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November 1, 2014

The (AA3)5 Pillars of Physical Health Part 1

by alive

I recently fell sick for two weeks, causing a snowballing backlog of things to do, from work to personal projects to business planning and… yes, writing in this blog.


That got me thinking about health: what it is, and how we often take it for granted. The effects are not just the immediate suffering but also the aftermath – having to make up for lost time, lost work, and lost opportunities.


In my consulting and speaking engagementChecking thermometers, I often ask people:


What is good health?


Almost always I get an answer that defines health as the absence of illness or disease.


That vague idea is a huge problem and obstacle to actually having good health, because it’s so abstract.


Theres’s nothing more abstract than having to define something as the absence of something else. And this definition ensures that people have little motivation to understand what health is as long as they don’t feel anything is wrong.


So I’m going to suggest a conceptual framework for health. Now I know that there are a few dimensions to health, but I’m going to focus on the physical, because that’s what people relate to best, and it’s really the foundation for almost everything else.


Understand also that this is NOT the ONLY way to conceptualise good health, but I think it’s one that helps start the journey to understanding, and then getting it.

By understanding my (AA3)5 Pillars of Good Health, and what you can do to strengthen each of them, the idea of health will become real for you, real enough to act.


  AA35 Pillars of Good Health png version


Pillar 1: Freedom from Illness


Broadly speaking, it is true that health is freedom from disease and illness. When this is the case, we take it for granted, and notice only when something goes wrong.


Four weeks ago, I was on top of the world, training in the gym, socializing, consulting with clients, delivering workshops.


Four weeks and a day later, I was in bed. For days I was unable to eat or speak without pain, read without headaches, sleep without chills. I was so weak I could barely roll over in bed.



We’re constantly bombarded by attackers from the environment. Germs, viruses, cigarette smoke, haze, and other pollutants threaten us constantly, trying to use our bodies for food or a home. As long as our immune system works, we live in happy ignorance of the dangers of taking a breath, or the tender mercies of shaking a hand. But when it’s overcome, everything crashes down like a house of cards.


So being healthy means your immune system is strong, and coping well with the constant challenges thrown at it.


Your immune system will be boosted by almost all the other pillars we will talk about, and that’s one important point. Everything is interconnected. You have to mind all the pillars, and give them as much help as you can.


How can you help Pillar 1?


Pillar 1 Tip

Give your immune system a hand, literally. Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to minimize the risk of catching and spreading disease. From flu to food poisoning, much suffering can be avoided if you just took a minute to wash your hands after using the toilet, before eating, and after coughing or sneezing into them.


You might think you’re already doing that. Well think again. Most people have very poor handwashing technique that is haphazard and unsystematic. Have a look at the parts that get missed the way most people wash their hands:



So what if you’ve missed a little spot? Well, consider that bacteria can double in only 20minutes, and it’s easy to see how one tiny spot of bacteria can easily cover the whole hand in a very short time.


Here’s a systematic method for a more thorough procedure.


 Handwashing technique 2


Pillar 2: Freedom from Injury


Quick, I want you to stand up!

Good. Now sit down.


Did you manage that easily? Did you experience pain anywhere? Stiffness perhaps?


If so, congratulations! Because according to the WHO, 1 in 10 men, and 1 in 5 women, will be unable to do what you just did at some point in their Lives. At least, not painlessly.


But don’t rejoice yet.


Perhaps right now, it’s nothing so obvious as gross movements like this. But, what about small niggles?


Maybe it’s a pain in your sole when you take your first morning step. Perhaps a tingling sensation in your fingers that’s become more noticeable lately. It might be a backache you usually ignore until something triggers it and tells you OUCH IT’S THERE.

 plantar fasciitis plantar fasciitiscarpal tunnelbackache

People are surprised when I tell them having pain means they’re not in good health. After all, people are able to tolerate some degree of discomfort, and indeed chronic pain of some sort has become ‘normal’.


pickup babyIn good health, you are not supposed to feel pain when you move. You were made to stand up, reach up for something on a shelf, zip up your dress, bend down to carry your baby… the list goes on.


How much would your quality of Life be affected if you couldn’t do these things without pain? How would that affect you mentally and emotionally?


Furthermore, your body is interconnected. Injuring one part causes compensations in other areas that will stress them too. So don’t expect pain to stop at one area unless you treat it quickly.


Have low back pain? If untreated, expect to have upper back, neck and knee pain soon.

Injured your wrist? You’ll eventually have finger and elbow pain.


All this affects your quality of Life and ultimately, your ability to live it to the full.


Pillar 2 Tip

It’s time to be honest about how well your body can move without pain.

When I take on clients for exercise consultations or training, I always go through a movement screen. That’s because it is important to identify any limitations that may affect a client just now, but also cause problems in the future. I am then able to use this information to tailor-make an exercise programme that will be safe, effective and also, remedial to the problems I see.


Here are four very basic test movements. They make up a quick screen that helps you identify any restriction or abnormality, be it pain or stiffness. If you find one, consult a physiotherapist.


Movement 1 Squat




1. Squat

Feet comfortably apart, squat down as low as you can or as soon as you feel some pain, then stand up again.

Movement 2 Touching Toes



2. Forward Bend

Feet comfortably apart, bend forward as if to touch your toes. Don’t force it; it’s just the action that we want. Note not just to pain but also any uncomfortable tightness.


Movement 3 Forward Arm Raise



3. Shoulder Forward and Side Raise

While standing, lift your arms in front of you and go all the way up. Return the same way.

Now lift your arms up again but this time from the sides.


 Movement 4 HBB


4. Shoulder Hands-Behind-Back

Reach both hands behind your back, one from above, and one from below. Note any pain or tightness in your shoulders.



So that’s two pillars down, and it should already give you something to think about. You also have two concrete actions you can immediately take to improve on them, so get to it! Do the movement screen, then wash your hands before coming back here and clicking that mouse for Part 2!


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