I believe that wellness is multi-faceted. People often pose the question, “Is diet or exercise more important?” This is the wrong question. Wellness is holistic. It's about quality and quantity. Nutrition maybe should be fixed first if you are eating lots of trans-fatty acids and processed foods. Exercise maybe should be fixed first if you lie in your bed for the entire day. A third, and possibly more important, facet, is stress. Stress maybe should be fixed first if you always sleep and relax too little and worry too much. Nutrition, exercise, and stress- in no particular order- are the three crucial factors when looking to promote wellness.
I am 25 years old. While I'm sure this philosophy has been in development my entire life, the bulk of it has been in development for the last decade. When I was in high school I ate so well that I noticed whether I had enough fruits, vegetables, or water each day. One day my mom made brownies and she encouraged me to eat one. I responded emphatically, “If I eat one this week, then I'm going to want one next week.” I didn't want anything to take away from the possible gains due to hours of intense exercise. I exercised 9 times each week. At the time I was focusing on athletic performance. Now, in my old age (I say that facetiously), I focus more on wellness. I've realized that on days where I am studying, learning, and having to perform on tests and in business that I need a consistent 8.5 hours of sleep to feel energetic. On days where I am able to relax or at least not having to process a lot of information and perform then I need only 7.5 hours of sleep. That is 13% more sleep needed on more stressful days.
I recently heard read a story in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell about the people of Roseto, PA, USA. The town was founded by people from Roseto Valfortore, Italy. The town's culture, it seems, was transported from Italy to Pennsylvania and continued so until at least the middle of the 20th century. Dr. Stewart Wolf, of Oklahoma, was informed that the town had an unusually low heart disease death rate. He went to investigate. He found that the people ate similar and exercised similar to typical Americans. People in nearby geographical cities had typical American heart disease rates. He felt as if he'd looked into every standard possible explanation. What was his conclusion? Lifestyle. The people were definitely not Type A personalities. They had daily meals with three generations worth of families. They mingled on the streets and on their porches with family and friends. In essence, they were relaxed.
This story hit me like an Iowa plains' wind. Nutrition and exercise are important aspects of my daily life in large part because I want a life free of morbidity. I was missing a leg of a figurative 3-legged wellness stool and knew that I could not rest my wellness on it. Now, I try to allow for relaxation. I focus on relationships. I recognize productivity in the absence of activity.
Another aspect of the mind-body relationship is the spirit. I believe, but have no scientific proof, that when we die our spirit leaves our body and has the memories and knowledge gained in this life. Scientifically we know the areas of the brain that process and store different types of information. Yet, when we die, we have that knowledge and ability even without the neurons that compose our brain. How is this? I have no idea. I do, however, realize that there is much more to wellness than we can currently put in a scientific journal. It tells me that there is more connectedness than our compartmentalized world would like to admit.
I've discussed the often overlooked stress aspect of wellness. I would like to discuss the exercise and nutrition aspects in slightly more depth as well. I'll discuss ways that I either focus or would like to focus on each.
I have vacillated between typical high and low protein diets at least twice each in the last 10 years. I would like to say that I believe I'll keep my current philosophy forever because of my “new found knowledge”, but I've said that a few times now. Almost all foods can be part of a healthy diet. However, there is a hierarchy of regular foods that should be eaten and foods that should be spared. The regular foods in order are vegetables, fruits, grains (chia, quinoa, and flax are at the top), dairy/eggs, and meat. The foods that should be spared in order from least sparingly to most sparingly are refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and processed food (this includes trans-fatty acid and the many ingredients that are unpronouncable on a label). If I maintain this hierarchy then it is very likely that nutrition is not bringing down my overall wellness. I do believe that all of the foods should be prepared and cooked in a way that is palatable.
A frequent inquiry presented to me is, “Which is better: cardio or weight lifting?” The correct question is, “Which do I like better: cardio or weight lifting?” The activity that a person likes more should be done more. Both are important for wellness. Cardiovascular exercise improves the strength and efficiency of our heart. Proper and complete weight lifting improves the ability of our muscles from head to toe to utilize nutrients, respond to stimuli, prevent us from falling, and keep us from injury. I strongly believe that every person for who it is not contraindicated should become out of breath due to exercise a minimum of three times each week. I also believe that each week every movement the body can produce should be stimulated by work (exercise). If these two criteria are met then the rest of their physical activity should be of the person's choosing. This philosophy helps to reduce stress in the person's life.
I have a strong desire to promote health in people's life. This is largely why I want to become a physical therapy doctor. I want to decrease morbidity. Physical therapy has a fabulous capacity to allow me to do so. I learn how the body moves biomechanically, physiologically, and neurologically. It also gives me the credentials to be listened to (by everyone, but family it seems) and followed. Seeing the whole body as a physical therapist is crucial in helping the patient achieve wellness as quickly as possible. Wearing the proverbial “goggles” doesn't help anybody.
Wellness is a three-legged stool. Exercise, nutrition, and the mind are equal factors. One isn't more important than the other. Balance between the three gives me the ability to rest my wellness on them the rest of my life.
The Roseto, PA story was relayed in the following reference.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers. Little, Brown Company. Nov. 18, 2008. 978-0-316-01792-3
Nick Rainey, SPT, CSCS, NPI-CPS