There are at least a dozen factors that influence our health. This is good to know, and especially now.
Throughout this pandemic, Dr. John Campbell, a retired emergency room nurse, nurse educator, author of nursing textbooks, and YouTuber from the UK, has been presenting interesting information about COVID-19. While I don't always agree with his opinions on treatment, I appreciate his global perspective and the fact that he is not regulated or influenced by any government or other entity.
Early on, there was a poster behind him that declared “STOP COVID-19” and encouraged hand washing, distancing, and mask wearing. Five days ago that poster was replaced because Campbell considered it outdated; it is no longer possible to stop the spread of COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant. He introduced and explained his new poster in his January 7 YouTube video, saying that it represents how to stay healthy—preventing disease as much as we can—and “optimizing disease management should disease occur.” “The aim,” Campbell says, “is to have a long life that is as healthy as possible... Obviously we are all going to die at some point, but we want to die fairly quickly, not after a long, protracted illness." Well put.
I enjoyed Campbell's lecture. His poster provides a good visual of several factors that can affect one's health—for better (diet, sleep, exercise) or for worse (viruses, pollution, toxic relationships). But I thought he missed a few key factors. So here's my version of his poster and a brief overview of each factor. But be sure to check out his YouTube video for more extensive information on the factors he addressed.
Diet. Author Michael Pollan has said: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That pretty much sums it up. You likely know as much or more than I do about healthy eating, so I won't elaborate on this one.
Exercise. Quoting another prominent influencer—King Julien, the lemur in Disney's Madagascar movies: You've got to move it, move it. You've got to . . . move it!" Find some sort of physical activity you enjoy and “move it” daily. (If for you it’s walking, give me a call and we can walk together sometime.)
Brain. The health of the body impacts the health of the brain and vice versa. The brain represents the mind and psychological health. If you maintain a healthy, positive, active mind, you will be able to handle stressors better. Make choices that keep your brain and mind strong and resilient, like learning something new, finding enjoyable pastimes, and all of the lifestyle factors discussed here.
Toxins. We are constantly exposed to all sorts of toxins, including environmental pollution, noise, highly processed foods, food additives, chemicals in cleaning solutions... the list could go on and on. They all negatively impact our health. Fortunately, by keeping our body and mind strong, we are able to deal with most of them. Be aware of toxic exposures and mitigate the situation as much as you are able.
Genetics. Some of our genetics are hardwired into us at conception and we're "stuck" with them. Recognize what your genetic weaknesses might be and then account for those with good lifestyle factors. However, there are also genes that can be shut off or turned on according to our lifestyle factors and environmental influences. Do an online search for more fascinating information about epigenetics!
Viruses. We are bombarded by viruses every day of our lives. According to an article in Future, viruses are "the most numerous biological entities, stalking every ecosystem and invading every type of organism. They can traverse continents and cascade down from the sky in their trillions every day; there are about 800 million viruses on every square meter of the planet." Usually our immune system can handle them without our awareness. Other times, we detect their presence from a sniffle, body aches, or other symptoms. In the extreme, viruses may infect widespread populations such as with the “Black Death” bubonic plague (1346-1353), the Spanish Flu (1918-1920), the Asian flu (1957-1958), the Swine Flu (2009-2010) and now COVID-19. This is nothing new. Let's learn from the past. And be thankful for medical advances in the present.
Community. We live in groups; no person is an island. Positive social relationships are vital to every person's health. However, negativity, fear, and blame can be present in any group of humans. Be aware of how your social circles are affecting you, and also how you are affecting them. Not only is it important for you to be in a supportive group, it is also important for you to provide a supportive, positive attitude in whatever groups you are in.
Here are some factors I would add:
Stillness. Take time every day—or several times a day—to pause. Be still. Be present. Pray. Meditate. Simply stop, and be.
Sleep. The lymphatic system, along with helping to fight infection, is responsible for transporting cellular waste out of the body. This is most efficiently done while we are sleeping. Working alongside the lymphatic system is our glymphatic system, which is responsible for removing cellular waste from the brain, which can only be performed while asleep. Researchers have found that during sleep, brain cells reduce in size while at the same time the fluid in your brain increases, both essential for the glymphatic system's success in removing waste from the brain. For more details, check out the book, Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker and this blog post by Sleepopolis.
Water. We have all heard about the importance of drinking plenty of good water, right? But did you know that, according to the Ayurvedic healing tradition, we should never drink cold or ice water as that quenches our digestive fire and makes our body work harder. Also, the type of water we drink is important. Regular water takes 6 hours to absorb; boiled and cooled water takes 3 hours; and hot herbal infused water (think herbal tea) takes only 1½ hours to absorb. The Ayurvedic healing tradition also teaches that we should always sit to drink water — that drinking water standing up has no benefit at all and perhaps even causes injury to our joints, kidneys, and more. That was a new one for me!
Nature. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but there have been countless studies supporting the benefits of spending time in nature. So get out there. Every. Single. Day. Yes, it can be a bit chilly here in Minnesota, but the benefits far outweigh the layers of clothing needed to venture out. Check out this excellent Select Health blog for "10 Reasons Why Being In Nature is Good For You". Share it with your kids and grandkids—I'm sure they appreciate being nagged as much as mine do. Notice number nine: "It Strengthens Your Immune System.” That’s particularly applicable to our life during COVID.
Herbs. Last, but definitely not least! Plants have so much to offer us for physical and emotional health. See how many different ways you can incorporate herbs of all sorts into your day, whether it be through your diet, diffusing herbs into the air, enjoying an herbal soak in the tub, taking a few drops of tinctures, and of course, some hot tea! With each sip you'll be drinking in more vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds. There is so much more I could add to this lifestyle factor, of course. But I'll just stop here.
Each of these lifestyle factors involves a choice. Be informed and—as much as possible—make good choices throughout each day. Don't let negativity creep in when bad things happen or poor choices win out. Just dust yourself off and make each day—or hour—a little better than the one before. You've got this!