The 11 Pillars of Health and Wellness
This guide outlines the core elements of health and wellness to assist you in developing a holistic plan for leading a vigorous and fulfilling life.
There’s no shortage of advice available about what it takes to be healthy, but in the absence of a framework it’s hard to know where to start.
Health advice is often doled out by experts, researchers, and practitioners in piecemeal to provide recommendations or treatments for isolated issues and symptoms.
However, the mind and body (and their various elements) aren’t separate entities but an integrated unit, and should be approached as such.
An integrative approach to health and wellness is twofold:
- understanding the full range of factors that influence your well-being.
- personalizing a strategy based on your unique situation.
This may seem obvious at first read. That is, until you consider the fact that tens of millions of people worldwide perish from lifestyle diseases that are largely preventable. And, a staggering number of people in the U.S. and globally suffer from depression and other psychological disorders.
My goal for this guide (and the complimentary printable that summarizes it) is to help you effortlessly manage your well-being — and hopefully avoid undue emotional, mental, and physical distress.
Though the terms health and wellness are often used interchangeably they actually mean different things.
To distinguish them, let’s start by defining health as what you need to survive, and wellness as what you need to thrive.
Going a step further: surviving is living or existing, while thriving is developing and progressing in life.
It helps to think of the structure of a house. There are critical elements such as the foundation and frame that provide support, shape, strength, and stability. If any of these are compromised the house would collapse.
Then there are the outer coverings and inner finishings that evolve the house from just a generic shell into a customized residence — this makes the house a home.
A good home is one that is well-built and structurally sound, but also designed in a way that meets the lifestyle and aesthetic needs of the owners.
Like in a good home, health is the foundation and includes your physiological and security needs, while wellness represents the finishing touches that make life fulfilling (such as your social and emotional needs).
When it comes to the foundational elements of health, what you eat is the utmost of importance.
The body is a self-regulating and self-healing machine. Most of what it takes to survive is subconsciously managed internally. You only need to supply the right fuel.
What fuel and how much is nicely summarized by the catchy mantra of author Michael Pollan “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
More and more studies are showing that the simplest approach to eating healthy is adopting a plant-based diet. Consume a diverse range of whole and fresh plants, fruits, legumes, seeds, and grains with very little or no animal products.
Pass on the processed faux foods. Skip the supplements. Forget about the fads. And, learn to listen to your body so you can eat less but better.
You may not need 8 glasses of water a day (yet another non-scientific diet guideline) but you do need to hydrate enough.
Your body is composed of water and uses water to perform a variety of critical functions such as digestion, circulation, lubrication, and transportation of nutrients.
A significant amount of water is lost through breathing, sweating, and excretion, so hydration helps replenish the supply so your organs can function properly.
Your daily water intake can come from liquids (e.g. plain water or herbal tea) but also water-rich foods (i.e. fresh plants and vegetables).
Few in the Western world are dying from lack of water (especially with the rise of trendy water bottles), unless there’s an underlying condition that causes dehydration.
Still it’s important to understand water’s role in overhaul health. In fact, WebMD outlines 6 reasons why you should drink water, that you may not even be aware of.
The human body is intelligent enough to alert you when you need water (i.e. you’ll fee thirsty).
However, if you are experiencing signs of dehydration (e.g. dark yellow urine, dizziness, achy joints, lack of energy) it’s worth speaking with a physician.
Over 50 million people in the U.S. alone are sleep deprived (more than 15% of the population).
This epidemic is driven by the ‘work hard’ mindset which favors productivity over physiological needs.
Nevertheless, sleep should be at the crux of your health and wellness regimen, even if you have to change your mindset and routine to prioritize it.
Sleep works hand-in-hand with all of the other elements of health to keep your mind and body operating at peak performance.
When it is compromised, there are immediate and long-term symptoms like agitation, anxiety, exhaustion, memory problems, suppressed mental capacity, pains in the body, risk of disease, and more.
