Health is multifaceted and solutions aren't always obvious: Check in with your Pillars of Health.
Back in my college years I remember a professor asking the class: "Who here is healthy? Raise your hand." It was a great question, and although many students raised their hand, most did so with hesitation: "I think I'm healthy?" was the overwhelming sentiment of the half-cocked arms in the room.
As defined by the dictionary, health is the state of being free from illness or injury. Humans are a collection of systems and energy that affect one another in various ways: much like a symphony orchestra in which each individual musician & instrument affects the outcome of the whole.
Many Move Daily clients have sought out help with a particular goal- pain management, weight-loss, low energy, sports performance, etc. - and the solution is very rarely to address just one aspect of daily life. As such, when looking to improve a specific opportunity, the process must consider all of the pillars of health & how the "orchestra" is working together (or not).
While Movement and Nutrition get most of the attention in the health and fitness community, we’ll touch on the main principles of each of the Pillars and why long-term solutions to health extend beyond the nutrients you consume and the exercise you get.
Self: Love, Purpose, & Energy
“You cannot truly be selfless without first being selfish”
Health starts and ends with your sense of Self. In layman’s terms: You are no good to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. A lack of self- and ensuing self-care- tends to be an area of opportunity for many: When you are constantly prioritizing the needs of others or other tasks above your own, health gradually declines and it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on one’s own goals. Retaining a sense of Self within the context of your environment is quite often the rate-limiting step before things like movement and nutrition can be true priorities.
Does each day start with taking care of you or are you putting on everyone else’s life jackets first?
The concept of Self also involves love: something absolutely essential to overall health despite those who find it too “new age” to believe. Research has shown that simply having a loved one nearby reduces symptoms in chronic pain patients and aids early stages of recovery from surgery.
When it comes to “Self”, basing daily decisions on love – for oneself and others- is fulfilling on a deep level and encourages healthier behaviours. Basing decisions on fear, anger, or punishment breeds anxiety and creates problems and resentment. We can be our own worst critics but none of our failures, real or perceived, should place conditions on love.
Do you move, eat, take time, and act out of love for yourself or punishment?
Further to a sense of Self is a sense of purpose. What is your “Why?” in life & in health? Having a purpose has been shown to increase longevity: Who wouldn’t want to get up each day feeling like they have a driving force and vision to work towards? A purpose gives meaningful direction to daily actions and helps to prevent us from making decisions that can ultimately create chaos, sabotage, and emotional dissonance within our lives.
Do you have a purpose or “Why?” behind your goals and daily drive?
All told, if you’re taking care of yourself before helping others, and if you're loving (yourself) unconditionally and living with purpose, the cascade into overall health is immeasurable. So where does energy fit? In truth, everywhere. Caring for yourself and saying “no” when needed maintains personal energy for every important “yes”; loving yourself conserves energy while fear drains it; purpose gives you the energy to get through the sticking points.
Take daily notes of the things that drain you and equally of the things that "fill your cup"
“As a doctor, let me tell you what self-love does: it improves your hearing, your eyesight, lowers your blood pressure, increases pulmonary function, cardiac output, and helps wire musculature…this isn’t just some frou-frou new age notion. This is hardcore science.”
- Dr. Christiane Northrop
Movement: Exercise, Ambulation & Play
The human body was designed for daily movement. The old adage "Use it or lose it" doesn't apply to many things, but it certainly does apply when dealing with the health of the human brain and body.
From birth, we move as much as possible until our constant failures result in rolling over, crawling, standing, walking and so on. This is when the potential for independent life truly begins. Much of health from this point on stems from the daily quality and quantity of movement we get. At Move Daily, we look closely at 3 groups of movement:
- Exercise (weight lifting & structured cardio)
- Ambulation (walking)
- Play (sports, games and general silliness)
It is well known that humans in recent history lived with ambulation, play, and hard labour as their main forms of daily movement. Most people now focus on incorporating exercise as a replacement for all three. In today's society we have outsourced much of our daily movement, turning walking into driving, hard labour into sitting and active play into seated play (screens).
Is your movement dose limited to the time spent exercising in a gym?
While most people are acutely aware of the benefits of exercise, strenuous exercise is inaccurately pitched as a cure-all for health and weight-loss. Strength training is certainly important, but most people can experience greater improvements in health simply by getting outside and having some fun built into their day.
When was the last time you went out and played, walked for the sake of walking, or moved without a structured plan?
Here at Move Daily we focus not only on the quantity of movement, but put a great emphasis on both movement quality and prescribing the appropriate movements for each individual client.
“The only way the journey ends is if you stop moving.”
― Toni Sorenson
Stillness: Sleep, Recovery & Mindfulness
“You can only train as hard as you can recover”
Recovery & Stillness have equal value to conscious movement. With so much energy devoted to exercise and movement, it is easy to forget about counterbalancing with stillness (not to be confused with mindless screen time). Ironically, this lack of intentional stillness can erase the benefits of increased movement. It is quite common for people to embark on intense exercise plans only to find themselves even more burnt out, low-energy and inflamed than when they were inactive. Mindful stillness is a key piece of the puzzle for everyone, from performance clients to those seeking weight-loss.
