Nutrition is probably the most important of the 4 key elements of health. The food we eat will do one of two things: it will either keep us healthy and heal us, or it will slowly kill us. EVERY bite of food we take will create a series of reactions in the body that will either harm us or promote health. Our bodies are complex metabolic machines with multiple organ systems communicating via several mechanisms with a big one being hormonal responses to our environment that directly affects our individual bodies and health. There is no “one size fits all” nutrition plan, but I believe there are some basic principles that everyone can benefit from. I am a big fan of a primal/paleo, also referred to as “ancestral”, approach to nutrition. This approach limits insulin response to the foods we eat. Insulin is a hormone that affects about every component of our bodies and how it functions. The SAD (Standard American Diet) of high carbs, usually low protein and low fat approach to eating promotes high levels of insulin chronically which causes a domino effect reaction of chronic inflammation in the body that is the precursor and cause of many of our chronic diseases. Nutritional needs are individualized based off of several factors including (but not limited to) age, gender, degree of obesity or lean muscle, medical conditions (type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, etc), genetic factors, etc. My diverse background in traditional medicine, my passion for functional medicine, and my belief in ancestral health with a “primal/paleo” approach to nutrition gives me some unique insights on these matters.
Regular physical activity is very important in overall health. It is important for emotional well being, stress management, internal health and can help tone and strengthen our bodies to live a long and full life. Physical activity does NOT have to be overly strenuous or time consuming in order to have benefit. In fact, the argument can be made that in order to be healthy and happy for the long term it may be advisable to avoid too much “exercise”, whether it be, as Mark Sisson calls it, “chronic cardio”, or overdoing it with a strength training regimen, etc. Physical activity should be enjoyable and easy paced most of the time while incorporating appropriately planned strength training, high intensity training (infrequently) and allowing for adequate rest and recovery when necessary. There is no “one-sized fits all” fitness plan but these basic principles that can be applied to everybody. A 20 year old healthy person who sleeps 10 hours a night, doesn’t work and goes to school will have a completely different workout plan than a sedentary 50 year old obese individual with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure who has 5 low quality hours of sleep per night. That’s where a health coach, such as myself, with an extensive medical background and fitness background can help devise the ideal plan.
Sleep. Many of you may say, myself included at times, “What’s that?” Our 24/7 lives of stress due to work and family obligations combined with our electronic devices keeping us connected to social media, work, finances and various other things at all times and has taken the place of good quality, restful sleep. The problem is that this way of living is now considered to be normal. Sleep is undervalued. I know because I was guilty of putting everything else, including my training/working out, ahead of sleep. Boy was I wrong. Those years of training for ultramarathons was coupled with poor quality sleep (due to over training and adrenal fatigue), early mornings of getting up at 4:30 am to run 7-10 miles before going to work for 10 hours on top of all the other life stressors. From the outside I looked like the picture of health and people commended me on my discipline. But I was aging myself prematurely due to this type of training and putting myself at risk for future health issues due to the stress and elevated cortisol levels and inflammation. Thank goodness I eventually got out of this pattern and now am doing a better (but not perfect) job of prioritizing sleep. Why is it important to get good quality sleep on a regular basis? Because during good quality sleep our body repairs, regenerates and restores.
Like sleep, the thought of stress management is somewhat of a laughing matter to most people in our 24/7 world. Constant deadlines that are approaching, relationship stress, needing to be in multiple places at once, fueling our empty tanks with sugar, processed carbs and caffeine has left us stressed out. It affects our mood, affects our sleep, affects our relationships and, ultimately, affects our short and long term health. Some brief, intermittent stress (such as carefully planned high intensity intervals of short duration) can be very beneficial and make us stronger and healthier, but the constant stress of our modern society is wrecking us. We eat bad, don’t exercise at all or, sometimes even worse, we exercise TOO much and we don’t sleep enough and when we do sleep it is of poor quality. Some of the underlying stress we experience isn’t going away, some of it we have the power to change and reduce or eliminate. Sometimes we have to say “no” instead of always saying yes. Sometimes we have to prioritize the things in our life that are of utmost importance and put aside some of the other things. It is important to not let the good things drown out the best things. Appropriately managing stress will optimize health. We all have different ways to manage stress and this topic will be visited in more detail on this site.