Updated: Jan 6
I have read about the four pillars of health from various books and articles- sleep, nutrition, stress management and exercise. In order to be healthy, strong and show up at your physical best on a daily basis, our goal should be to find a healthy balance between these four pillars. I know there are other people out there, who are struggling with it like I have and am, so I thought of sharing what I have learnt. You might find that you have been putting too much focus on one pillar like exercise and have neglected maybe neglected the other area, like sleep or stress. Remember in order to chair to stand nice, strong and balanced on the floor, it ideally needs 4 legs to achieve it. It's still standing pretty strong on 3 legs. But if you try and sit on a chair with two legs, it will fall over. I am the guilty one who has put too much focus in the past on nutrition and exercise, have been fairly ok with my sleep, but have done pretty bad on the stress management side.
The fact is if you don't get adequate amount of sleep, your body will run in a restoration deficit and it will affect the the results you want to see in all other three pillars. Your sleep quality, timing and duration play a big role in hormones that regulate appetite and cortisol (stress) levels. Not getting enough sleep messes with your metabolism, and affecting glucose tolerance- that's why it's harder to loose that belly fat. When you sleep, your body restores itself- and that's what's needed for you to have a clear daily focus and perform at your best.
Getting good quality sleep:
Improves your memory and focus
Reduces your stress levels
Reduces and regulates inflammation
Allows you to perform better physically
Regulates your hormones making sure you feel balanced in your body
How to get better and more sleep:
Reduce your exposure to blue light before bedtime, by wearing blue blocking glasses. Blue light makes it harder for you to fall asleep (thing of phones, TVs, computers)
Don't eat or drink alcohol close to bed time- best to stop eating 3-4 hours before bedtime to make sure you allow your body to focus it's energy on restoration and clean-up, rather than digesting the food. I have noticed it from my own experience (and by also tracking my sleep) that both eating and drinking too close to bed time will have a great impact on the quality of your sleep
Don't exercise too close to bed time- this will raise your heart rate and cortisol high and not allowing the body to go into a rest mode.
Use blackout curtains or use an eye mask to block the light during your sleep- as getting light on your eyes signal your body that it's time to wake up.
Sleep in a cool environment- open the window slightly, turn the heat more than in your bedroom than in the rest of the house.
If you are sensitive to sounds, create a sound barrier by using earplugs for example.
Take time to wind down before bed- drink a chamomile tea, have a warm bath with Epson salts and lavender essential oil or diffuse some lavender essential oil or roman chamomile essential oil in your room. I am often making an evening hot drink for myself and my husband, that has a blend of water, almonds, Reishi mushroom, curcumin, ginger, a little bit of cocoa with a mix of different spices.
Every bite you take will be used by your body to carry out its metabolic processes at a cellular level. You either heal or feed inflammation in your body with what you put at th end of your fork. If you skip meals or eat too many carbohydrates- they both are one of the causes for fat storage.
Aim to get adequate amounts of good quality protein, carbohydrates, fat and fibre in your diet on a daily basis.
Protein at every meal- aim for the size of your palm
Carbohydrates- they provide immediate and stored fuel for your body. It's important that carbohydrates come from whole foods (natural and unprocessed)- fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole-grains (aim for non-gluten options)
Healthy Fats- aim for a size of your thumb at each meal (and especially if you are eating greens. Thing of healthy fats as- olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, grass-fed butter, avocados, tahini, nuts and seeds.
Fibre- aim for a size of your whole fist. Fibre helps to loose fat. The best sources of fibre are vegetables. Best is to eat from the colours of rainbow to make sure you get all the phytonutrients into your body. When you purchase your groceries, aim to have red, green, orange, white and purple colour vegetables in your weekly menu.
Read your food labels if you buy packaged foods to avoid purchasing foods with chemicals, added sugars, added sodium. For example, almond milk should not contain anything else than water and almonds (sometimes food manufacturers add also sea salt in there).
3. Stress Management
This is a pillar where I have failed the most, unfortunately. I keep falling back in the same habits of over-thinking, over-doing, over-worrying. And I know that when I do get sick, it's often because I have not listened to my body when it was already asking to slow down. I am also well-aware what elevated levels of stress or chronic levels of stress do to your body- we get sick more often due to a weak immune system, we recover slowly, our brains slow down- and we can't easily get back to the healthy happy self.
There are both external and internal stressors. We can't always control the external ones coming towards us, but we can control how they affect our body.
How can you strengthen your mental game?
Meditation- there are very many different ways to meditate and different people find different techniques, different places, different set-ups, different bodily positions working for them. At the end of the day, it's about 'coming home to yourself'- finding the piece in your heart, in your mind and being happy and relaxed in a moment.
Breathing practices- not making it complicated, just for start take a minute or two to be mindful about your breathing. Inhale through your nose for 2 seconds using your stomach and exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. And you can do this from anywhere- while you are waiting for your bus, while you are driving in a car, while you are walking your dog.
Journaling- either in the evening or in the morning (or both). Taking just couple of minutes to write down what you are grateful for, what do you want to achieve during the day, what you have particularly enjoyed from the day- these all help you to get to a different state of mind.
Listening to relaxing music- we all have our favourite songs. Music helps to drift the stressful thoughts away to the words of the song, the melody, to the great memories from the past.
Drawing, painting or colouring- it's a great way to express your emotions on a piece of paper and helps you to slow down your thoughts.
Spend good quality time with your family members or friends doing something fun together, like cooking, going for long walks in the nature.
I have put this deliberately as the last pillar in this list of four pillars. If you are overdoing with exercise and don't put enough focus on three of the above pillars- you might discover that you are struggling to shred off that extra fat, struggle in general with your metabolic function, might get sick too often as you are taxing your cortisol. You can't out-train a bad diet or sleep deprivation.
On the other hand exercise is a natural stress reducer. It helps to get your blood flowing through your body, including brain. This in turn helps you to think more clearly, focus better and in general perform better. Exercise also promotes healthy skin if you on top of exercise hydrate well with water and eat nutritious food. As exercise also promotes the movement of lymph fluid through our bodies, it also improves your immune system and raises your energy levels. So there are many benefits of getting a regular exercise.
The trick is not to get too much caught up by it and over-training, as exercise is also a stressor on the body. Doing a variety of exercise on a regular basis is key, combining for example strength training with HIIT sessions and yoga or pilates sessions in between to stretch and relax those muscles is a good mix to try. And if your body is telling you that it's tired, it needs rest- listen to it and take a day or two a break. Don't beat yourself up about the days that you did not manage to get your run done, your weights lifted. If you are a regular exerciser, you know how to get back on track.
Think about where you fall short and where you know putting a little bit of that extra focus, will improve your health and get you into that state of equilibrium, whatever it means to you and your body.
If you need guidance and support from a health coach to bring more balance in your life around nutrition, physical movement, sleep, stress, relationships, don't hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com.