You can educate yourself about the benefits of sleep and get actionable advice on how to improve the quality and duration of your sleep via Sleep Club, a microsite I created to elevate the sleep conversation.
As it pertains to physical activity the recommendations are clear: just move more.
A growing body of research, such as reported by Dr. Axe, is stressing the importance of overcoming a sedentary lifestyle as a primary preventive measure against disease.
Americans spend 90% of their time sitting indoors and that way of living is responsible for over 3 million deaths annually.
By now you probably know the benefits of physical activity are all encompassing.
Historically, movement was ingrained in our ancestors’ lifestyle as they had no alternative in order to nourish and protect themselves — it is an evolutionary necessity.
Scientifically, studies have shown that physical activity has a broad-reaching impact on your overall health including helping the brain work at optimal capacity, reducing risk of diseases, and normalizing hormones and chemicals in the body.
As Harvard Health addresses in "Why we should exercise, and why we don’t", even though you know you should move more, you may struggle with doing it consistently.
But doing something is better than doing nothing at all, so start by keeping it simple.
First, break up long bouts of sitting with movement breaks (even a short walk outside will do).
Then, follow Health.gov’s physical activity guidelines by working your way up to moving a minimum of 30 minutes a day via a moderate-intensity activity — ideally incorporating a mix of aerobic, stretch, and strength exercises.
According to the American Phycological Association, approximately 34% of adults experience a yearly increase in stress, while 24% experience extreme stress.
It’s imperative that you learn how to reduce and/or better cope with life stressors to avoid the physical and psychological problems that anxiety induces.
Of course, you can't completely rid your life of all anxiety, and a little bit of stress can keep you focused and motivated.
But too much stress throws off your internal chemistry making the body react by trying to bring things back into balance … and that’s where the problems begin.
Psychology Today warns that when you are under too much stress for a long period of time you run the risk of exhausting your internal resources. Once exhausted, neither your mind or body can operate efficiently.
Once a breakdown occurs you become susceptible to a host of physical and mental problems that can have dangerous implications if the underlying cause of the stress is not addressed.
Luckily there are many ways to reduce stress — like adopting principles of minimalism — but it starts by being mindful of your lifestyle and willing to make the necessary adjustments.
Psychology Today also has a useful article on how to reduce stress in your life.
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Vices are activities that are blatantly bad for your mind or body and tend to incite addictive behavior that exasperates their negative effects (whether immediately or over time).
When you are dealing with a vice it can wreck havoc on your life because of the physical and psychological burden it introduces.
Common examples of vices are:
- Alcohol (in excess)
However, anything can become a vice if overindulgence leads to obsession or addiction that can’t be controlled or stopped, despite having an adverse impact on yourself or others.
Preventing a problem is easier than trying to cure a problem, so there are certain activities (like smoking) that should just be avoided.
However, if you are already struggling with a bad habit and believe you have the power to stop, then put a plan in place to address it, such as discussed in "How to Break a Bad Habit (and Replace It With a Good One)," courtesy of James Clear.
If you’re having a particularly difficult time breaking free from your vice don’t hesitate to seek external help. There are even on-demand services you can use, like Talkspace, where you can find licensed therapists to correspond with.
Though modern medicine isn’t perfect, you can’t deny the benefits of being able to detect a problem before it intensifies.
Even if you believe you’re in tip top shape, what’s the harm in a routine physical for added reassurance?
It’s not a substitute for taking personal ownership of your health, but it is a mechanism for thwarting conditions and diseases (particularly those you may have a genetic predisposition for).
Stay on top of your appointments with this lifetime of medical checkups list by Greatist.
