The health lessons we can no longer ignore
As much as Western thought likes to compartmentalise the body into tidy systems (digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular system etc), the truth is: they're all interconnected.
Depression and anxiety - afflictions of the mind - often start in the gut. Last year, researchers suggested the key to maintaining mood stability was a well-balanced gut microbiota, shaped by what we eat, as well as physical, psychological and environmental stressors.
Acne, psoriasis, and eczema - eruptions of the skin - begin below the surface, commonly triggered by inflammation, gut dysbiosis, or imbalanced hormones. The foods we eat (or don't), as well as other stressors, play key roles in our development of these imbalances.
The human body is a perpetual construction zone. The foods we eat are the tools that afford us the ability to repair and rebuild. When we eat whole, unprocessed foods, such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and organic animal products, it's as if we have the most capable construction crew inside us. When we choose a diet filled mostly with refined foods, such as baked goods, sweets, soda, chips, and processed meats, it's as if all our construction workers fell asleep on the job.
Covid-19 has been a wake-up call to pay better attention to our health - after all, 94 per cent of Covid-related deaths are in those with an underlying chronic disease, mostly caused by excess body fat, including diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
When we talk about wellness, especially in a post-Covid world, we must start with food.
While the best diet for each of us is determined by our own unique biochemistry and health, for most people, a plant-based paleo (or 'pegan') approach is a great starting point. It's primarily made of whole, plant-based foods, with a small amount of quality organic meat and wild seafood. This diet is naturally low glycemic, high fibre, and anti-inflammatory. The number one tip I give people is to think of your plate as a pie chart, and aim to make 50-75% of it vegetables at as many meals as possible.
As powerful as food is, though, it's not the magic bullet that will solve all health problems. We also need to add physical fitness, stress reduction, community, and happiness to the equation.
Exercise boosts our mood, supports our immune system, lowers stress, balances blood sugar, and aids in elimination. Move your body at least 30 minutes a day, even if it's just a walk. In days of quarantine, I'd taken to pacing my balcony while on phone calls to get my steps in. Fitness apps and YouTube are overflowing with workouts by top trainers that can be done in your living room with minimal or no equipment.
Stress reduction decreases inflammation, improves digestion, lowers high blood pressure, and improves heart health and the overall quality of our life.
Having a tight-knit community is a critical but often overlooked aspect of wellness. Strong relationships are cited as a primary factor of longevity in the world's Blue Zones - areas where people regularly live past 100. Social distance doesn't mean social isolation.
And finally, a focus on fun and happiness is the next frontier of wellness. After all, the whole point of improving our health is so that we can enjoy our lives to the fullest. It's easy to turn wellness activities into a stress-inducing competition or cause for self-criticism. But these thoughts are the antithesis of wellness, and we must release them if we are to be truly "well".
Happiness starts from within, with an attitude of gratitude. Developing a daily gratitude practice trains you to constantly look for the positive instead of the negative. What's more, maintaining a child-like spirit and thirst for adventure will do much to improve your mental, and even physical, health. Make time to dance, sing and laugh. These were considered medicine before the rise of pharmaceuticals.
It's not enough to rely solely on food and physical fitness; we must also pay attention to our mental and spiritual health because it's all connected. The future of wellness will be less about following a prescribed checklist of wellness activities and more about remembering how to be human.