Many people are looking to optimize their physical health, as well as other components of health. As RDs, we love this. People are actively seeking information and support in creating and sustaining healthy habits. Sometimes though, it is easy to get lost in the details, the minutiae, maybe even the passing fads (we’re looking at you, keto diet).
So, we are dedicating this post to a zoomed out view of how individuals can optimize their physical health. Let’s define a few things first.
What is Health?
A frequently referenced definition of health is from the World Health Organization
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
A person with good physical health has bodily functions and processes that are working efficiently well and supporting life. However, health as a whole is multidimensional and impacted by SO many factors. Optimal health for one person will look different as compared to optimal health for the next person, and it can also look different as we age and progress through life. This is because we have our own genetic profiles, environmental factors, stressors, lifestyles, schedules, and so on.
Basic Needs First
Basic needs like shelter, clothing, food, as well as access to healthcare, and feeling safe in one’s home and neighborhood are fundamental to health. You can’t quite worry about getting enough fruits and vegetables if you’re worried about where or when your next meal is even coming from, or where you are going to sleep tonight. Those basic needs must be met first before we even attempt “optimizing” our health.
Other Types of Health
Today we are honing in on physical health, but that is not to diminish the importance of mental health, spiritual health, emotional health, social health, and financial health. These facets of health together all impact a person’s overall health status and their ability to reach and maintain their own personal optimal health. In working with our clients around the relationship between food and body, we often touch on topics related to mental health. So much so, that we created our own Meditation Affirmations Series around many of these topics that come up.
How Can You Optimize Your Physical Health?
Here at Nutriving, we focus much more on what our clients need MORE OF as opposed to focusing on restrictions and limitations. More food freedom people!! This strategy works well for us and for our clients because:
- It’s way more fun to incorporate new foods and recipes, and
- Most of us need more fruits and vegetables, among other things like whole grains, seafood, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc. Indeed, almost 90% of the US population does not meet vegetable recommendations and about 80% of the US population does not meet fruit recommendations according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.
In general, a good rule of thumb is to strive for about half plate fruits and vegetables, quarter plate starch or starchy vegetable, quarter plate protein, and some added fats for flavor and texture. If you include dairy in your diet, that adds protein, calcium and vitamin D, as well as fats (depending on the type of dairy you choose). USDA recommends a strategy called MyPlate, which demonstrates how to enact the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
With our clients, we use a spiced up version of this to guide building delicious, satisfying and nutrient-dense meals.
We’re talking most of the time. Don’t get us wrong. There is certainly room for cake and tequila, 2 of our favorite things.
Hydration is crucial. Water is important in so many biological processes, ranging from temperature regulation to lubricating our joints to organ functioning to delivering nutrients to the cells of our body.
You may have heard of that gold standard rule to drink 8 8-oz glasses of water per day. Not a bad place to start, but there is not a lot of scientific evidence behind this recommendation. As with many things in nutrition, hydration is not black and white. Our hydration needs are individual, and can fluctuate from day to day depending on how much water we get from food, how active we are, what our environment is like, etc.
The U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine estimates that men need about 15.5 cups or 3.7 liters per day of fluids, and that women need about 11.5 cups or 2.7 liters per day of fluids. This includes fluids from water, other beverages and food. It is estimated that about 20% of daily fluid intake comes from food, meaning we should get the remaining 80% from fluids. Some quick math tells us that actually means drinking about 12.5 cups or about 3 liters of fluid per day for men and about 9 cups or 2.1 liters of fluid per day for women.
Again, it’s not a hard and fast rule. Drink when you’re thirsty. Try to spread your water intake throughout the day, vs chugging water at night before bed (hello multiple nighttime bathroom trips). Paying attention to the color of your urine can be a helpful indicator as well. Your first urine of the day will be the darkest color, since you’re likely not drinking a ton of water overnight. Throughout the day, a pale yellow color is a good target. If your urine continues to be a medium or darker yellow, you likely could stand to drink more water.
We encourage our clients to find joyful movement. If this sounds a bit woo-woo to you, hear us out. It is so paramount to find physical activity you actually enjoy doing. Why? Well, if you hate it, you’re not likely going to continue doing it, right? Consistency is key to reap the benefits, thus finding activities you actually enjoy is imperative. This might be walking, swimming, biking, jogging, dancing, playing a sport you love, gardening, anything that gets your heart rate up!
