Dr. Erica Volk is a licensed naturopathic doctor with the British Columbia Naturopathic Association (BCNA) and the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND).
In this article she discusses the 7 Pillars of a Healthy Life, which serves as an overview of some her recommendations for people in her practice.
What is a healthy life?
We often see people on social media who post about weight loss. There is a huge emphasis on weight loss with people sharing before and after pictures. There’s no doubt that it is really important to maintain a healthy weight, but there are plenty of other aspects to health that are more important than weight itself.
What are the seven pillars of health, aside from a healthy weight? Some of the items we will be discussing are food and nutrition, sleep and rest, the importance of play and having fun, a healthy mindset and positive attitude, a sense of connection, our environment, and movement.
1. Food and Nutrition
As a naturopathic doctor, people often come to see for nutritional recommendations. There is a lot of conflicting information regarding nutrition, often leaving people lost and often confused. Generally speaking, to have a healthy life, we need to include several different components. These are vegetable and fruits, healthy fats, whole grains and proteins. What diet is best you? There are so many different diets out there; Paleo Diet, Ketogenic Diet, Vegan diet and more. Remember, we need to meet certain nutritional requirements in each of the food groups in order to be healthy. Protein consumption is incredibly important. People who are vegetarian or vegan often have trouble meeting these protein requirements, so it is helpful to know what your body weight is and what your actual requirements are. When we actually analyze our diet to see if our nutritional requirements are being met, we are often falling short. More often than not, we need to increase our protein intake.
Whole grains is another nutritional category… but does everyone require greens? The answer is No. In fact, many people struggle with digesting greens. Greens are part of the carbohydrate family, and carbohydrates are another important part of our diet, but how many carbs versus proteins and fats do our bodies require? This can vary from person to person, depending on your gender, age, health goals and ability to digest certain nutrients.
2. Sleep and Rest
Sleep and rest is another vital pillar for health. Most of us sleep at night but the real question is: What is the quality of our sleep, and are we getting rest during the day? There is a difference between sleeping and restorative rest. If we’re not getting enough quality sleep or restorative rest during the day, our health can be negatively impacted. How do you know if you are getting quality sleep?
Good Signs of Quality Sleep:
- Waking up in the morning and feeling refreshed
We are bouncing out of bed, ready to go and start our day. If this doesn’t sound like you, then there is likely room for improvement with your sleep.
- Quality of sleep improves our cognitive functions, our energy levels, our mood, and our ability to heal and repair damaged tissues.
Our body breaks and rebuilds tissue as part of our natural physiology. Our ability to do this effectively can vary, depending on the quality of our sleep.
Signs of Poor Sleep Quality:
- Waking up tired or needing to take naps during the day.
This is a sign that your sleep quality likely isn't as restorative as it could be.
- Snoring or waking with a dry throat.
People who snore at night often can have lower levels of oxygenation during the night, which can lead to fatigue and difficulty with mental focus.
- Tossing and turning throughout the night.
Many people wake up every 30 minutes or so to turn their pillow or readjust.
- Waking frequently to use the bathroom in the night.
Many of us go through the day without taking the necessary time off for ourselves. Remember that we need to be resting – even in our waking hours. Take time out from your work… take that lunch break… take those 15 minutes to just relax and breathe. These small breaks are really important for overall health.
3. Play and Fun
Although we all have busy lives, it’s incredibly important to prioritize time to have some fun and play. Find ways to incorporate play and fun into your life. Picking up a new hobby, or spending time with family and friends can truly be beneficial for your health.
4. Healthy Mindset and Positive Attitude
Having a positive mindset has several mental health benefits. In fact, there have been many studies that prove that a positive mindset can make us less vulnerable to certain mental disorders, like depression or anxiety. Optimism, in studies, also improves our coping strategies. When we are dealing with stresses in our everyday life, we cope better if we have a positive outlook. Optimism also promotes a healthy lifestyle. When we are in a positive state of mind, we tend to take better care of our bodies and our mental wellbeing, which naturally leads to better health outcomes.
5. Sense of Connection
Connections or Social Connections are incredibly important. Studies show that feeling lonely or isolated can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or depression. Work to keep your social networks alive and well. Social networks can be anything; having one friend whom we value and spend time with; being part of a church group or having close connections with your family. Volunteer organizations are also another great way for us to connect with other people, creating amazing benefits for your health. You can also build social connection in your workplace.
What are the benefits of having a pet?
There is a lot of research studies showing how pet ownership leads to positive health outcomes.
- Having a pet increases our physical activity.
- Having a pet decreases depression, anxiety, and reduces our sense of social isolation.
- Owning a pet increases our oxytocin level. Oxytocin is the ‘love hormone'. Oxytocin in higher levels gives us a sense of bonding and connection that is conducive to feeling good.
- Having a pet tends to lower our cortisol levels. Cortisols are stress hormones. When we are chronically stressed, we have a high level of cortisol.
- Having a pet has also been associated with higher levels of Alpha-amylase. Alpha-amylase is a pancreatic enzyme that helps break down starches, helping to combat diabetes.
6. Healthy Environment
Having a healthy environment means healthy water, healthy products on our bodies, healthy air quality and exposure. Common environmental issues are poor water quality or simply not drinking enough water. Many people opt for water purification systems in their homes to eliminate the chemicals and agents added to water.
There are a lot of chemicals that are unregulated, meaning there isn't any safety data on those chemicals, used in our daily cosmetic products. When we put a product on our skin, it’s absorbed through the skin and becomes a part of us, just as if we are taking it orally. We need to be mindful of the products that we are using.
Air quality is also a very important factor for a healthy life. Cleaning products in our homes, like laundry or dish detergents and air fresheners can also contain harmful chemicals. Chemicals and pollutants in the external environment can obviously be problematic in our health. A lot people also have seasonal allergies to environmental dust or smoke, which can greatly impact our health.
Mold is a big problem for a lot of people. If you have that musty mildewy smell in your home or if you have any water damage in your home, you may have a mold issue. Mold is a very serious problem because it puts out spores. If we breathe in those spores, we can have all kinds of health troubles. In fact, mold is a risk factor for cancer development if not properly dealt with.
Movement means adequate cardiovascular exercise, strengthening exercises and stretching. Why do we care about movement? Most especially with our aging population, our number one goal is to prevent falls and fractures. Those are two of the biggest issues for our aging population. Falling is a major setback for people because once they have a broken hip, a broken part of the spinal column, or even a broken knee, major health complications can result. We need to stay strong, flexible and active. Focus on balance and core strengthening in particular.