Conventional wisdom suggests that the quality of our health decreases as we age and that once we reach our physiological peak in our mid-20s, the trajectory of our physique and health begins to decline. However, we all know people who seem to be exceptions. These unique individuals are somehow resilient to the pitfalls of aging and seem to have hit the jackpot in the hereditary lottery. Current research in medicine reveals that the status of our health is a function of numerous factors, the majority of which are based on our lifestyle and everyday choices. According to Dr. Clayton Skaggs, Medical Director for the Central Institute for Human Performance in Saint Louis, Missouri, while we cannot change our genetics and previous traumas, we can take control of our health by changing how we think, move, train, eat, and treat injury and disease.[i]
How We Think
How we think, or our mindset, may be the most important factor in taking control of our health. Exposing ourselves to quality information is a great place to begin because it can empower us with improved awareness and help us develop new strategies for optimizing our health and well-being. For example, consider the importance of getting adequate sleep every night and its effect on our mental and physical health. Research shows that sleeping fewer than 7-8 hours per night negatively impacts our energy levels and cognitive acuity.[ii] How much could we significantly improve our lives by committing to a good night’s sleep as a top priority?
Another common mindset challenge that we face is our ability to manage our psychological stress levels. Stress is inevitable and hard-wired from past generations to assist us in surviving potential threats in our environment. When our bodies identify the presence of a threat or stressor, our adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase our blood pressure and heart rate with the intent of ensuring our survival. In turn, these processes cause other systems of our body such as our immune and digestive systems to compromise performance. Once a perceived stressor is no longer present, our bodies return to a normal, balanced state of function. Society’s present-day stressors come in many forms, including work-performance expectations, financial burdens, and quality of relationships with our loved ones. These stressors are constant and can cause the body’s physiology to work in a chronically stressed state. Therefore, managing our stress levels is critical to enabling our bodies to function well.
How We Move and Train
Movement is an essential component of physical health, and maintaining muscular strength is critical for performing daily activities and increasing resilience to injury. Improving our body mechanics is one effective way to enhance our strength and endurance and can be accomplished through a daily exercise regimen or customized occupational ergonomics program. Qualified professionals can help us select specific exercises based on our individual needs to increase our bodies’ durability. These exercises can improve our movement, coordination, balance, and strength. As a result, our tolerance to mechanical stress induced by physical activities can increase. The graph below illustrates how mechanical stress can cause pain when stress levels exceed the tolerance of a body’s structure, as indicated by the stress level (blue line) exceeding the tolerance level (red line).[iii] Remedial exercises tailored to our individual needs can help us create a more robust version of ourselves.
Movement also facilitates our metabolism, which controls food conversion into energy and removes harmful substances from our bodies. What may come as a surprise is that movement is also a significant indicator of life-length expectancy. According to a study by Dr. Leonardo de Brito and his research team published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a significant relationship has been found to exist between mortality rate in individuals who are 51-80 years of age and their ability to get up and down from the ground or floor efficiently.[iv] Their findings may seem alarming at first. However, what’s promising is that we can improve our strength and range of body movements regardless of age.
How We Eat
The third controllable factor in our lives is how we choose to nourish our bodies. Nutrition is a topic about which we receive conflicting information daily as new fad diets come and go, promising exceptional results with minimal effort. Inconsistent dietary information can create confusion about what we should be consuming to maintain our desired physique and metabolism. It’s important to recognize that nutrition should be tailored to our own personal needs and goals. If we want to become leaner versions of our current selves, our dietary intake will differ from that of someone who aspires to gain twenty pounds of muscle mass. However, nutritional needs are similar for everyone who seeks a healthier cardiovascular system and hormonal chemistry.
