There are five main pillars that need addressing to attain a baseline of wellness, plus three overarching facets that will allow you to truly thrive. They are as follows:
(1) Nutrition & Hydration
(2) Sleep & Relaxation
(3) Exercise & Movement
(4) Stress Management & Resilience
(5) Relationships & Networks
THREE TO THRIVE
(1) Gut Health
NUTRITION & HYDRATION
Proper nutrition is required for all bodily processes - everything from cell growth to energy production. Macronutrients are required in large quantities for such functions (hence the prefix 'macro'), with proteins being most important for cell development and cell repair, carbs for energy production and digestion, and fats for energy production and to aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals needed in only small amounts (hence the prefix 'micro'), but none-the-less essential for many metabolic processes. They are important in many of the processes already mentioned for macronutrients (i.e. energy production and cell repair), but also in blood clotting, immune function, cell growth, bone health etc. Many macro- and micronutrients also have special functions within the body, for example CoQ10 (protein), Glutathione (protein) Vitamin C (vitamin) and Zinc (mineral) all have antioxidant properties and are capable of preventing cellular damage caused by reactive oxygen species, such as free radicals. Finally, we should avoid any foods that cause significant inflammation such as refined sugar, trans fat, alcohol, and depending on the individual, gluten and dairy.
Hydrating the body is important from many perspectives. Water is a crucial component of the digestive process, from the production of saliva to the absorption of nutrients to the excretion of waste. It also improves blood circulation and is important in the protection of joints and tissues. It is pivotal to body temperature regulation and brain function, and is one of the key molecules involved in cellular respiration. Literally every cell in your body relies on water!
SLEEP & RELAXATION
Sleep is probably the most under-recognised pillar by clients in my practice. Appropriate sleep quality and quantity supports immunological, neurological and hormonal function in the body, and is our most critical and natural form of detox. Lack of sleep is also one of the biggest contributors to weight loss resistance I see in my practice. Due to the introduction of electricity and light,
our bodies are now out of sync with the sun and our circadian rhythms out of balance. Mobile devices used after dark make it almost impossible for our brains to relax and move into the state required for sleep. We also have a lot more stress in our lives, which isn't helpful when it comes time to relax and switch off. Sleep hygiene protocols are pivotal to address these issues.
Outside of sleep, general relaxation is also important. Not only does relaxation improve sleep itself, but it is also essential in stress reduction. More on that in Pillar 4. Relaxation improves digestion (think rest and digest!), reduces muscle tension, improves blood flow, helps to stabilise blood sugar and reduces fatigue. Relaxation techniques should form part of any good holistic health protocol.
EXERCISE & MOVEMENT
Getting our bodies moving is an essential component of good health, but this doesn't necessary have to mean high intensity aerobic activity. Think yoga, pilates, brisk walks out in nature - these are all great ways to get moving! Exercise can help to control weight, improve mood because of a positive effect on brain chemicals, help your cardiovascular system by more effectively delivering oxygen and nutrients to muscles, and improve sleep quality. There is also evidence that movement can help to prevent or manage chronic health conditions such as cancer, possibly due to the skeletal muscle contractions that increase lymphatic flow and allow for the purging of toxins.
Disclaimer: although exercise is advantageous for the vast majority of the population, it can be detrimental to those suffering from severe adrenal fatigue and/or chronic fatigue syndrome. If you feel significantly worse in the 24-72 hours after physical activity, please see a healthcare professional and DO NOT continue to push yourself.
STRESS MANAGEMENT & RESILIENCE
Stress.... it is a natural physical and mental response that was designed as an immediate and short term tool to cope with potentially serious/dangerous situations. We call this the "fight or flight" response, where your brain recognises a threat, tells your adrenals to release stress hormones which in turn rev up your heartbeat and send blood rushing to the areas that need it most in an emergency (and away from other areas like digestion and reproduction). When the perceived fear is gone, the brain should tell all systems to normalise. When the body is in a chronic state of stress, either via large traumatic events or small daily worries, this stress response does not get switched off and the body is always in a heightened state of arousal, which can put your health at serious risk.
This is why stress management and building resilience are so important. Techniques such as mindfulness and meditation help to calm the system, bring us into the present moment, and allow us to watch the chatter that goes on in our own minds. As I mentioned in Pillar 2, relaxation techniques can be very helpful in stress reduction too. Some examples are reading, taking a bath, playing with children or pets, listening to music, and getting out into nature. In fact this last example has a particularly significant effect, contributing to physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and stress hormones.
RELATIONSHIPS & NETWORKS
Humans are a social species, so having good/positive relationships is vital for our mental and emotional health. Relationships make us feel connected to others in our tribe, which subsequently creates stability and trust. Having strong relationships also means you are likely to have support and be given reassurance through the tough times, which can be an important component of surviving and flourishing after a traumatic event.
There are more microbial cells in your body than your own human cells, so be nice to them! Nutrition, sleep and stress management are particularly relevant here. Watch for a future blog post on this topic.
The present day world is full of toxins, so we need to be sure we support our natural detox pathways. Nutrition, hydration, sleep and movement are particularly relevant. Again, watch for a future blog post on this topic.
This is a big one, and often overlooked. In my opinion we cannot truly thrive without joy in our lives, so find it any which way you can! Find a healthy version of your favourite food, choose exercise/movement that makes you happy, spend time laughing with friends, dance, sing, paint - foster that inner child that's been longing for attention.