Instead of being a helpful way to kick off the year, New Year’s goals and resolutions cause stress and anxiety for many. This doesn’t mean we can’t have hope and aspirations. But maybe we need to see them as priorities and practices.
In this article, we offer six ways to prioritize the pillars of health this year. Unlike resolutions, we won’t succeed or fail; we just keep finding ways to prioritize health.
It may not surprise you that these pillars of health are intertwined and cumulative.
Prioritizing the Pillars of Health
You’ve tried, we’ve tried. Year after year we set resolutions that the majority of us don’t keep. In fact, statistics suggest that only 9% of people successfully keep their resolutions. That doesn’t mean we should give up on living healthier lives. If you’d like to set SMART goals, here’s a refresher about them. But if you’d like to try a new approach, let’s decide to prioritize health on a daily basis.
Prioritizing these six health pillars can make a huge difference in how you feel physically and mentally while improving your overall wellness. It’s little surprise that they all work together; when one area improves, the others do also.
When we get 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night, we have less stress, get sick less often, think more clearly, are more congenial, and our moods are better. Additionally, when we’re well rested, it’s easier to control our weight, we’re safer drivers, and our risks of serious health problems like heart disease and Alzheimer’s drop significantly.
Tips for getting the best sleep include having a set sleep schedule, avoiding substances that disrupt sleep, and building a bedtime ritual that really works for you. You may need to adjust your schedule, swap a book for screentime, or have a snack or soporific drink before bed. Don’t be surprised that as your sleep improves, some of the other health priorities like gut health, also improve.
Research on the gut biome and gut-brain axis dates back to the 1800s, yet the understanding of its importance has greatly expanded in the past decade. Our gut health is linked to the functioning of the central nervous system, so it affects how we feel, think, learn, and move. Gut health can positively or negatively affect how well our organs and neurotransmitters work, the level of inflammation in our bodies, our weight, and our mental health. Therefore, when our gut health is good, our overall health is better.
Our gut health is determined by what we eat and drink (including medications) and our stress levels, sleep, genetics, and exercise habits. Gut health improves when we eat a diverse range of foods, especially vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, fermented foods, and prebiotic foods like oats, barley, and apples. Researchers have discovered that prebiotics are the fertilizer that promote the growth of healthy bacteria. We can dump probiotics in our gut, but if they don’t have these undigestible carbs to chew on, they won’t grow.
In addition to affecting our mental and physical wellbeing, a recent study shows that good gut health can also entice us to get moving! That’s right, when our gut is healthier, we have a stronger desire to exercise. We’ll also sleep better and crave healthier foods.
Our bodies crave movement, and our health depends on it. Movement is a fundamental part of life. It affects our hormones, circulation, digestion, metabolism, bones, and joint and muscle mobility and strength. Physical activity protects brain function, heart health, mood, stress levels, energy levels, and sleep. It’s increasingly important in our senior years to keep the body and the brain healthy. It also helps detox the body of toxins from the environment, food, and household products.
Aerobic exercise is great for us, yet movement that improves strength, balance, and flexibility are equally important. When we think of exercising, walking, biking, and swimming pop into mind. Yet, carrying groceries, taking the stairs, doing Tai Chi or yoga, or practicing standing on one leg are all good movement. For a variety of movement ideas to improve endurance, strength, balance, or flexibility, check out this article from the National Institute on Aging.
Good nutrition is critical to our health, wellbeing, and development. Eating healthy helps us live longer, healthier lives because it boosts our ability to fight and recover from illnesses and reduces our risk of many diseases. A good diet helps us maintain healthy a healthy weight, which also reduces the risk of diseases including diabetes and heart disease. Throughout our life and especially in our older years, a nutrient-dense diet is required to protect against muscle loss, osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and bone density loss. Unsurprisingly, eating healthy creates better gut health, helps us sleep better, and makes movement easier.
We can easily improve our diets by adding eating more vegetables and fiber daily. Adding a vegetable to lunch and dinner and sprinkling nuts and seeds on breakfast, salads, and snacks considerably increases nutrients and fiber. If you have high cholesterol, try this doctor -prescribed diet to block cholesterol with fiber, sterols, and stanols.
Long-term stress is detrimental to our wellbeing. Scientists explain that low-grade, short-term stress is pivotal to our bodies’ reactions to challenges and stressors, whether psychological, physiological, or physical (including exercise). We need inflammation to help us heal. We need fight or flight responses to run from danger. Yet typically when we’re talking about stress, we mean the drawn-out, nagging type that wears down the immune system, disrupts sleep, harms gut health, and zaps our energy. Stress affects every system of the body – respiratory to reproductive.
Therefore, our optimal health relies on our ability to cultivate calm and peace. To prioritize relaxation, we need to discover techniques that work for us and create time for them. Being in nature, reading, bathing, deep breathing exercises, meditation, exercising, talking to a friend, journaling, visualization, listening to music, and finding things to laugh about are all great stress relievers. Find ways – and times – to relax throughout the day.
Thankfully, nutrients in our healthy diet like omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, selenium, thiamine and vitamins A, B6, B12, and C are proven to boost our mood. Likewise, great sleep, movement, and good gut health help us feel calmer and more relaxed.
Lastly, as we consider ways to prioritize these pillars of health, let’s find ways we can do so together. Socializing thwarts loneliness and depression, improves happiness, increases the likelihood we’ll exercise, sharpens memory and cognitive skills, and may help us live longer. Our self-esteem, mental health, quality of life, sense of purpose, and mortality risk hinge on social relationships, both quantity and quality.
We don’t need to be with others all the time or hangout daily, but we need ongoing connection. Try to see a friend or at least talk to a friend once a week. Explore ways to relax, exercise, cook, and eat with others. If an event or relationship causes stress, then it’s not quality socialization or good for your health. Try another!