What is one benefit of lifelong physical activity?
Well, there’s not a single one benefit of physical activity, so that’s a trick question. When we feel our heart rate go up, this is your body working and your heart pumping oxygenated blood to your muscles. A physically active lifestyle may reduce the risk of chronic disease (think heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, some cancers) and helps keep our blood pressure in check. All good things, people! And to go even further, regular physical activity can help manage stress, boost your mood, improve sleep, and improve self-confidence. Um, yes please.
How much physical activity do we need?
For adults, the CDC recommends striving for 150 minutes (or 2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week along with 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity. Again, find what you enjoy. Maybe recruit a friend or family member as your walking buddy (fur babies included), put on some great music or a podcast (yours truly are coming out with a podcast very soon, so get ready!). Try out different gyms or workout video streaming services. There are so many ways to be active, so don’t force yourself to do something that is painful or that you just plain hate. Life is too short!
Everyday lifestyle choices
Even your everyday lifestyle choices affect your physical fitness level. If available to you: try walking to run errands instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away from entrances. Of course, there are times when these strategies might not work for you. But every little bit counts! The more we infuse physical activity into our lives, the easier and more natural it becomes, and the more health benefits we get.
Adults function best with at least 7 hours of sleep. The CDC recommends 7 hours or more of sleep per night for adults 18-60 years old, 7-9 hours for adults 61-64 years, and 7-8 hours for adults 65 years and older. This data comes from a 2015 joint consensus statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.
If you’re thinking: woww 7 hours sounds like a dream. We feel you, but it is worth striving for. Sleep is vital to almost every physiological process in our bodies. Without sufficient sleep, things start to go a bit haywire.
Indeed, research shows associations between insufficient sleep and a variety of consequences such as heightened stress response, pain, depression, anxiety, deficits in cognition and memory, as well as long-term health consequences and increased risk of disease. A 2017 meta-analysis of 153 studies with over 5 million (!!) participants showed that short sleep (<6 hours/night) was significantly associated with mortality, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and coronary heart diseases at long-term follow-ups.
Well, shit. Turns out you can’t eat more broccoli or have the ultimate workout routine to make up for lack of sleep. There is no substitute for adequate rest!!
There you have it, our take on optimizing physical health. While physical health is not the only aspect of health, it’s an important one. Nutrition, hydration, physical activity, and sleep are pillars of optimal physical health. That being said, there is a big difference between knowing what you should do and actually incorporating it consistently into your life. Knowing you should eat more fruits and vegetables does not equal actually doing it. Barriers that come up can range from access to food, ability to buy sufficient quantities of food, work and social event schedules, convenience, time, habit, lack of confidence in the kitchen, picky eating, and we could go on and on really.
Are you stuck in a cycle where you want to try to eat healthier, exercise more, do whatever it is that you know would optimize your physical health, but you just can’t quite seem to gain and keep the momentum? We are here to help. If you are looking for support, accountability, education, we got you.
You can check out our Meditation Series, our other blog posts, our Instagram, or just come chat with us or shoot us an email at [email protected] and see if we’re a good fit for you!
Constitution of the World Health Organization. Basic Documents, Forty-fifth edition, Supplement, October 2006. https://www.who.int/governance/eb/who_constitution_en.pdf
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov
Dietary reference intakes for electrolytes and water. U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/dietary-reference-intakes-for-electrolytes-and-water.
How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
How much sleep do I need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
MyPlate. US Department of Agriculture. https://www.myplate.gov/
Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Medic G, Wille M, Hemels MEH. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017; 9: 151–161. Published online 2017 May 19. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S134864
Short sleep duration and health outcomes: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression. Itani O, Jike M, Watanabe N, Kaneita Y. Sleep Med. 2017 Apr;32:246-256. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2016.08.006. Epub 2016 Aug 26.
Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, Bliwise DL, Buxton OM, Buysse D, Dinges DF, Gangwisch J, Grandner MA, Kushida C, Malhotra RK, Martin JL, Patel SR, Quan SF, Tasali E. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. SLEEP 2015;38(6):843–844.
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