The (AA3)5 Pillars of Physical Health Part 2
Welcome back! Last time we set out on a little journey to find a workable definition of what health is.
To many people, health is an abstract concept, understood vaguely only as the absence of illness in perhaps the same way an abstract concept like “Evil” is often defined as the “Absence of Good”. They know it’s important, they know they want it, but what IT is exactly is hard to pinpoint.
So I presented the AA35 Pillars of Good Health framework as a way to illustrate components that make up good health. By understanding what these are, we will be able to start doing something concrete to support each pillar, building up a storehouse of good and robust health.
We have so far looked at the first two pillars, Freedom from Illness and Freedom from Injury. Today we look at the other three.
Pillar 3: Proper Nutrition
Good nutrition is another important aspect of physical health.
Most people only think about good nutrition in the context of weight loss. They may even try to cut down on food or starve themselves thinking it’s the right thing to do.
What they forget is that food serves other important functions, like energy. We emphasize burning calories so much that we forget we still need them to fuel our engines.
For example, some people avoid simple carbohydrates to lose weight, because simple carbs have been a convenient bogeyman to blame for everything from weight gain and obesity to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Well, guess what? That’s the exact type of fuel your brain needs. The proof? People on a low carb diet find it hard to do mental tasks, are easily irritable, and get headaches. Without fuel we feel fatigued, and perform poorly at work or other activities.
Your tissues also need to grow and repair. Your body needs to manufacture hormones for everything from the immune system to heart function. Protein provide the building blocks for that, but is often inadequate in the diets of many people, especially women who tend to eat less meat than men.
Let’s not forget the obvious problems that come from nutritional deficiencies, such as lack of the right vitamins or minerals. In this day of plenty, we can have full bellies and still lack essential nutrients if our nutrition is rubbish.
One very common example is iron deficiency, especially in women. This can lead to iron defiency anaemia, which can cause dizziness, general tiredness, headaches and shortness of breath. Lacking vitamin D can give you stomach and digestive problems. Vitmain A deficiency is associated with thyroid problems and general tiredness.
Finally, don’t forget water! Water is the most essential nutrient for function. We are composed of around 70% water. It is an intergral element of all our body fluids, essential to cell maintenance, transport of nutrients, regulation of temperature… indeed all functions require it. We don’t store water, so we need continual replenishment or become dehydrated.
Pillar 3 Tip:
Use your hands to decide on food portions!
How can you decide how much to eat when you are too busy to weigh out your food, or if you’re eating outside? Here’s where a quick guesstimate can do the trick… use your hands!
For each meal:
Two cupped hands = the amount of vegetables you should include. E.g. broccoli, spinach, carrots
One fist = the amount of carbohydrates. E.g. grains, rice
One palm, size and thickness = the protein you should eat in a meal. E.g. meat, fish, eggs
One first = the serving of fruit E.g. mixture of berries, kiwi, apple slices
One thumb = maximum amount of healthy fats + oils E.g. oils, nuts, seeds
Water = As a guide, drink 8-10 250ml (8.5 ounces) glasses a day, and more if you are ill, on a high-protein or –fibre diet, and live in hot and humid environments (hello Singapore!).
Pillar 4: Physical Fitness
Some people will be surprised. After all, isn’t being fit an extra? So what if I am a little breathless after climbing the stairs?
See, most people are inactive, so they think functionally. If all they need do is to get to the office and sit all day, and have no problems doing that, anything above is an option. An EXTRA.
I wish it worked like that. I wish that the people who didn’t need to be fit could just get by without exercise. I wish that I wouldn’t need to see them as clients after their sedentary Lifestyles eventually hit them in the gut. Or, more often than not, in the heart.
If you’re unfit, each time you climb the stairs or run for the bus, you may be using 80-100% of your maximum capability. This is a high level of stress for your joints, muscles, heart, lungs. It also increases your chances of injury.
By increasing your fitness, you create a BUFFER of vitality over the bare minimum. Climbing stairs or running for that bus may now be just 50-60% of your maximum ability, so your muscles, joints, heart and lungs experience relatively less stress.
Being sedentary is also linked to high cholesterol, heart problems, breathing problems, diabetes, and even mental slowness. This following schematic shows you some of the other niceties being sedentary and sitting too much can do for you.
