If we want to live long, healthy and happy lives well into our twilight years, there are certain things our body needs to maintain good health. We cannot fight our biology – we require sleep, nourishment and movement. When any one of these three essential pillars is neglected, it can impact on how we look and feel today and into the future.
Sometimes, in spending too much time focusing on one of the pillars, we may neglect the others. At other times, an unbalanced lifestyle may lead to a breakdown in multiple pillars. In either situation, unless we take the time to focus on re-establishing balance between the three, and ensuring we are prioritising them within our lifestyle, it may begin to take a toll on our health.
Let’s explore the three pillars in greater detail and the small changes which will make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.
The impact of inadequate sleep is well documented and for good reason. Sleep is not only essential for brain function, metabolism and muscle repair, it is also closely linked to a strong immune system, better digestion, more balanced moods, clearer skin, optimal hormonal balance, lower stress levels and thyroid function. We are essentially the health of our cells, and cellular repair takes place while we are asleep. Everything from skin cells to the cells that make up your muscles need repair work overnight. When cells are working optimally, you look and feel your best.
While there are small individual variations, adults require 7-8 hours sleep per night for optimum health. Yet, statistics tell us that a significant percentage of people are not hitting the recommended quota. A night of poor sleep here or there is not a problem. If you are, however, experiencing repeated sleep disturbances or not getting sufficient sleep regularly, it may be time to focus some time and attention on this essential pillar of great health.
These 7 evening rituals can help ready your body for rest, or you may wish to see your healthcare provider for a sleep check to ensure a silent sleep disorder is not contributing to your challenges.
Overnight, our cells need sleep to undergo vital repair work, however without adequate nutrition, your cells won’t be able to repair at their full potential. Our bodies are made up of millions of tiny cells. To function effectively, and to drive the important biochemical processes they are responsive for, your cells require nutrients. We get these nutrients from whole, real foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, healthy dietary fats and proteins.
There is no ‘junk food’ there is only ‘junk’ and ‘food’. If our diet consists mostly of packaged and processed foods, or we consume too many takeaways or dine out regularly, it is highly probable that we are not obtaining enough nutrients from our food to maintain good health. Much like a lack of sleep, a lack of nourishment has a wide-ranging impact, affecting everything from immune function to hormonal balance – and even compromising our sleep.
The recommended daily intake of vegetables to prevent deficiencies is five serves. One serve is either half a cup of cooked vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini or kale or a cup of salad vegetables such as lettuce. Note that the five serves are the minimum recommended intake and consider whether you currently meet that amount. If not, you are certainly not alone. It is estimated that only around one in twenty Australians consume enough vegetables. The recommended intake of fruit is two serves per day. Your daily diet should also ideally consist primarily of a balance between protein, wholegrains, healthy fats and fresh fruit and vegetables.
We need regular movement to maintain a flexible and functional body. As we age, a lack of movement can become increasingly problematic, contributing to a plethora of health issues. Movement includes exercise but it is more than that too. It is how much we move across our day that matters.
The pace of modern living is resulting in an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Between work demands and rising stress levels, more people are moving less – either because they are short on time or do not have the energy. Technology, too, plays a role in reduced movement. We can now take the elevator instead of the stairs, drive our cars instead of walking or spend hours completely absorbed by our screens.
Research has shown that regular movement breaks across the day reduce back, neck and shoulder pain and boost mood. To reap the health and energy benefits, it is best to get up every hour for about three to five minutes and move around in some way. Exercise is just as important as general movement for building muscle mass, which from the age of 30 onwards will decline unless we do resistance training to maintain it. Regular movement and exercise also keeps your lymphatic system flowing (essential for detoxification) and stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins.
If you are unsure where to focus your attention first, start by attending to the pillar that you feel is the most unbalanced. This will usually result in the biggest benefit and then you can re-evaluate what else might need to change from there. Remember, incremental changes are often more sustainable, so take small measured steps that you can build on.