by living a lifestyle that promotes your body to function exactly as it’s designed to. While that may sound simple, modern society makes it very difficult by presenting us with many tempting opportunities to promote malfunction. Furthermore, the misinformation spread by the pharmaceutical and processed food industrites makes it difficult to uncover the truth and recognize the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle can be broken down into 7 primary factors that you have complete control over. Even if you have significant health issues that lifestyle alone cannot resolve, focusing on these 7 factors will still ensure better health and should be the foundation of any type of treatment that you consider. In contrast, if you think your health is good enough to not worry about your lifestyle, truly understanding optimal health should make you realize that you’re short changing yourself with this type of mentality. Either way, the following 7 foundational factors will give you plenty of opportunity to improve your health and get more out of life!
1. Proper Breathing
The human body is composed of trillions of cells and each one of them requires a steady flow of oxygen to function properly and survive. In fact, oxygen is so important to our health that we’ll die if we go more than a few minutes without it! Based on this, even a slight inefficiency in your breathing can have a significant impact on your health.
Despite the fact that we can breathe without having to think about it, many people breathe inefficiently and don’t get the full amount of oxygen they need for optimal cell function. Although we’ve evolved to breathe primarily through diaphragmatic contraction, many of the factors associated with modern life, such as stress, poor posture, and poor diet, interfere with proper diaphragm function and promote breathing through chest expansion instead.
Because of the importance of oxygen and the prevalence of insufficient breathing, it’s important to understand and reinforce proper breathing technique.
2. Sufficient Hydration
Following oxygen, water is the next most crucial element of human survival. Going without it for more than just a few days will cause death.
About two thirds of our body weight is water. This means that a 200 pound man would have approximately 130 pounds of water in his body! It’s dispersed throughout all the tissue and fluids of the body and is essential for the proper function of vital organs and glands. Even a slight amount of dehydration can lead to malfunction while more severe cases of dehydration can cause disease.
Just a few of the important roles that water serves include supporting brain function, digestion, immunity, detoxification, and muscle and joint function. But unlike breathing, our body doesn’t automatically draw in water. We have to consciously make an effort to drink it. Despite the easy access to water that many of us are fortunate to have, dehydration is a significant factor in the poor health and disease that is so prominent in modern society.
To support optimal function, you should aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. If you’re active, it should be even more. For example, I weigh 160 pounds and drink approximately 80 ounces of water every day. In fact, I typically drink more than that because of my active lifestyle.
An excellent book on this topic is Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by F. Batmanghelidj, M.D.
3. Good Nutrition
Along with oxygen and water, food is another essential element needed to sustain life. We can only last several minutes without oxygen, several days without water, and several weeks without food.
While we’ve all probably experienced the painful hunger that makes it impossible to forget our need to eat, hunger doesn’t help us to choose quality foods. In fact, it usually provokes us to choose unhealthy foods. Poor nutrition is very common in modern society and is another major reason why poor health and disease is so common. The sugar, chemical toxins, and artificial additives found in many of today’s foods certainly don’t help either.
As with oxygen and water, every one of the trillions of cells in our body are influenced by the food we eat. Without the proper nutrients from natural whole foods such as meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, they won’t develop or function properly, and this is the beginning of what eventually becomes poor health and disease.
Although we all need quality nutrition, we each have a unique need for different types and proportions of food, and this is an extremely important aspect of a healthy diet. This science based philosophy, referred to as Metabolic Typing, can make a significant difference in your health.
To learn the science and history behind Metabolic Typing, you can read The Metabolic Typing Diet: Customize Your Diet to Your Own Unique Body Chemistry by William Wolcott and Trish Fahey.
4. Positive Thoughts
Thoughts tend to build on each other and culminate into strong emotions. It’s often the first thought of this sequence that dictates if the resulting emotions are positive or negative. All it takes is one seemingly harmless negative thought to invoke a chain of increasingly negative thoughts that lead to anger, frustration, or depression. According to some sources, we have as many as 50,000 thoughts per day, and that’s a lot of opportunity to make ourselves miserable!
Many people have a hard time believing that emotions affect your physical health. If you’re one of them, I suggest you read Molecules Of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine by Candace B. Pert, Ph.D. Through hard science, this book explains how thoughts and emotions can directly influence the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. As most people know, these substances can have a significant effect on your health and state of mind.
