Do you want to know what the best medicine in the world is? It’s lifestyle. The way you eat, sleep, move, and connect with others is far more powerful than any pill or surgery. Ironically, nearly all of our funds are getting pumped into tertiary prevention options as opposed to focusing on inspiring a culture of wellness.
In the US (not too far off from Canada), only 20% of health outcomes are directly related to clinical care. The much larger chunk of the pie is made up of health behaviors, socioeconomic factors, and one’s environment. This number alone should make us question why we aren’t directing more attention to the way we live, and not just the way we survive after sickness. Fortunately, every single one of us can play a significant role in rewiring this narrative. The best part? It’s not all that hard to do!
The Best Medicine Is Right in Front of Us. Why Aren’t We Taking It?
Healthy living isn’t all that challenging, but the cards are stacked up against us. We’ve been fed this faulty paradigm of tertiary prevention for years. Due to heavy marketing for poor diets and lifestyles, lackluster education in schools, and an overall lack of infrastructure in many communities, healthy living is far more out of reach than it should be. While we’ve improved slightly in some areas over the past years, the overall cost of health care in this country is still inconceivably high. If you want to see a nation that lives longer and feels happier, we must take lifestyle as seriously as we do our medication.
The good news? We have nowhere to go but up. One 2016 study reveals that only 2.7% of Americans are fully achieving the 4 basic health outcomes of partaking in daily activity, eating a healthy diet, having a recommended body composition, and being a nonsmoker. Yes, this is just a study…but it sure does illustrate where our priorities are at. If we could just do slightly better in each category, the cost and impact of our lifestyles would completely change this country.
While this may be a slight simplification, I want to address 4 domains of wellness that can powerfully direct the trajectory of health, both individually and for the nation as a whole. If we can properly achieve these practical strategies, health outcomes will drastically improve, and costs will take a huge dive. In fact, 8 out of the top 10 causes of mortality can be influenced by lifestyle. The likes of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and yes, even suicide can be greatly stifled when we put healthy living first.
Addressing the 4 Pillars of Healthy Living
Before we begin, please know that optimizing one’s health is incredibly complex and multifactorial. This is by no means an end-all-be-all guide to a better existence, but rather a step in the right direction. Especially with the current state of things, it’s better to take baby steps as opposed to giant leaps of faith. After all, the most powerful habits are the subtle, sustainable ones that last a lifetime.
Pillar #1 — Sleep
Whenever I’m asked whether physical activity or nutrition is more important, I always say sleep. It is the most influential tool we have for living a long, vibrant life. Take sufficient sleep away, and our attention, mood, motivation, and fight against chronic disease all take a huge hit.
Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to achieve proper sleep hygiene if it’s a priority. My 3 tips are to make 7–9 hours per night your #1 goal, remove technology out of the bed, and set a consistent wake/sleep time. If you can achieve this, you’ll be constructing a powerful foundation of vitality to support the other 3 pillars below. Don’t overlook the influence that sleep has on every corner of your life!
Looking for practical tips for a better night's sleep? Check out my guide here.
Pillar #2 — Exercise & Diet
Please don’t get overwhelmed when thinking about food and movement. The requirements for improvement are surprisingly low! For physical activity, simply strive to get 30 minutes in per day. Better yet, all you have to do is ensure you elevate your heart rate to get into that moderate-intensity zone. Activities like biking, hiking, and brisk walking are all great options. Don’t know where to start when it comes to physical activity? I have you covered here!
When it comes to nutrition, my #1 piece of advice is to (mostly) stay in the outer aisles of your grocery store. No, you don’t need to become a hardcore vegan or vegetarian. Just strive to eat a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and a lot of water. Do your absolute best to avoid sodas, excessive alcohol, and deep-fried foods, but don’t feel like you need to go cold turkey either. A cheat day here or there is completely fine! This is all about striving for subtle, manageable improvements.
Pillar #3 — Stress Management
Now there are a ton of takes out there for how to best deal with stress. For me, I like to take a simple approach. Find an activity that you love doing, and do it every day. The only requirements are that this activity doesn’t involve screens or heavy brainpower, and it lasts for at least 10 minutes. The key here is consistency, so ‘shop around’ until you find a routine that works for your life and schedule! Here are 5 of my favorite solutions to finding a little space within a hectic day:
Going for a forest walk
Doing a 10-min guided meditation (there are great apps out there!)
Reading a great novel
Performing a light mobility or yoga practice
Want to learn more about your stress and the power of a breath? I can help you out here.
Pillar #4 — Community Engagement
Whether you like it or not, we are inclined to follow social nudges. We love to do what the people around us are doing! The impact of our communities and environments has a great say on how we make choices and live life. When possible, seek out people and places that inspire you to make healthy decisions. This will make your life drastically easier when navigating wellness during those tough life moments.
Perhaps the most overlooked indicator of wellness is the amount of time we spend in community. The reality is, no one was designed to be alone. Social isolation is a huge killer and one of the reasons why this past year has been such a hit for people’s mental and physical well-being. Especially now that restrictions are opening up, do everything in your power to find individuals and groups that inspire you to be better each day. We were meant to do life together!
There is a longevity jackpot out there will all of our names on it. -Dr. Meagan L. Grega
The best medicine is not in a pill. The best intervention is not surgery. The best health advice doesn’t take 4 years of study to understand. If you want to spend less time and money recovery from sickness and pain, start prioritizing the most powerful weapon out there — lifestyle. If we all slept, ate, moved, and connected a little better, this country would look a whole lot different.
Now all that’s left to do is lead the charge. Start building your life on these 4 pillars and watch how the trajectory of your health and the wellness of those around you begins to shift. You, yes you, can inspire better health and a brighter future.
Why not start today?