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Pillars. We know them as a means of support essential to establishing strength and stability in a building. In the abstract sense, we need “pillars” to build us up and keep us strong. I recently heard the expression “pillars of health” as a guide to establishing enduring health and wellness. I got to thinking about these pillars and how they work together to keep us healthy and happy. Four pillars, in particular, stood out as solid foundations of good health: sleep, food, fitness, and mindfulness.

Sleep
We need sleep! I know I don’t get enough of it myself. Adults need on average about 7-9 hours of sleep each night and that needs to be a good quality sleep. Sleep has a remarkable power to heal and restore our bodies, both our physical bodies and our brains. And a good night’s sleep has a ripple effect on our health, from the food we eat to managing stress.

Sleep is best achieved when we create an environment conducive to sleep. We can do this by following a few simple guidelines: avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. Both beverages interfere with sleep and let’s be honest, you’ll be up all night going to the bathroom, too! Disengage from your phone at least one hour before bed. The blue light acts as a stimulant and therefore is a deterrent to sleep. Consider some light stretching or a brief meditation to help settle your mind and prepare for sleep.

Food
The food we eat fuels our bodies. We need food! Now, I love a treat or a rich, decadent meal as much as the next person. I also know what I need in order to give my body energy. If there’s a set of “rules” that I follow, it’s to drink water, eat a colorful plate (meaning lots of fruits and veggies), eat more protein, and enjoy indulgences in moderation.

When we are well-rested, we make better food choices. We are less inclined to reach out for sweets, caffeinated beverages, and we’re likely to avoid late-night snacking. Eating well doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does take a little bit of effort. Small changes over time become big ones. Start by drinking less soda, not snacking late at night, and adding more fruits and veggies.

Fitness
A regular workout routine that incorporates cardio and strength training will have all of us feeling healthy and strong. But, if we’re tired, we’re less likely to go and exercise; the alluring call of the couch silences the call to workout. Fitness is another pillar of good health because it strengthens our bodies and is beneficial to mental health. You’ve likely heard the expression “movement is medicine” and in many ways this is true. Think of how many aches and pains could be relieved by a regular fitness routine. A little bit of effort will go a long way to healing our body’s ailments.

A good rule of thumb when it comes to fitness is to start off slow, like in 20 minute increments. A 20 minute walk can do wonders for our mental and physical health. The fresh air is like a balm to a weary mind and the physical movement will reinvigorate the body. Fancy equipment isn’t required! Bodyweight exercises are an excellent way to work on building strength and balance, again in a 20 minute session. The point: get moving! You might find that a regular fitness routine will help you sleep better, too.

Mindfulness
Stress is unhealthy, simply put. Too much stress can manifest itself in our bodies, physically and mentally. The mindfulness movement has been a hot trend for a couple of years now but has become even more prevalent as we face an unprecedented stress test on a global scale. Mindfulness involves taking the time to pause and be present in a particular moment; it’s the opportunity to assess one’s feelings and state of being in a purposeful effort to calm the mind and body, reducing stress.

Mindfulness can be “categorized” for lack of a better term; you may choose to focus on gratitude, calm, sleep, peace, happiness, kindness, courage, focus, the list goes on. When we practice mindfulness, we’re able to calm the mind, improve focus, and approach the current moment with a sense of purpose. Mindfulness is really about being more self-aware. We recognize a need to pause, breathe, and settle the mind so that we can approach a challenge, an opportunity, or just a good night’s sleep with calmness. You might call mindfulness “mental preparation.” It’s taking the time to focus on the moment and calm the mind will have a positive impact on the first three pillars: sleep, food, and fitness.

These pillars help us to establish a more solid foundation in our own health and wellness. Fortifying these pillars will have a positive and enduring impact on our overall health.