The seven pillars of health
Last updated 3/8/2022 at Noon
Most Americans hear the word “health” and associate it with diet and exercise. Health for well-being, vitality, and longevity is much more involved than this. A healthy lifestyle should be built upon a firm foundation of the following pillars of health: adequate hydration, dedicated breathwork, quality sleep, appropriate levels of physical activity, clean foods, effective stress management, and healthy relationships. Improving your habits in these areas, even if it’s only a small improvement, can create a domino effect toward a healthier lifestyle.
Hydration: We all know water is important. Do you know how much water you should be consuming each day? There is a fine line because you don’t want to be dehydrated, but the effects of being overhydrated can be harmful as well.
How much water you should consume varies depending on many factors, including age, gender, activity level, sun exposure, one’s overall health and more. If you google it, you will be told to drink eight glasses of water per day... that’s only 64 ounces. Even a sedentary person should drink more than 64 ounces a day. A great baseline is 100 ounces a day, but you will need more than that if you are active or drink caffeine.
Mask wearing can make it even more difficult to remember to drink your water. Try setting reminders on your phone or drinking to and from events. Wake up and drink a big glass first thing. Whatever tricks help you best, that is the best trick!
Since everyone needs a different amount of water, the best way to see if you are getting enough is to look at the color of your urine. It should be a clear consistency if you are drinking enough (unless you’ve been eating beets or taking B-Vitamins, of course). You will need more water on the days you are active or outside all day and less on the days you are more sedentary. If you notice your urine is a little yellow though, grab another drink of water right away.
Breathwork: Breathing specific drills are used to improve mental strength, increase lung capacity, boost our immunity, heal emotional trauma, improve digestion, decrease stress, release negative thoughts, bring lightness and clarity to the mind and improve sleep. These are just a few things focusing on our breath can do for us.
Box breathing is a great tool you can use on your own at home before a workout. Think of each breath as a side to the box, so you would inhale, hold, exhale and hold for the same amount of time as each side of the box. Therefore, if you inhale for five seconds, you will also hold for five, exhale for five and hold for five.
Sleep: Sleep helps our heart and blood vessels heal.
Consistent lack of sleep can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stress, diabetes, and stroke.
For better sleep, try creating a routine you do every night before bed and try to start and end it at the same time every night, both on weekdays and weekends.
This will create a circadian rhythm for your body, helping it to know that it is time to rest and digest.
Some activities to consider including in your sleep routine include reading, parasympathetic breathing, ignoring your cell phone and the television, journaling, stretching, meditation, and melatonin supplements.
Aim to get eight hours of sleep per night or enough so that when you wake, you feel well rested.
Exercise: Whether you are walking around the block or training for your next Ironman, it’s important to get the right amount of activity for your body.
Find activities that you enjoy and look forward to doing.
If you enjoy dancing, try joining a Zumba class or an online community like Dance Church.
If you find an activity you enjoy, you are much more likely to continue doing it even after you’ve met your goals.
It’s important to get some sort of activity in every day.
Even if you are injured, find things you can do with what you have available to you, such as stretching, core work, or even your physical therapy prescribed exercises! If you have health conditions, talk to your doctor about finding a program that is right for you.
Nutrition: With all of the exciting restaurants in our community and the convenience of grabbing a bag of chips from the grocery store, it’s difficult to stick to a clean diet. There are also so many fad diets and many conflicting arguments over which foods are truly healthy and which can irritate your gut and cause inflammation. If you are feeling conflicted, try talking to a local nutritionist or naturopath. The best rule of thumb is to stick to the outer aisles of stores. Try to eat whole, natural foods that are not packaged. If a food comes in a bag or has a long shelf life, it’s probably not a healthy food for your body.
Stress: We could talk for days about how to avoid stress, what causes it, and how the body responds to it. The important thing to know is not all stress is bad! Exercise is stress, but it’s a good stress because it boosts our immune system and improves our overall health when done correctly. However, long-term stress that is not addressed can lead to illness and disease, loss of sleep, poor concentration, digestion issues, and more. The best way to rid the body of stress is to improve the other pillars of health, in turn creating a healthier, less-stressful lifestyle.
Relationships: COVID had a negative impact on many of our social interactions. There is less hugging of friends, less quality time spent with one another, and more isolation. Social media can also give us a false sense of belonging. Quality is more important than quantity. Don’t create unwanted stress by trying to make new friends and getting involved with every event and activity in Central Oregon. Instead, work to foster and invest in a community of people you can rely on, who lift your spirits and make you feel like a better individual when you are with them. If a relationship is feeling one-sided or disingenuous, be okay with letting that relationship go.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that all of these pillars promote one another. Make healthier nutritional choices and your exercise abilities will improve. Live a less stressed lifestyle and you will sleep better. Start by choosing just one of these pillars to improve upon this month, and notice the change in the others slowly fall into place to create a quality lifestyle full of vibrancy.
Ashlee Francis operates Sweat PNW in Sisters, where she offers fitness classes and personal training for all levels.