Don't you just love how the sometimes the simplest questions are the most complex?
I've spent the last decade+ researching, learning, and experimenting with health. I've come at it from all different angles. Weston A Price. Paleo. Vegetarian. Vegan. Low fat. Low calorie. Low carb. High fat. High calorie. Many small meals throughout the day. Two big meals a day. Cod liver oil. Herbs. Protein bars. Slim Fast shakes. Tinctures, oils, and salves. I did each and every one of those experiments in the name of *health.* I was led to believe that every different option would lead me to health. How's that for confusing!?
There is a giant industry out there with entire marketing teams trying to get YOU to buy their stuff. While it is easy to place the blame on these guys, I think the real issue lies within our lack of understanding of what HEALTH really looks like. I was pulled so many different directions over the years because I didn't know what end result I was really looking for. Did I want to be skinny? Improve digestion? Sleep better? Be stronger? Faster? Better fasting glucose? Skinny? Skinny? Skinny?
The world of health can be tricky to navigate with the endless amounts of information out there. In fact, when the question, "What is health?" was posed to a lecture hall of medical students, no two people came back with the same answer. These are the very people that we trust with our health.....whatever that means. If you check out the literal definition, our trusty 'ol Webster says that health is the absence of disease. Meh. That's pretty generic. Think about this. Would you consider someone "healthy" that had great blood sugar levels, normal range cholesterol, and great blood pressure, but they were lonely, depressed, and unfulfilled in life? Or the opposite scenario, what about someone that is diabetic and has an autoimmune disease, but has surrounded themselves with friends, gratitude, and enjoys every day? After years of working with clients and talking to women, I believe that health lies somewhere between these two sides of the spectrum. A body that is greatly free from physical pain often allows our minds to be more free. Just as a positive mindset and supportive community promotes movement and healthy choices. This is why I focus on the "big four" (as outlined by the Center for Disease Control) PLUS self-care for my clients at The Alley Gym.
In my opinion, these five aspects of our life MUST be in place to experience genuine health. They will look different for everyone and there is no single, right answer. But time and time again, I have seen these roots build the foundation for a healthy strong tree. What are they? Check it out....
#1- Nutrition: 5+ servings of vegetables and fruit every day
I'm sure we have all heard the Hippocrates quote "Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Without a doubt, how you fuel your body affects your health. Before you go and get high up on your horse about the [fill in the blank] diet, my main focus with nutrition is teaching you how to listen to your body. Your genetic makeup is different than mine so what works for one, may not be the answer for another. The general guideline to eat 5+ servings of vegetables and fruit each day will benefit everyone, but past that, the nitty gritty details are up to you. What I do believe in is mindful eating. It can take some time to un-do decades of programming, but if we can shed all those layers, your body knows what it needs. It is your job to listen and block out the ads for shakes, bars, and schmancy concoctions.
#2- Movement: 10k steps and 30+ minutes of heart elevating movement
First off, I acknowlege that those numbers are totally arbitrary. However, I also know that I haven't had a single clients in 3+ years that routinely hits those numbers. It's a great starting point to understand how much movement you actually have built into your day. And by the way, you'll notice that I use the word "movement" rather than "exercise." What kind of personal trainer am I?! I am a trainer that knows that three hours of gym time over of the 168 hours in a week doesn't mean sh*t. Your health is how you move your body on a daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute basis. Do you walk to the post office or do you drive everywhere? Do you slouch into the couch or do you sit on the floor? Do you take the stairs or use the elevator? I don't care if you Zumba, CrossFit, yoga, walk, jog, or have dance parties in the living room. Just find something that you love to do, and create the space in your schedule to do it. It is your daily movement habits that create health, or the lack of it.
Now listen, I know that we all have busy lives. I know that some of us have children in various stages of life and perhaps those little munchkins make it difficult. I know that you may have a job that gets you up too early in the morning. I know that evening *feels* like the best time to unwind in front of the tv a bit too late. But you NEED to make sleep a priority. Perhaps it is impossible to get eight glorious hours a night, but there are many things that you can do to improve the quality of your sleep, create a nighttime routine to help ease the process and get as much of the good stuff as you can. When our bodies aren't getting enough zzzzzs, it can create issues with our blood sugar, stress levels, and ability to make clear decisions. I'm sure that every sleep deprived mama of an infant can attest to that!
#4- Water: 7+ glasses a day
I don't need to get into this one. I'm sure you've heard it a million times and already understand that drinking soda or even coffee in place of water each day is going to have detrimental effects on your health. So just do it. Keep a water bottle around you and sip as you feel thirsty.
#5- Self-care (this is my add on to the CDC's recommendations, and my personal favorite for building a healthy life)
For some self-care means pedicures and massages, but I really believe that self-care means living a fulfilled live. Rather than wasting the day away on Instagram, what about learning to play the harmonica, going for a walk in the sunshine, or joining a book club? What can you DO with your time that will make you feel alive and refreshed? How can you speak up to get your needs met? Can you do a babysitting swap with a neighbor so that you can get a couple hours of quiet time during the week? Can you talk to your partner to make sure that they are aware of your emotional needs? Can you schedule in regular time to meet face-to-face with friends? Make time for the things that take care of your soul.
There you have it! The five areas of life that will keep you strong, healthy, and grounded. If you're interested in learning how to take these things and actually IMPLEMENT them into your life, let's chat about some habit coaching. Remember, your health is more than a number. More than a pant size. More than any metrics measured at the doctors office. Your health is about your body, your mind, and your happiness.
What is YOUR favorite measure of health? I'd love to hear about it!