Stillness can come in many forms, including but not limited to:
- Breath work
- Soft Tissue & Stretching
- Meditation or Mindfulness Practice
- Body-care (massage, bathing, stretching, etc.)
When was the last time you scheduled in even just 10 minutes to be still?
Sleep is one of the most important drivers of health, and without adequate sleep, everything will suffer from metabolism to mood to performance and much more. Sleep hygiene- what you do in the hour or two before bed- is also extremely important. Bright lights, screens, food, exercise and many other kinds of stimulation can affect not only how fast you fall asleep, but how deep you sleep throughout the night. Stillness is important, and restful sleep is king of recovery.
Do you prepare your body to sleep? Or are you on the go until your head hits the pillow?
Mindfulness is a huge buzzword, but for health, the concept is sound. Humans are creatures of habit and many people float through their days without truly engaging in much conscious behaviour. We tend to make mindless knee-jerk reactions when it comes to anything regarding pleasure: food, drinks, screens (phones, games, TV, etc.) Engaging in mindful practices keeps you acutely aware of what's happening to your body and within your body. Without taking time to slow life down and own stillness, life will very often slow things down for you (illness, injury, etc.)
Do rest and stillness happen when life stops you, or do you consciously plan them in?
The central nervous system requires time to counterbalance the stressors of daily life, so if you find yourself adding more and more movement without improving results, it might be time to add in some mindful stillness to your plan.
"When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world."
- Eckhart Tolle
Nutrition: Food, Water & Digestion
"It's not just what you eat, it's how and why you eat"
It's no secret that food and water play key roles in determining health and performance, but the way in which they do so is often misinterpreted. We live in a society that is constantly chasing quick-fixes and fad diets, and this is one of the big reasons for the increasing rates of both obesity and chronic disease: Diets don't work, and repeated bouts of extreme dietary restriction (fad diets) yo-yoed with extreme bouts of dietary bingeing (falling off the wagon) is hard on the body and degrades health over time.
How do you go about making your daily food choices?
Nutrition isn't just about what you eat, it's also about how, why, and when you eat. The digestive system and brain are highly connected which is both fascinating and frustrating: Eating a meal under calm, happy conditions can serve the body well while eating the exact same meal under stressful conditions can result in inflammation and digestive distress. The idea that there is a one-size-fits-all diet or an individual regime that you must follow for life would only make sense if humans were machines.
Do you regularly eat on the go or do you take time to eat without multitasking?
Nutrition is also very dependent on genetics: What serves one person can cause health problems in another. Healthy nutrition isn't about arithmetic. Healthy nutrition is about listening to how foods truly serve your body, and about prioritizing these choices that serve you based on your individual context and goals.
Are you making objective decisions about what foods serve your body best?
Here at Move Daily, we don't offer meal plans or encourage fad diets. We coach our clients to make time for meals and to listen to how foods react within their own bodies. There's more to it than this, but when you can make intuitive food decisions based on what your body needs, you'll have an eating strategy that serves you for life.
"Healthy nutrition is about prioritizing what your body needs, while sprinkling in things that bring you joy."
Community: Environment, Love & Support
"The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic or hospital."
Community is the part of your everyday environment that is filled by friends and family, your local neighbourhood, and your work colleagues and acquaintances. As social creatures (even if you’re an introvert), community is a much-needed aspect of our lives. Supporting others with their goals and ambitions is just as important as having others there to do the same for you.
Feeling like a valued member of a community can be as challenging, if not more so, as creating a strong identity and sense of Self: one influences the other and vice versa. Your surrounding environment will strongly influence many of your outcomes based on the people as part of your team. This ranges from the simplest of daily habits (resisting the daily cookie offers at work), to the hardest decisions at home (making that job leap).
Do you feel loved and supported by those closest to you?
A lack of community support can make you feel alone and unloved. These negative emotions area felt throughout the body and can affect everything from sleep, to rational decision-making, to digestion.
Does your support circle encourage healthy habits and activities?
Furthermore, without having a community to serve, it is possible to become overly self-involved and without an avenue for empathy. This can lead to intense self-criticism and an inability to connect with others, further compounding the initial lack of community. All of this can lead to dysfunctional behaviours whether regarding exercise, eating or other very important aspects of health.
Are you surrounded by, and supported to eat, food options that serve your health?
If you're uncertain about any of these questions, building your sense of community and communication within it could be a missing link to your health and fitness success.
"The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food."
- Dean Ornish
Health is multifaceted and doesn't simply come from dieting and doing 8 week fitness intensives. Health is a process over time that is achieved when you adopt the mindset of prioritizing daily actions that serve YOUR personal well-being. These priorities will be different for everyone and they will change over your life time.
The Pillars of Health give us a roadmap to explore whenever we're looking to make positive changes in life.
Here at Move Daily, we have coaches who can help you on this journey. Please feel free to use this guide on your own, but don't hesitate to reach out if you think we can help.
Read More in Depth about each of the Five Pillars: