By: Dr. John Bagnulo, Director of Nutrition
With recognition of World Health Day, it is important that we ask ourselves the questions: how we define health and what is important for us to achieve it? Too often, individuals focus on one area of health and become overly invested in it, even as the investment starts to erode other areas of health. Getting enough exercise and eating organic whole foods are major points of emphasis in many of our lives, but they shouldn’t crowd out our ability to find community, to laugh, or to be at peace in those times when ideal foods are not available or we can not workout like we are accustomed to.
I think that resiliency is the most overlooked dimension of health. In many ways, it is a function of all others. Mental health and spiritual health provide us with a sense of greater purpose and can help us put things in perspective. Physical health not only allows us to participate in more areas of life, but it also supports the brain and our outlook on things. While they are all intertwined, resiliency is possibly one of the greatest products of their confluence.
In a World that is more stimulating than the life our nervous systems were designed for, finding a place of mental rest may be the first step. When we give our minds a break from the constant analysis of information and threat assessment that takes place with the continuous screening of emails and social media, we can find balance within the divisions of our nervous system. While the sympathetic nervous system division drives the stress response and is often referred to as the "fight or flight" system, the parasympathetic division of our nervous system is responsible for rest, repair, and recovery. Without balance, all areas of health suffer. Scanning today’s news and always responding to calls, texts, and messages are mild stimulants of sympathetic nervous division activity, but they are still stimulatory. Parasympathetic activity has become markedly less represented amidst this never-ending stream. In essence, the sympathetic overdrive can leave us drained of both mental and physical energy.
Finding a way to unplug is generally a good way to start the inquiry process around health. It not only offers immediate mental health results but can also create a window where we can listen. When we listen, we are often better at understanding what we need for health and happiness. More often than not, the two go together.
Once we slow down enough, we find the time for the walks, the creation of nourishing meals, and the ability to contemplate our role in the bigger picture. When we practice these types of activities we are better able to bounce back from both the physical and mental stressors that might otherwise adversely affect our health. This is, by definition, resiliency.
So today, on World Health Day, I leave you with a checklist that we should all run through in an attempt to gain a better perspective on whether or not we are creating a pattern of living that is supportive of our health:
- Do you have time everyday to go for a 30-minute walk or to exercise in some other way?
- Do you have time most days to prepare at least one meal from scratch?
- Do you take a break from emails, texts, and social media one day per week?
- Do you have time to shop for fresh vegetables every week?
- Do you allow yourself a moment each day to be in the quiet?
- Do you have an easy time falling asleep without thinking of all the things you need to do the following day?
- Do you share at least one meal and one laugh with someone every day?
In your quest for better health, I hope your answers to many of these are "yes."
Dr. John Bagnulo is the Director of Nutrition at Functional Formularies and leads nutrition research and development initiatives. Learn more about Dr. Bagnulo here.