If you sit for long hours at a time, blood starts to pool in the legs, and endothelial function is affected. The endothelium is the inner lining of your blood vessels and helps with blood clotting, dilation and constriction of the blood vessels, and regulating blood pressure. So it’s pretty important! And you don’t have to even do much to start to mess this up… just sit!
Fortunately, the benefit you get from a marginal increase in exercise is immense. Research from Indiana University in the US suggests that adding three intermittent and easy (3.2km/h) five minute walks can reverse the damage done by three hours of straight sitting.
Pillar 4 Tip:
While the study above used 5-minute walks on a treadmill at half hour intervals, this may not be realistic for many people. So try to do this instead:
Every 1-2 hours of sitting, make it a point to stretch, do some squats, and march on the spot for a couple of minutes. Add in an evening walk whenever you can. That should start you off on the habit of breaking up long periods of sitting.
Pillar 5: Rest and Recovery
Finally, the one thing that underpins everything is adequate rest and recovery. For many of us who aren’t full time athletes, that means… sleep.
You can do all you can to uphold the other pillars, but sleep is where you recharge and recover from mental and physical stress. Restorative processes happen during sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will know it the next day as you struggle to get things done.
Lack of sleep has been shown in many studies to be linked to heart problems and diabetes.
Your immune system also becomes weaker so you’re more susceptible to colds and flu.
But did you know it’s also related to weight gain and obesity? This happens in three ways:
- When you’re not sleeping, you’re awake. And it’s been shown that people who stay up late nights tend to eat more, because they feel hungry or just bored.
- When you’re not fully recovered, you’re more likely to skip exercise, and be too tired to cook that healthy meal.
- Sleep deprivation decreases levels of leptin, a satiety hormone that tells your body it’s full. So you eat more. But wait there’s more! Lack of sleep also increases another hormone called ghrelin which is a hunger hormone that tells your brain to eat! It’s a double whammy for your weight loss/ control efforts.
Not surprisingly, lack of sleep causes fatigue. Fatigue affects your ability to think clearly, concentrate, make decisions, and other cognitive functions necessary for daily performance. Imagine what that would do to your career or your sports performance.
Related to fatigue is safety risk. Think about all the activities that would be a lot more dangerous due to lack of concentration, from driving to using the kitchen knife. In the US, about one million vehicle crashes a year are suspected to be due to drowsiness and fatigue. I’ve seen injuries happen to athletes or clients who exercised while they were sleepy when they lost their balance or grip while exercising.
One area often forgotten is sex. When you’re fatigued you’ll be in no mood for sex. Your performance will definitely suffer. And imagine falling asleep on a date that precedes even that! People who lack sleep are also more irritable. That will impact your relationships, happy ones of which are essential to leading a Full Life!
Despite its importance, many people take more sleep as an option, just like exercise. So many people are sleep-deprived. They don’t recover fully from one day’s stress before starting another. The effects accumulate, causing poor performance, poor healing and poor health.
Even Shakespeare thought highly of sleep:
“Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast—“
Seems like he knew about more than just language and human nature.
Pillar 5 Tip:
First, an experiment. Pick a night before a rest day, which you don’t have to wake up early. The night before that, note what time you sleep. Don’t set the alarm. The next day, you should wake up naturally. Look at the clock, and then calculate how many hours you slept. This will tell you how long your natural sleep cycle is.
Next, try going to bed just FIVE MINUTES earlier. So if you usually turn in at midnight, try to go to bed at 2355. After a few nights, and you’ve acclimatized to this little change, add another five minutes. Continue the process until you’re averaging the same sleep duration you discovered through your experimentation. When you accomlish this, you may even do away with the alarm clock altogether. You will feel a lot more refreshed, because your body is recharging for the duration of your natural sleep cycle.
So there, we have it. A framework that illustrates what being physically healthy is. It’s not just the 1) absence of illness, but 2) being pain-free, 3) having proper nutrition, 4) being fit, and 5) getting enough rest.
I hope the what and the why of good health are somewhat clearer for you, and that your concept of health is somewhat more concrete. Because now, you can become an active participant in acquiring it, not a passive recipient hoping nothing goes wrong. And you will go on many more Life adventures in the days to come!