Posted July 30th, 2011 in Blog.
It’s easy to get caught up in the largely empty promises of fad diets and weight loss pills that bombard us every day in the media. Far too frequently we lose sight of our overall health, as we try to achieve a standard of physical attractiveness and fitness that is both unreasonable and counterproductive to our wellbeing. Because crash diets are typically extreme and unsustainable for the long-term, they are ineffective and often detrimental to our health.
Yet too often we choose to believe the hype. It’s tempting to take the easy way out. But effecting real change in our health takes work. And it requires adopting a broader approach than merely taking a pill each day. If we focus on our overall health first, looking and feeling great will follow.
Leading a healthy lifestyle means living in a way that contributes to our health and wellbeing. It is systematic, holistic, and sustainable for the long-term. We must learn to think about ourselves as a system, with our mind, body and spirit sharing a connected, symbiotic relationship. If we focus solely on one component of the system, we leave the other parts out of the equation.
This is why nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress and social connections all go hand in hand in leading to better health outcomes (for the science behind the mind-body connection, see Examining the Science of Mind-Body Medicine). For individuals living with IBD, there are measurable benefits from getting exercise and relieving stress. There are also clear mental and physical benefits from getting enough sleep and maintaining healthy social relationships.
A proactive, holistic approach to health and wellness can’t be solely focused on the absence of illness and disease – it must be about the promotion of overall health for the individual. Lack of sleep, for example, impacts our cognitive functioning as well as our physical body, in the form of weight gain, release of stress hormones, and damaged skin. Stress and mental attitude significantly impact our perception of, and experience in, the world. Our eating habits and level of activity have both direct and indirect effects on our weight, appearance, energy levels, mood, mental functioning and longevity.
Good nutrition recharges our body’s batteries for daily activity. A balanced diet provides all the protein, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates needed for moment-to-moment metabolism as well as high-intensity workouts. This keeps our energy level high and places good stress on our body, to strengthen rather than strain it. It’s a way of life in which we make informed choices that contribute to our health and wellness. In addition to avoiding foods that harm our bodies – such as those high in sugar, salt, transfats and saturated fats – eating certain foods can actually improve our health and wellbeing. For example, fruits and veggies deliver lots of protective health benefits, like a healthier heart, stronger bones, more youthful looking skin, a stronger immune system, more energy and protection against disease.
It is unfortunate that some of the stigma associated with what I’ll call fad diets has attached to legitimate forms of dietary modification. Diet is still a valid approach to treating many chronic conditions, and be skeptical of anyone who dismisses diet as a tool to treat disease. That doesn’t mean diet will always be enough to help you heal. You must do your homework. Research a diet before you begin it. Talk to people who have used it. Dietary modification is a powerful tool, but one you must use carefully.
Regular cardiovascular exercises and weight training workouts not only keeps our bodies and minds fit, but also helps relieve stress, tension and helps us fight fatigue. Provided your physical condition allows it, regular low-to-moderate intensity exercise can be good for people with digestive issues (always consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program). Sleep also affects our system on many levels. When we start skimping on sleep, our skin starts looking tired and an increase of stress hormones and cortisol causes us to crave high-sugar foods and caffeine. Eating well, getting plenty of exercise, and allowing for enough sleep helps slow the effects of aging, reduces stress, and promotes healthy weight levels.
If you are interested in improving your prospects for living a longer life, then healthy lifestyle choices are critical. Inadequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise are all risk factors for chronic, potentially fatal conditions, including cancer, heart disease and complications from type 2 diabetes. You can improve your chances for health and longevity with positive lifestyle choices. Don’t wait until tomorrow to start making wise lifestyle decisions. Your health and happiness depends on it.