Oscar Wilde quipped that “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” However, when it comes to enjoying a healthy lifespan, nothing succeeds like moderation.
Personalising Health through Lifestyle
Hippocrates advocated that giving each individual just the right amount of exercise and nourishment, not too little and not too much, is the safest way the health. Although Hippocrates is often known as the father of medicine, more accurately he could be described as the father of health. Health being not just the absence of disease, rather the positive combination of physical, mental and social health.
In ancient Greek times it was not known why moderation, of nutrition and exercise surely lead to health. As I describe in “Hormones, Health and Human Potential” it is the interactions of these behaviours with our hormone networks that maintain internal harmony known as homeostasis. Homeostasis is equilibrium of the internal environment to support all physiological processes for health. Hormone networks can adapt and withstand a certain degree of external excess in the form of too much or too little nutrition or exercise. However there comes a critical point, personal for each individual, where continued excess of unbalanced behaviours will tip over into adverse effects on health. Incidentally in this situation it is not hormones that become unbalanced, rather unbalanced behaviours have forced hormone networks into extensive adaptive changes.
Rebalancing Lifestyle Choices
There are certainly ever emerging challenges for attaining just the right amount and timing of each lifestyle choice around nutrition and exercise. Everyone likes a “quick fix”: apart from your hormones and your health. This is why New Year’s resolutions around extreme dieting or exercise at either end of the spectrum don’t lead to long term benefits. Another problem is that it is difficult to override in-build “safety” mechanisms, so it is challenging psychologically to stick to original intentions. Your body and millions of years of evolution knows best. This can leave you deflated and demotivated. You can’t stick to your plan and this plan does not bring the success you expected. What are the ways to set you on the surest path for optimal heath?
Lifestyle choices for 2023
There are two very important factors in your choice of exercise. Firstly, that this is something you personally enjoy. Studies show that those who chose exercise that they enjoy are more likely to keep exercising and make healthy food choices. My personal favourite is taking a ballet class with my excellent teacher and friends of many years. Dance also covers the second important point about exercise choice in that it should involve different types of fitness. I see many people just focusing on a cardiovascular type of exercise, neglecting strength, flexibility and neuromuscular skills. However, if ballet is not your thing, then choose your exercise types wisely for enjoyment and to cover all bases of fitness.
Nutrition is very similar to exercise in that food choices should cover all the nutritional requirements for the individual and not neglect the enjoyment element of eating. Trying to adhere rigidly to any type of diet that does not encompass these elements will not end well for health in the long run. I see a lot of exercisers who end up in unintentional or intentional low energy availability with associated adaptative down regulation of hormones, which can be challenging to rectify. At the other end of the spectrum, for those who maybe have favoured energy intake over energy expenditure, the type of weight reduction diets that purport to give rapid weight loss, can often be counterproductive in the long term. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Sleep is the chief nourisher in life’s great feast”. Although Shakespeare did not realise at the time of writing “Macbeth”, sleep certainly is the chief nourisher when it comes to hormones. Many hormone biological clocks, biochronometers, are set according to our sleep patterns with recent research showing that lack of sleep adversely impacts hormone health for men and women. So aiming for good sleep patterns is something relatively straight forward and actionable to support health.
We often have our own personal responses to “stress”. This could be responding through an excess of behaviour at either end of spectrum: eating and/or exercising too little or too much. Especially when combined with disrupted sleep patterns, this creates the perfect storm for challenging hormone health. This vicious circle can become a repeating pattern of response to “stress”. I put “stress” in inverted commas intentionally, because “stress” is our personal interpretation of external stressors. We each have our own interpretation of events and our personal response.
For this reason, “stress” management strategies are a personal choice. Identifying your personal triggers for deviating away from balanced behaviours is an important starting point. Then noting what tends to be your typical response is to these triggers. Can you explore more helpful ways to deal with your personal triggers? Is this listening to music, reading, mediation, meeting with friends or as Hippocrates advised going for a walk? I often see people (including myself) who have tendency to over exercise when confronted with stress provoking situations. So, in this case, going for more walks wouldn’t be the best option. Make sure your strategies are personal to you.
Moderation for Optimal Health 2023
The top tip for optimal health in 2023 and beyond is to aim for moderation and balance across the key lifestyle choices of exercise, nutrition and sleep. Combined with your personal stress management strategies to avoid too much or too little of any of these behaviours, this is the surest way to health as Hippocrates advised. If you do need to modify or fine tune your choices, making small changes that you can sustain over the whole year and beyond will bring success in health.