The Four Pillars of Optimal Health
As much as we would like one, there is no single answer to achieving optimal health. In truth, a healthy lifestyle is one rooted in balance, not quick fixes or targeted approaches. Each person has a different definition of Optimal Health. Their needs and goals are different and so is their approach to their own health. However, all definitions include some balance between the four pillars of optimal health; exercise, recovery, nutrition, and stress management. These pillars work together in determining the state of your wellbeing. If one is lacking, it will impact the rest. That is why finding the right balance is so important when you are undertaking your health and wellness journey.
This constant search for the right balance between the four pillars inherently leads to a comprehensive approach to your health. By doing so, you will not focus on exercise as the key to staying fit and healthy. Instead, you will realize how important it is to fuel your body properly through nutrition, or get enough sleep at night. You will see the impact of various stressors in your life, and learn how to manage those, as well.
Exercise is key to keeping your body fit and healthy at any age. It can improve your immune and cardiovascular systems, release endorphins and much more. From maintaining flexibility and strength over time to reaching that marathon milestone, movement contributes to overall optimal health.
The WHO recently updated their physical activity guidelines, recommending that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week. Children need at least 60 minutes each day. Staying active is essential to adding years to your life, as well as improving flexibility, muscle mass and heart strength.
Of course, there are times during which too much exercise is detrimental to your health. Pushing your body to the limit is one thing, but consistently going over that limit and hurting your body is another. Not stretching before exercise can lead to sore muscles and troubled movement the next day. Overuse of muscles can lead to wear and tear or injury, and if you do not recover after a workout properly, you may not enjoy its full benefits.
Our bodies are powerful machines, but even they need a break. From getting enough sleep to giving your muscles time to recover from an intense workout, there are many ways to ensure your body is not overworked. Recovery does not solely aid in relaxation and healing, it is critical for enhancing athletic performance and even preventing future injuries. Your body needs time to recover from the stress that exercise places on the body, and muscles need time to repair themselves.
There are various recovery methods that one can use, but the most basic method is sleep. A lack of mental clarity and energy will prevent you from achieving your goals and leave you feeling tired. You can also find ways to loosen your muscles after a tough workout, such as through ice baths or massages. A cryotherapy session can improve your sleep quality and decrease inflammation, while an infrared sauna session can benefit your cardiovascular system.
The food we eat has a profound impact on our bodies. Proper nutrition can give you the energy you need to succeed and poor nutrition can prevent you from doing so. Whether it’s increasing energy, training for an event, losing weight, regulating blood pressure or decreasing inflammation, a dietitian can help you set goals and provide prescriptive advice within the context of your overall health and wellness goals. Not having enough energy, for example, can leave you feeling more tired than usual or even dizzy after a workout.
It is important to remember that each person will require a unique diet, and no single approach will work for everyone. Listening to your body and its needs is key to finding the right approach, as well as figuring out when to eat. You can eat healthy all day, but there is such a thing as eating too much. You can also eat very little and consequently lack proper nutrients.
Stress management is often the forgotten pillar of optimal health. No matter what gains you make with nutrition, exercise or recovery; excessive mental and physical stress can prevent you from achieving your fullest potential. Being able to balance the good stress, such as exercise, with the negative stress, such as injury and emotional hardship, is key.
Educating yourself on how to track your stress levels is the first step to managing them. You can do so through wearable fitness trackers that provide you with data on your sleep quality, amount of exercise, heart rate, and more. This ability to track and manage your data will empower you to take better control of your health and wellbeing. Meditation apps can also help track your mindfulness and remind you to take a step back if you are feeling stressed.
Each of these four pillars are part of achieving optimal health. Once you find your balance, you will be empowered to take care of your health and wellness journey.
Kevin Cota, DPT, SCS, ART, is the Business Development Lead at Performance Optimal Health and has been practicing physical therapy for almost 10 years. Outside of his role at Performance, Kevin serves as a physical therapist for the New York Rangers.
To learn more, go to: performanceoptimalhealth.com/nutmeg. 203-422-0679.