Most of us are not trying to become supermodels, appear in a superhero movie or beat a world record running a marathon. We are are just trying to be as healthy as possible, by maintaining our weight, feeling good in our bodies and being able to move without pain, especially as we age. Problem is that the society we live in keeps pushing us to conform to certain standards by selling us ideals that are almost impossible to achieve.
I invite you to ask yourself, what is health to you? Not what Instagram says, not what the latest trends sell you. What do you really think being healthy feels like?
Being healthy goes beyond the absence of disease or infirmity. Being healty is a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, not only about your current situation, but also your future. So, how do we achieve this health? By working on the Four Basic Pillars of being Healthy
First Pillar: Nutrition
Certain authors propose that nutrition accounts for up to 80% of our success on being healthy. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the old adage says “We are what we eat”. It is not a secret that we must eat healthy to be healthy.
But we must also distance ourselves from the popular trends around. Think about how fast the “perfect body” image evolves. In just a lifetime we have seen skinny models, to curvy models, to washboard abs, to thigh gaps, to Kardashian rears, you name it. It changes so fast that it is hard to keep track of it. And trying to do so is exhausting and damaging to your real health. So let’s start by forgetting about ideal weight to conform to those standards and focus on what our bodies need to perform its functions healthily.
Our bodies need three macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats, in addition to Vitamins and Minerals. Whoever tells you that you must eliminate one of those macronutrients is WRONG. Just plainly and definitely wrong. Carbs are not bad, fats are not evil and protein is not the holy grail of diets. We need the three of them in a balance that is different for everyone. And please, do yourself a favor and stop counting grams and calories, save your mental power to do more important stuff, like learning a new skill or spending time with your family.
What we need really need is one simple thing: Minimize ultra-processed foods. The only question you need to ask about anything you eat is how far it is from its ocurrence in nature. For example, a fresh vegetable or fruit, or a piece of steak or a scrambled egg is as close to nature as possible, but those “healthy” chocolate protein bars or “paleo” microwaveable bowls are not.
If you fill your plate with fresh foods you will invariable lose the extra weight, feel more alive and aware, and definitely, be healthier.
Second Pillar: Exercise
If you consult with a large number of people, they will say that in order to be healthy, you must exercise regularly. And they would be right. But how much does “regularly” really mean? The World Health Organization gave in 2020 their guidelines to being physically active, which can simply be summarized on 150 minutes of exercise per week. Yes, that’s just 2.5 hours per week. Not 2 hours per day. Not 10.000 steps or 100 crunches. Only 150 minutes, likely less than the time you spend on Facebook or TikTok.
Of course those guidelines are very generic and would vary with your personal goals and current health, but in most of the cases it is enough to exercise three times per week and do just a few small changes in our routines to become more active. Choose the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk with your dog instead of opening the patio door, add a little stretching routine before bed. Any small step will get you closer to your better self
Third Pillar: Rest and Recovery
In the rapid world we live in, we can be occupied 24 hours a day and forget how important sleep is. How many times have you read that we need at least 7-8 hours of sleep a day? But, do you really give it enough importance? No matter what does fancy books say about sleeping less, they don’t work long term. You may be able to function for some time, but it will have an important impact on your overall health long term.
We all know the consequences of poor sleep. We feel tired, cranky, get headaches, have difficulty focusing and concentrating among others. But there is more than that. When we don’t sleep enough it creates a hormonal imbalance in our bodies that basically tells our bodies to require more food and store it in the form of fat so that it is prepared to continue functioning longer hours. In other words, we become prey to our cravings and we we unvariably gain weight.
Another part of this pillar is recovery. We not only need sleep, but also appropriate recovery from extenuating periods of activities. We need to tell our bodies to “calm down” from those levels of high stress caused by daily work or extrenous exercise. Scheduling recovery time is as important as scheduling your workout sessions.
Fourth Pillar: Mental wellbeing
More and more scientific journals are placing increased importance in our mental wellbeing in order to be Healthy. And we are not refering to mental conditions so common in these times, like depression or anxiety. The Global Wellness Institute puts it this way: “When we talk about mental wellness, we are not just focusing on our mental or cognitive functioning, but also our emotions; our social relationships; our ability to function in daily life; and even our spiritual, religious, or existential state” (link).
Taking time to work on our mental wellbeing is as important as the 150 minutes of exercise mentioned in the second pillar. But these activities would vary depending on the individual and can go from meditating, listening to music, talking to a friend, taking a walk in nature, taking a vacation, getting a massage, taking a bubble bath, squeezing a stress ball, or just carving out some time for peace and quiet in daily life. Working on these activities is not only necessary to achieve our Healthier Self, but it would also contribute to improve the other three pillars.
We need to be honest with ourselves. We can always improve in one or all of these pillars. But we need to work on them, not as a task, not just ticking boxes in our daily lives. We need to own those changes, make them part our ourselves. Once these four pillars become natural to us, as easy as brushing our teeth in the morning, then we will be on the road to a longer, happier and healthier life.