We’ve all seen the instagram post, the ad, the infomercial promising you the next “feel better quick” scheme. The reality is, if there was one of them that worked, EVERYBODY would be doing it! Yes, some work for some people, but the reason none work for all is that there is no “feel better now and forever” scheme. The reason is that HEALTH IS COMPLEX! It involves your mind, body, and soul, each of which have multiple systems that have to work together. When they don’t, you don’t feel great.
While it is complex, it is also simple. Over they years I have simplified health into 6 pillars. DISCLAIMER: a while back, I did come across a podcast discussing Dr. Rangan Chaterjee’s “Four Pillar Plan“. I think he does well simplifying health and covers the “body” contribution well, but falls short addressing the “mind” and “soul”, hence the extra 2 pillars.
As a PT, my bias is of course the “body” aspect of things with movement and exercise. While important, I think the “soul” and “mind” are more important. I have ordered my 6 pillars in what I believe to be most important. Think of the first pillar more like a capstone that the rest of the pillars need. While I do believe there’s an order of importance, the “building of health” needs all 6 pillars to be strong to stand strong.
Realistically, we will always be chasing having all 6 pillars be as strong as they need to be. We will have seasons where some are better than others, where we’re failing at all, and where we’re doing pretty well at all. Our “building of health” will fall. It will fall a lot. The key is that we build it again. The stronger each pillar is when we fail, the less time it takes to rebuild, and our rebuild results in a stronger building. The key is not perfection, but growth, to get a little bit better everyday; to understand we will be worse on some days, but over time, our average will be better. Think of the process more like the average slope demonstrating improvement with lots of peaks and valleys. Check out our “Life Hack: Just Get a Little Bit Better Every Day” blog for great visualizations.
So, without further ado, the 6 Pillars of Health:
There are mounds of evidence supporting each of these pillars and their benefits to your health. To my knowledge, there is not any other source that puts these specific 6 together. This is just my opinion based on my knowledge and experience interacting with many patients over the years.
1. SPIRITUALITY (Soul)
Maybe some disagree, but we believe there is something worth fighting for bigger than ourselves. This comes from somewhere. Whether you believe in the Christian God, God of another religion, multiple Gods, or no God(s) you have to have faith in something bigger than yourself. In our experience, the more grounded your are in your faith/spirituality and what you believe in your soul to be true, the more grounded you are for the rest of the pillars stand on.
Recommendation: Invest time daily to either grow your spirituality, or to explore other faiths, religions, philosophies, and mindsets and find what you will invest your time and faith to grow in.
2. RELATIONSHIPS (Soul)
Relationships are crucial to human life. Think about most of your stressers in life; most of them are related to a relationship you would like to go better. We believe you should love ALL PEOPLE as yourself. Specifically, you should invest your time and efforts loving those closest to you by spending time with them and growing in your relationship. The more you invest in your relationships, the better off the other pillars will be.
Recommendation: Invest time daily serving your family and friends. Often, the best way to improve relationships is to serve others. Their joy will fuel you and will often lead to others blessing you with service and acts of love.
3. SLEEP (Mind)
Our body’s NEED sleep to function normally. Sleep helps all of your body’s systems recover. Each individual’s specific sleep needs may vary, but in general, 7-9 hours of sleep per night will maximize your ability to recover and be ready for your next day. Good sleep hygiene with a proper evening routine and minimizing phones and distractions in bed can help.
Recommendation: Sleep 7-9 hours per night and have good sleep hygiene with a good evening routine.
4. STRESS MANAGEMENT (Mind)
We intentionally focus on stress management, rather than eliminating stress. Stress is inevitable, and the right amount of stress actually promotes positive action, appropriate risk mitigation, and overall growth as a person. Many of the things we stress about end up changing or not having nearly the negative impact we were worried about. Yes, you will stress, but the better you can manage it, the more you can use it for positive change and improvement.
Recommendation: Don’t try to avoid stress, recognize it, embrace it, and use it for positive change!
5. NUTRITION/FUEL (Body)
The food you eat is fuel for your body. The better the fuel, the better your body can operate. We are big fans of intuitive eating. This requires knowledge of your body’s nutritional needs. The total calories it requires, and the quality of calories. It’s also important to enjoy food. If you normally eat healthy and proper portions, you can treat yourself with food that you enjoy, even if you know the quality of calories aren’t the best, because you normally fuel well. This helps you have the right nutritional balance and quality of life long term.
Recommendation: Practice intuitive eating. Eat a well balanced diet with the proper portions and occasionally treat yourself with something you enjoy.
6. EXERCISE/MOVEMENT (Body)
Our body’s were made to move. Specifically, to move in a way that challenges us enough to increase our heart rate to at least 50% our maximum heart rate (>100 bpm for most of us). As Physical Therapist’s we are passionate about moving well in ways that limit current pain and risk for future pain. We’re also passionate about moving and exercising enough that we reduce risk for cardiovascular disease as well as other health issues. We do know that if the other five pillars are not being well taken care of, that we won’t get as much benefit from our movement and exercise and have more risk for injury while doing it.
Recommendation: Perform moderate intensity exercise (50-70% max HR) for 150 minutes total per week (30 minutes, 5 days per week) or perform vigorous intensity exercise (70-85% max HR) for 90 minutes total per week (30 minutes, 3 days per week).
We hope that focusing on the 6 Pillars of Health can help you improve your overall health and wellness. The intent is not perfection in every pillar, but to work to be disciplined in each pillar as best you can. Recognize that you will have seasons of doing better or worse with different pillars at different times. The goal is to recognize when and where you are falling short and make SMART goals to improve your consistency, and when you fall short again, get back after it!
Yours in health!
Dr. Dane Happeny, PT, DPT, OCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist