The most simplified description of the management of health I’ve come across was to look at health as the combination and involvement of four pillars. The pillars are nutrition (inc hydration), movement, sleep, and de-stressing. The analogy given was to imagine each pillar representing the 4 legged chair you are sitting on. Imagine the length and strength of the pillars to be representative of how well you look after yourself in that area. When I was asked to look at it like this I realised I had become a little lazy in my approach or one-eyed perhaps. I am great at looking after my movement, and nutrition, and I do try with my sleep but work prevents that from being optimal, and de-stressing doesn’t get looked at at all. Kind of weird considering stress and lack of rest are my prime issues and my inability to regulate them on all levels have created my biggest downfalls. Like the mechanic analogy, I seemed to do a better job of seeing dysfunction in others and dealing with it than with myself. But until I went through this exercise, I couldn't see it.
Some say the chief reason people are visiting health practitioners now is fatigue. I’ve had my fair share of fatigue related issues and over the years have been educated more and more that these really are stress regulation disorders. Most people we work with need stress reduction, everything is working out, and they enter the gym looking to push even harder. Health, productivity, and performance don’t work that way. I’ve heard the elements for health labeled in many different ways. Educated through the C.H.E.K Institute I’d often refer to health being a combination of the management of four doctors - Dr Quiet (the chief physician), Dr Diet, Dr Movement, and Dr Happiness. So said by Paul, the last four Dr’s you’ll ever need.
My answer to fatigue related issues has most often been biased to improving my energy via nutrition, and training smarter. I approached sleep as unalterable because I had already used every hour I possibly could for sleep. And my stress, well it was just something that’d pass. When you think of the chair analogy it makes it so easy to decide which pillars you need to pay most attention to to start improving your health, productivity, and performance. The analogy made it very clear to me that sleep and de-stressing need most attention at the moment.
When thinking about improving your pillars, the main focus is on trying to promote a parasympathetic state and as a result, a system with less inflammation. Remember, health, productivity, and performance don’t improve by going and doing more. Not until your pillars are even strong and as level as possible at least. By driving the pillars in this was, a way that promotes less of an inflammatory process (which is driven by your sympathetic nervous system), you’ll create a system that adapts faster, recovers faster, handles more, and so is healthier and performs better. Then you will end up with the health, productivity and performance you are after!
Let’s look briefly at the basics of each one.
Sleep - Remember Dr Quiet - the chief physician. Sleep is vital for health and wellbeing, and for optimal health, it’s vital that we get enough sleep regularly. On average we used to sleep 8-9 hours a night, Nowadays, we apparently average 6 hours a night. So over a year we are losing 730 hours of rest and recovery, which will affect us physically and psychologically.
Basic rules - avoid any phones/laptops etc after 9pm. If you have to work, get an app or screen that takes away the blue light in your screen so that your cortisol (wake up hormone) doesn’t start rising as a result of the light exposure. Bed by 1030pm, and if possible waking at 6am. It’s suggested that our physical repair happens between 10pm-2am and if you miss those hours, they can’t be made up. The same goes for our psychological repair which happens between 2am-6am. Falling asleep and staying asleep are different issues. Block out curtains, no tvs/phones etc in your room, magnesium before bed, and meditation before bed will take care of most issues I’ve come across in people.
De-Stressing - Again, Dr Quiet’s domain - and so of most importance. Remember, stress is cumulative, and your body does not differentiate the course. So it can be food, injury, sun burn, lack of sleep, a fight with your partner, poorly designed training - it’s all stress, your body will view it in and deal with it in the same way. These have been dealt with to a degree. I want to look at the mental side of things here.
The biggest issue is that most who have issues with stress have a bad relationship with it. Stress is natural and is never going away. Even things we enjoy are an added stress (think CrossFit, Weightlifting, Martial Arts etc) and your body doesn't differentiate stressors! Most who struggle with stress want to get rid of the stress (you can insert anxiety here too). But stress will never completely leave. So the real mission is to change our relationship with stress, how we perceive it, and how to be at ease with it. Easier said than done. The go to here is meditation… It just has to be done. The problem is your mind - not necessarily what is happening outside of it. And the only way you are going to gain some control is to train your mind in the same way you train your body. Regularly and consistently. There are excellent App’s to help with those who’re unsure of how to get started. I’d personally recommend Mindfulness and Headspace.
Nutrition - bar seeing a specialist to test you for any food intolerances, the most commonly accepted low irritant way of eating is paleo. I hate to use that term. But it’s such an easy way to encapsulate the idea that you have nothing artificial, no deli meats, no gluten, no dairy, nothing with processed sugar in it, and most go as far as to have no legumes. Personally I ask that most keep legumes, I also suggest white rice (remember, low irritant) sweet potato, as well as quinoa and buckwheat if handled well. Fluids? Water and herbal teas. Remember, this is taken from the point of view of creating less inflammation and assisting in creating a parasympathetic state.
Movement - Regular movement is a critical component of health and wellbeing. It provides mobility and motility to the internal organs therefore helping with digestion. Movement keeps joints and muscles healthy and aids in circulation and in the detoxification function.
The right amount and level of exercise is individual and many aspects need to be considered, particularly a person’s overall physiological (stress) load, in other words, how stressed their system is. Many things produce stress load in a person: lack of nutrition, limbic emotional stress, toxins and exercise. Exercise at an inappropriate level for the individual can add more load/stress into their system. Do some baseline testing and work at the level appropriate to your results. The easiest way to take control of this is to start monitoring your Heart Rate Variance (HRV). There are some very good App’s out there now that can do this for you.
Measuring your HRV is essentially a measurement of your inflammatory response created from current stressors. The measurement is taken by looking at your hearts expression of how your brain is handling your current environment. In this way you can begin to track how your current training regimen effects your state, how you’re recovering, and get real data on whether you are actually improving your fitness. You can also manipulate dietary intake, supplements, and more to see how these elements effect your bodies stress level and overall health.
Your Cheat Sheet:
Sleep - Bed by 1030pm, and if possible waking at 6am. Block out curtains, no tvs/phones etc in your room, magnesium before bed, and meditation before bed will take care of most issues I’ve come across in people.
De-Stressing: The problem is your mind - not necessarily what is happening outside of it. And the only way you are going to gain some control is to train your mind in the same way you train your body. Regularly and consistently.
Nutrition: An easy way to encapsulate to look at; nothing artificial, no deli meats, no gluten, no dairy, nothing with processed sugar in it. Fluids? Water and herbal teas.
Movement - The right amount and level of exercise is individual and many aspects need to be considered. Do some baseline testing and work at the level appropriate to your results. The easiest way to take control of this is to start monitoring your Heart Rate Variance (HRV). There are some very good App’s out there now that can do this for you.
How to implement all of this and make it stick? Well that requires creating and nurturing lifelong habits. Building effective habits is all about making them more than manageable, making sure they are easy to implement, and ensuring the new habit is anchored to something you do regularly so that it stays for good! For those interested, this is something our corporate 21 day plan specialises in.
You can make it more complicated, but these four pillars will build the base for you to find health, well being, and if you want it, performance. No miracles, and no short time frames. This is the way to a life of health. Implement smart small changes with the big picture in mind.