Ideally, our nutritional intake should be designed to decrease systemic inflammation, commonly referred to as an “anti-inflammatory diet.” Inflammation is a naturally occurring process that allows our bodies to heal from injury, illness, or infection, and is highly beneficial for our health when present in small doses. However, when inflammation is sustained for prolonged periods of time, it becomes chronic inflammation. In turn, chronic inflammation can contribute to incomplete healing of injuries, heart disease, stroke, and manifestations of autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In his book entitled The Deflamed Diet, Dr. David Seaman thoroughly discusses nutrition’s influence on inflammation. As we have come to expect, Seaman recommends that we avoid eating sugars, processed foods, and grains, and that we increase the number of vegetables, lean proteins, and good fats that we consume in order to prevent inflammation.[v]
When to Seek Treatment
Seeking treatment from a healthcare professional when we have experienced an injury or illness seems to be an obvious and rational decision. However, we commonly delay the decision to see a healthcare provider and instead rely on hope that our issues will resolve themselves on their own. In many cases, our symptoms persist and increase in severity, which eventually motivates us to seek professional help. However, by that time, our injury or disease may have progressed to the point that a healthcare provider is unable to completely reestablish the original abilities of our body parts or systems involved. As a specialist in musculoskeletal conditions, I have treated both proactive and reactive patients. I frequently find that patients who seek treatment for injuries in the acute (or early) stages of healing respond much faster to care and regain full function of injured body parts. Conversely, I have treated patients who attempted to “push through the pain” for months or years before seeking care. While these patients can still be helped, they are less likely to fully recover to pre-injury or pre-illness status, depending on the condition. Simply put, matter has limitations. As noted by neurologist Dr. Karel Lewit in his book, Manipulative Therapy: Musculoskeletal Medicine, combining effective manual therapy techniques and remedial exercises based on individual needs can provide pain relief and improve the function of the body for daily activities.[vi]
The strategy to seek early treatment is applicable for all of us. However, we often assume that if we have a family history for a particular disease, this predisposition is a destined diagnosis that we cannot avoid. While genetic predispositions increase the likelihood of particular diagnoses, the way we think, move, train, eat, and seek treatment can influence the likelihood of whether or not the condition develops.[vii] In short, to stay two steps ahead of the game, we should check-in with an appropriate healthcare provider based on our specific needs.
The quality of our health is affected
by multiple lifestyle factors that we can influence positively or negatively.
When we grow a garden in a field of soil with sufficient sunlight,
water, and nutrients, we expect that garden to flourish. We can take the same approach with our bodies
and nourish them with how we think, move, train, eat, and seek treatment. Doing so requires a proactive mindset to
avoid dangerous health issues that can manifest over time. It is critical for us to create a balanced,
sustainable lifestyle that aligns with our goals. Nobody is perfect and moderation is better
than no change at all. The most effective
path toward improving health is to consult with a professional who can design a
clear roadmap to follow. Our physical
health today has been significantly affected by our lifestyle choices over the
past ten years. How well we take care of
ourselves going forward will impact the outcome of our health in the future.
References[i] Skaggs, C. (2018). Six factors of health. Central Institute for Human Performance, Saint Louis, MO.
[ii] Chee, M. W., & Chuah, L. Y. (2008). Functional neuroimaging insights into how sleep and sleep deprivation affect memory and cognition. Current Opinion in Neurology ,24(4), 417-423.
[iii] George, J. (2018). Stress Tolerance Graph. Central Institute for Human Performance, Saint Louis, MO.
[iv] de Brito, L. B., Ricardo, D. R., Araújo, D. S., Ramos, P. S., Myers, J., & Araújo, C. G. (2012). Ability to sit and rise from the floor as a predictor of all-cause mortality. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 21(7), 892-898.
v Seaman, D.R. (2016). The deflame diet: Deflame your diet, body, and mind. Wilmington, NC: Shadow Panther Press.
vi Lewit, K. (2010). Manipulative therapy: Musculoskeletal medicine. Edinburgh, UK: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone.
[vii] Kushi, L.H., Doyle, C., McCullough, M., Rock, C.L., Demark-Wahnefried, W., Bandera, E.V., Gabstur, S., Patel, A.V., Andrews, K., & Gansler, T. (2012). American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 62(1), 30-67.