Updated August 2015.
I believe a health philosophy should include these three aspects:
1. Always open to tweaking. The research and science is always changing. So should your health philosophy.
2. Personal. What works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. Yes, there are some general principles and lifestyle factors that should be a part of everyone’s health philosophy, like eating a large amount of vegetables and being regularly physically active; however, I think when you get more into the specifics of a health philosophy, it needs to suit you! Your lifestyle, priorities, health conditions, preferences, genetics, other commitments, and where you are along your health journey.
3. Realistic. What’s the point of setting a list of things you should be doing if it’s just not possible? You’ll just feel overwhelmed and like a failure. Yes, making bone broths and fermented vegetables every weekend might be a very beneficial thing to do, but it may not be realistic for you.
Here is my current personal health philosophy based on years of trial and error, extensive reading and research. I have found I need to focus on all these areas in my life to be optimally healthy and maintain a body I can feel good in.
1. Eat Nourishing Real Food
- 90% of the time I like my meals to consist of vegetables, fruits, protein and good fats. Optimal nutrition is the key to health! My motto when it comes to food is to ideally ‘eat like Eve’ – unprocessed, local, organic, seasonal, pasture-raised and wild-caught food. Occasional good-quality dairy and GF grains are fine for me, too.
- 10% or less of the time eat foods that are not beneficial for my health – sugar, soy and seed oils (e.g. meals at restaurants, ice-cream, chocolate.) Social engagement and pleasure are very important to health which is why I don’t exclude them all together. Also, depriving yourself of the foods you love all the time can cause a negative relationship with food and eating disorders. I know this from experience as I was caught on the binge-restrict cycle for a while. Be extra careful with sugar, though. It is extremely addictive and makes you tired, hungry, irritable, sluggish, and drives cancer development.
- Never eat gluten (I’m gluten-intolerant). Recently on holidays in France, I had a chocolate croissant. This was the first time I had intentionally consumed gluten in two years since being diagnosed. I was extremely tired, head achy, irritable, grumpy and depressed for two days afterwards. It reminded me it really isn’t worth it! Gluten effects everyone differently but for me I get very fatigued, eczema, a fuzzy head, headaches and a negative mood.
- Eat something to benefit my gut health every day e.g. sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kombucha, yoghurt, kefir and bone broth.
- Two fish oil tablets a day.
- Caffeine before a workout. To optimise the positive effects of caffeine, have breaks from it every now and then.
- BCAA during or immediately after a resistance training workout.
3. Be Physically Active
- Stand – Aim to stand for half my day. A high amount of sitting increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Take a standing break every thirty minutes.
- Walk – Aim to walk or do other low intensity movement for at least 30 minutes every day. Examples of low intensity physical activities include gardening, cleaning and shopping every day. (This is also referred to as ‘incidental exercise’.)
- Workout – Aim to complete moderate to vigorous physical activity three to five times a week. Set short, medium and long-term exercise goals on my phone to keep me motivated. Exercise releases positive endorphins and helps you to release built up tension, live longer, regain mental clarity, look younger than your age, become physically more capable and stay lean and athletic looking. I try to make sure I have lots of variety to prevent my body plateauing, becoming bored and developing overuse injuries. My favourites are resistance training, beach sprints, mountain biking, wake-boarding, snowboarding and spin classes.
- Recover – Do something for recovery at least once a week. Some examples are a stretching session, massage, yoga class or epsom salt bath.
- Good sleep helps with optimum brain function, hormone function, healthy and radiant skin, digestion and lots more!
- No caffeine from 4 onwards.
- Minimise exposure to light in the evening to avoid interfering with the production of melatonin e.g. mainly use lamps rather than ceiling lamps.
- Don’t use electronics from 9pm onwards.
- Get to bed between 9:30 and 10pm every night.
5. Get Outdoors
- There is loads of scientific proof that spending time in nature lowers cortisol, boosts immune function, improves the ability to tolerate stress, can reverse fatigue and even improves attention span.
- Get outside in full sunlight every day for at least fifteen minutes to get adequate Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to protect the body against autoimmune disease, regulates the immune system, controls the absorption of minerals and elevates your mood. Yes, too much sun exposure can cause DNA damage and increase your risk of skin cancer, but as long as you’re not getting sunburnt, the ultraviolet light is safe and extremely beneficial to your health.
6. Manage Stress
- When stressed, we produce more cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. This causes us to store food as fat, especially around the waist and to feel constantly hungry.
- Stress can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, increase blood sugar levels and decrease libido. Stress is the biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in Australia.
- Where possible, avoid and remove unnecessary stress (e.g. I try not to feel guilty about saying ‘no’ to things, avoid people who stress me out, limit my exposure to the news, have a social media free day once a week.)
- If I can’t avoid a stress in life, aim to see the positive in every situation, don’t be a perfectionist. Lower my standards, learn to accept the things I can’t change rather than let them upset or distress me, be well-organised and manage my time well to reduce feeling overwhelmed and stretched too thin.
- Massage has been shown to cause beneficial hormonal shifts that help decrease stress so schedule in one when feeling particularly stressed.
7. Do Something I Love Everyday
- Doing something that makes you happy is not selfish, it’s essential. It is the number one way to have more energy and be a nicer, more loving, cheerful person.
- Being happy also reduces stress levels and research shows more happy, positive people live longer.
- Laugh often – it’s good for your health. The idea that humour can heal can be traced back to biblical times: Proverbs 17:22 ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.’
8. Surround Myself With Positive Like-minded People
- People can encourage you towards your goals or bring you down and fill your life with negativity and stress. Having a good social life and being connected with people is one of the things the oldest living people have in common.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my personal health philosophy. I want to emphasise that this is a philosophy. There is not one true science around health which shows the best way to live for everyone. What works for me may not work for you. I hope to have inspired you to think about what your health philosophy is, and to have maybe given you some ideas for where some changes could be made.