Staying safe comes down to doing what’s in your control to prevent known risks, such as:
- Always wearing a seatbelt when in the car
- Being cautious if you are out alone at night
- Wearing a helmet when you ride your bike
- Having a family/household plan for emergencies
- Keeping a first aid kit and fire extinguisher at home
- Having the appropriate insurances (e.g. rental)
- Letting a loved one know where/when you travel
The reason why this is an important component of your overall health and wellness program is because simple actions can reduce, if not completely eliminate, the possibility of certain dangers and threats.
Because of their perceived rarity, it’s easy to assume that these situations won’t happen to you. But bad things can and do happen, and it’s not worth neglecting the minor steps it takes to protect you from major hurt or loss.
Here are an additional 11 tips for staying safe from a former FBI profiler.
Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to what is happening in the present moment in a non-judgmental way.
Because the past can’t be changed and the future can’t be predicted, your life is really only what you are experiencing in the here and now.
However, if your thoughts are stuck time traveling between what was and what could be, then you are missing out on what is — and are not living life to the fullest.
Moreover, if you judge, worry, and stress about what your life looks like in the present moment, you become susceptible to negative self-talk which is detrimental to your physical and emotional well-being.
What’s most fascinating about this particular element of health and wellness? It’s, as HBR reported, that mindfulness can literally change your brain:
Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have”. It’s a “must-have”: a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress. It can be integrated into one’s religious or spiritual life, or practiced as a form of secular mental training. When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.
This is not new-age woo but a scientific discovery that is shaping a medical field called Neuroplasticity. And it is only one of an exhaustive number of studies that are starting to prove you are what you think.
In fact, elevating your mindset, as addressed in The Minimalism Challenge, is the gateway to positive thoughts, decisions, and actions that empower you to design a life of consequence.
As mentioned earlier, a house is nothing but a collection of bricks and mortar if it isn’t thoughtfully designed in a way that makes the inhabitants feel at home.
Likewise, in the absence of a purpose life may feel generic and mundane. Determining a purpose gives you a sense of clarity, and helps you focus on what matters most.
You don't need to wait for some miraculous revelation to find purpose. You only need to commit to a simple soul-searching strategy.
When you know what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, and why you’re doing it, you’ll feel a greater sense of control over your life.
It also helps that, similarly to mindfulness, having a purpose in life impacts your brain, as HuffPost reports.
Last, but certainly not least, is to strive for balance in your life. Even when it comes to your health and wellness, moderation is key.
Creating balance can be done in two ways:
- Being careful to avoid excess and extremes
- Designing and managing your wheel of life
Avoiding extremes is relatively straightforward and was alluded to in the section on vices. It’s about exercising self-discipline.
Zen Habit’s guide on developing the self-discipline habit offers an excellent collection of ideas on how to do this.
Designing a wheel of life may be a new-to-you approach to balance. It works by outlining all of the major areas of life (career, relationships, money, etc.) and periodically ranking how well you are performing in each area.
If an area is particularly poor in its ranking that’s a cue that you need to improve it so it doesn’t end up having an adverse impact on your life.
Even as it pertains to health and wellness, you won’t be able to focus on all 11 of the pillars at the same time.
Create balance by determining what’s most important, then exercise discipline by prioritizing that particular pillar until you can achieve the results you desire.
Modern times have brought us modern conveniences that have improved our lives in many ways — but not without tradeoffs.
As a result, health and wellness are a dilemma for millions of people — and the available body of knowledge only causes confusion that often leads to harmful actions with good intentions — or worse, inaction.
Using a simple and integrative framework for managing your health and wellness will empower you to take control of the factors that impact your well-being and happiness.
Effortless Health is a minimalist but robust health and wellness program designed with busy individuals in mind. The program focuses on making small lifestyle changes that yield significant improvements.
My mission for this website is to support you in creating a life you love by doing your best work and becoming your best self.
I accomplish that by helping you identify and alleviate self-limiting thoughts, behaviors, and activities that prevent you from thriving.
Of all the different ways in which you can develop yourself, health and wellness should be the priority. If you don't feel good in your body or mind you simply cannot thrive (or survive, to be frank).
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