Look up the definition of ‘wellness’ and there’s plenty to choose from. “Making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life;” “Necessary to live a higher quality of life;” or “The quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort,” are all good examples depicting the essence of this word.
Each of us likely has our own definition of ‘wellness’ but what matters most is how actively are you practicing habits to achieve it? For me as a registered dietitian and healthcare professional, I emphasize and prioritize wellness in preventing illness and prolonging quality of life. While I do see clients with various health problems helping them improve their medical situations, when wellness is ranked high on your priority list, it’s the best approach to avoiding debilitating and costly diseases.
Wellness – 3 pillars making it happen
Good health or wellness doesn’t just happen. It takes commitment, hard work, patience, discipline, and practice. Not everyone will be on board making wellness a priority, but for those who do, the payoff is tremendous. One the one hand you’ll likely have fewer doctors’ visits, less prescription medications and hospitalizations, less illnesses and less stress in general. On the other hand, you’ll likely have more energy and alertness, enhanced self-esteem, improved mental health and immune functioning, and more time to spend with loved ones doing activities you enjoy. Being and feeling ‘well and healthy,’ is a good place to be.
So, what are the 3 pillars of wellness helping you reach this pinnacle of health? They are the basics: Good nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep.
1. Good Nutrition
There’s no doubt good nutrition is well-recognized as an essential cornerstone for optimizing health and wellness. The challenge is to find a satisfying balance between what we like to eat and what foods nourish our bodies best. Designing your diet wisely not only enhances health and enjoyment of eating but also can relieve feelings of guilt or worry that you aren’t eating well. All of us appreciate the occasional hot dog and chips kind of meal, but it’s the overall eating pattern you choose day in and day out that matters most in the long run. Choosing an array of healthy foods the majority of the time, allows you to have less nutritious foods on infrequent occasions without harm to your health.
Here’s why eating a nutritious diet is a pillar of wellness:
- Helps lower blood cholesterol
- Helps lower high blood pressure
- Helps you reach and maintain a healthy body weight
- Influences long-term health
- Helps prevent nutrient deficiencies
- Enhances immune functioning providing better resistance to disease
- Increases energy and vitality
- Improves recovery from illness or injury
While there are many ways to achieve a healthy diet, one dietary pattern I wholeheartedly endorse is the Mediterranean Diet. To learn more about this style of eating and why it’s been consistently ranked as one of the best dietary patterns to follow, here’s a link explaining how to get started: 8 Ways to follow the Mediterranean Diet for Better Health.
2. Regular Exercise
While your daily food choices can powerfully affect your health, the combination of nutrition and physical activity is a dynamic duo setting you up for wellness. Your body is meant to move. Lack of movement can be a possible predictor of developing certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and some forms of cancer. Being sedentary may even increase your risk of catching a cold.1 In fact, people who regularly engage in moderate physical activity live longer, healthier lives on average than those who are more sedentary.2
Here are benefits you can count on when practicing regular, consistent exercise:
- Improved body composition
- Improved bone density
- Enhanced resistance to colds and infections
- Stronger circulation and lung function
- More restful, beneficial sleep
- Lower risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer
- Improved mental health and well-being
- Stronger self-image
- Reduced body fat, increased muscle mass
- A more youthful appearance, healthy skin, and improved muscle tone
- Faster wound healing
- Reduced menstrual symptoms
- Increased independence in elderly
If it’s been some time since you’ve exercised regularly, check with your primary care physician before starting. Choose physical activities you enjoy which might include hiking, swimming, bicycling, jogging, playing tennis, or lifting weights. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends actively engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week or at least 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. For anyone who lacks time for exercise, here are ideas to sneak in activity within your busy day.
3. Sufficient Sleep
Up to one-third of your daily routine is spent sleeping. Often dismissed or overlooked, getting adequate sleep is actually one of the most important things you can do for your health and is essential for life. When you think about it, you can go for long periods without eating but you cannot go very long without sleeping. Yet, about one-third of U.S. adults get less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
Sleep affects everything from energy and appetite to performance, mood, attention, memory, and decision making. During sleep, your body is actively working to support healthy brain function by removing toxins and metabolic “trash” while the body repairs itself getting ready for another day. Habitual sleep loss is associated with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease.
Here are valuable benefits of the importance of getting adequate sleep:
- Enhances your memory and problem-solving skills
- Helps you stay motivated, alert, and engaged
- Reduces stress and improves your mood
- Helps you maintain a healthy body weight
- Keeps your immune system strong by helping fight off common infections
- Helps your body repair cell damage caused by stress as well as muscle injuries
- Helps you make good decisions and avoid injuries
- Lowers your risk for serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease
To improve sleep quality and quantity, the Sleep Foundation has an excellent website on tips for creating a sleep-friendly environment, relaxation techniques, and sticking to a sleep schedule.
Take home message
To achieve optimal wellness best supporting your health is a lifelong gift that keeps on giving. When you consistently practice fitting the pieces of the puzzle together – good nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep – you’re well on your way achieving this goal. You feel good, you look good and best of all you are likely living the kind of life you want.
- C. Nieman and coauthors, Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine 45 (2011):987-992.
- Lee and coauthors, Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: An analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. Lancet 380 (2012): 219-229.
Want the latest on food science?
Click here to download a sample chapter of Cheryl’s book, The Nourished Brain, and get a free printable meal-planning guide so you can start eating your way to a healthier brain today.