Sunday Health Tip: Come to your SENSES…or, the Six Pillars of Natural Health & Wellness
Posted Oct 23 2011 1:26pm
SENSES is an acronym I came up with for remembering the six pillars of natural health: Stress Management, Exercise, Nutrition, Sleep, Elimination, and Sunlight/Fresh Air. If I’m being honest, though, if I were to put them in order of importance, it would be: Nutrition, Exercise, Elimination, Sleep, Sunlight/Fresh Air, and Stress Management. But that uses up all the vowels too early and NEESSS would have no mnemonic value whatsoever. So, SENSES it is.
Stress Management: Let’s face it, stress is an inescapable part of modern life. In fact, we wouldn’t even want to escape all stress, because some stress is beneficial and even necessary (i.e., short-term stress that galvanizes you into action and motivates you to perform better). Long-term stress, however, can be harmful because the stress hormones that cascade through your body in response to the external triggers and enable it to “fight-or-flee” will degrade your immune, cardiac, and digestive systems over time if left unchecked. Taking conscious steps to address or reduce negative stress in our lives is absolutely vital to maximizing our health and wellness.
Exercise: You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that exercise brings substantial health benefits. But in case you have been a boulder-dweller, here is a Mayo Clinic article about the 7 benefits of regular physical activity. I won’t re-iterate what’s already been said, but I DO want to mention the specific health issues for which exercise is the PRIMARY remedy.
* Lymph System: The lymph system is responsible for keeping our immune system strong. Because the lymph system has no pump (a la the heart), the only way to move the lymph around is through exercise or manual manipulation, as in a lymphatic drainage massage. The latter costs money, but the former, i.e., walking/jogging/running around your neighborhood block, is free, so you can’t beat that for frugality.
* Hypothyroidism: This is when your thyroid gland is underactive, and does not produce enough thyroid hormone, the purpose of which is to run the body’s metabolism. Not surprisingly, in those who have underactive thyroid, a slow metabolism is what seems to manifest. Exercise can help dramatically here by stimulating thyroid gland secretion and increasing tissue sensitivity to the thyroid hormone.
* Osteoporosis: Studies have shown that exercise lowers the risk of osteoporosis. The action of your muscles pulling on your bones builds bone mass, so weight-bearing activity helps you build stronger, denser bones. Experts recommend weight-lifting, step aerobics, racquet sports, and other activities that force your muscles to work against gravity for at least 30 minutes a day.
(Gosh, I feel like getting off my butt as I type this paragraph. Well, I have to finish this article first.)
Nutrition: Food IS medicine. How you choose to nourish your body has EVERYTHING to do with your health. That hackneyed, old adage, “You are what you eat,” is absolutely true. And sometimes truth hurts, especially if what you’re putting in your body is highly processed, refined, empty-calorie “food.” Nutrition is absolutely a pillar of wellness – in fact, many holistic physicians believe that illnesses and allergies can be solved simply by adjusting the diet. There are also many diseases that are created by having a poor diet in the first place: Type II diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and even some mental illnesses.
The diet that most holistic physicians agree on is one that is high in fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, fiber, and cold-water fish. You also want to ensure that you drink enough water daily. Though eight 8-ounce glasses per day is a good rule of thumb, you may actually require more or less, depending upon a variety of factors. To calculate the optimal water intake for you, use this detailed online water intake calculator . Lastly, the best way to figure out a diet that is perfect for you is to consult a nutritionist or ND (Naturopathic physician), so that you can create a customized eating plan that promotes optimal health.
Sleep: Sleep, especially REM sleep, is absolutely crucial to mental and physical health and wellness. There is increasing evidence that lack of sleep is associated with such health issues as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression (there is a great article on WebMD about the growing research that shows the connection between sleep loss and poor health). Drs. Murray and Pizzorno make the case that sleep is absolutely essential: “Many health conditions, particularly depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia are either entirely or partially related to sleep deprivation or disturbed sleep (p. 40).”
REM sleep is especially important, because it’s during REM sleep (mostly) that we dream, processing emotions, memories, and other things that happen to us throughout the day. Stanford Professor William Dement showed the significance of REM sleep by conducting a study in which he woke subjects up just as they were going into REM sleep. As a result, he learned that REM sleep-deprived people suffered from extreme irritability, depression, and anxiety – all of which disappeared when they were allowed to dream again (more information can be found here ).
Elimination: You know, Dr. Oz would not spend so much time on television talking about POOPING if it were not vital to our health and wellness. But it makes sense when you think about it, because our physical bodies are essentially here to take in nutrients, take energy from them, and then “expel” the waste. Keeping our bodies’ ability to eliminate waste is, therefore, a crucial part of maintaining health and wellness.
But elimination is not just about pooping and peeing. Our bodies actually have six elimination systems: the bowels, the kidneys, the lungs, the skin, the liver, and the lymph. The bowels and kidneys are obvious, but did you know that we also breathe, sweat, and filter out toxins using our lungs, skin, and liver, while our lymph system defends us against invasion by bacteria and foreign particles? This is why we have to keep each of these systems functioning optimally. Note to self: write more in the future about how to keep the six elimination systems healthy.
Sunlight and fresh air: Sunlight is a vital ingredient in health and wellness. Exposure to the sun helps us make nutrients like Vitamin D, which helps us maintain healthy bones, among many other benefits . It also triggers the production of melatonin inside of us, which helps regulate our sleep patterns and can help us deal with jet lag . Dr, Mercola even goes so far as to state that sunlight can prevent cancer . How you interpret the sometimes-conflicting body of sunlight-related health research is up to you, but two things are clear: SOME sun exposure daily is critical to optimum health, and most of us DON’T get enough sunlight.
While it may seem obvious, the air we breathe needs to be fresh, clean, pure, and free of environmental pollutants that can impair our lungs and their ability to bring in oxygen to our brains and the rest of our bodies. As one of the 6 elimination systems mentioned above, our lungs are vitally important – without food, we wouldn’t last three weeks. Without water, we wouldn’t last three days. Without breath, we wouldn’t last three minutes. So it is essential to take care of our lungs and give them lots of deep breaths, fresh air, and exercise.
In short, to optimize your health and wellness, just remember to come to your SENSES! This is really useful because you can use it to develop a six-pronged health and wellness plan for everyone in your family, from you to your spouse to your children. How? By finding a way to address every pillar mentioned above, every day. Here’s to your health!