The stress response is an excellent example of this. By causing stress, negative thoughts provoke a physiological response that breaks the body down. If this response is invoked often enough, the stress that’s causing it will ultimately lead to chronic health problems. For this reason, it’s important to both your health and your happiness that you reframe your negative thoughts in a positive way as often as you can.
5. Adequate Sleep
Anyone who deprives themselves of adequate sleep is painfully reminded of it when they wake up the following morning. The fatigue, soreness, and irritability that often results can last the entire day, and sometimes longer. If this happens on a consistent basis, as it does for many people, the effects can last for weeks.
During sleep, the immune system ramps up, physical breakdown and damage is repaired, and thoughts and memories are processed. In short, sleep helps us recover from the demands of a busy day and refreshes us so that we’re ready for the next day.
With the fast pace of modern life, many people take sleep for granted and sacrifice it to have more time in their day. This is a big problem because the additional amount of time spent awake puts more burden on the body and increases the need for recovery. However, because this extra time is made possible at the expense of sleep, less recovery will occur despite the increased need for it. Adding insult to injury, the extra time gained by sacrificing sleep is often wasted by watching television or aimlessly browsing the internet.
Getting more sleep is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to improve your health and vitality. All you have to do is commit to developing good sleep habits.
6. Sun Exposure
Although our ancestors spent the majority of each day in the sun, many of us go out of our way to avoid sun exposure based on the high prevalence of skin cancer. However, there are many other risk factors associated with skin cancer, and more importantly, the vitamin D that’s naturally produced from sun exposure is critical to the immune system’s ability to prevent cancer growth.
Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin, but a prehormone. It controls the expression of more than 10% of our genes, and in turn, has a significant impact on our health. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with many health problems including cancer, heart disease, autism, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and many others.
Unfortunately, most people don’t get nearly enough sun exposure to produce an adequate amount of vitamin D, and those who do often block vitamin D production by using sunscreen. To support optimal health, you should aim to get at least 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen on a regular basis and during the middle of the day. The amount of sun exposure you need and can withstand without burning depends on the darkness of your skin. Be sure to avoid sunburn, and if you know you’ll be in the sun for longer than you can tolerate, use a natural sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation.
7. Moderate Exercise
That’s right, I intentionally have exercise listed last! While exercise certainly plays a significant role in optimal health, in my opinion, it’s arguably the least important of these 7 factors. Furthermore, many people make the mistake of thinking that exercise will compensate for other poor lifestyle habits. This simply isn’t true. Spending hours on the treadmill may offset weight gain from a poor diet, but it won’t offset all the other effects it will have on your health. In many cases, this type of exercise mentality can even make your health worse.
As part of a well rounded lifestyle, exercise is important based on the simple fact that we’re built to move. It improves circulation, immunity, mental clarity, and in general, the physical resilience of the body. Each of these exercise benefits contribute to better health and increased happiness.
One of the biggest problems with exercise is lack of moderation. Many people either don’t exercise at all or exercise way too much. In regards to promoting health, a well rounded and moderated program might include 2 or 3 resistance training sessions per week that are no longer than an hour, 1 or 2 interval sessions per week requiring no more than 5 to 10 minutes each, and flexibility and mobility exercises that can be performed a few times per week, or even daily if desired.
Keep in mind that poor health will diminish your exercise capacity and that exceeding your capacity will cause poor health to deteriorate even further. Based on this, be sure to stay within your limits. For some people, this could mean only being able to engage in the mildest forms of exercise.
Start With the Basics
Achieving excellent health doesn’t have to be the mysterious and elusive achievement that some people make it out to be. These 7 foundational factors are can serve as a basic guideline to help get you started. You have complete control over each and every one of these factors, and in most cases, the only investment required from you is a matter of time and effort. There’s no excuse to not get started immediately!
When disease or poor health is a concern, these 7 foundational factors are always likely to be a part of the root cause. While some people will need to look beyond lifestyle to achieve their health goals, these factors should always be considered in any attempt at improving health. This applies whether the goal is to simply feel better or to reverse a life threatening condition.
Another excellent resource that describes how to live a well rounded and healthy lifestyle is How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! by Paul Chek.